In his youth in the 1950s, Harold Hodge thought it was the "worst place in the world," but now he looks back on Crosswell Home for Children as charting the course for his life.
About two years after his father's death, his mother placed Harold, …
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About two years after his father's death, his mother placed Harold, then 4 in 1952, and his older brother, Herbert, in Crosswell Home because of hardship. They would stay there for eight years before returning home to live with her and their stepfather.
Hodge would grow up to become an ace mechanic in Sumter, a helper to many, '55 Chevy restorer, cruiser and hot-rodder, but his son, Glenn, remembers him as just "Dad" to him and his sister, Ellen.
Father and son got together this week at the old family home on Doby Street where Glenn still lives to talk about life.
Harold and his first wife, Daisy, lived at 1249 Doby St. in the heart of town for more than 20 years. They raised Ellen and Glenn there.
Harold is a third-generation mechanic - "it's in my blood," he said. He worked on all parts of cars but specialized in rebuilding engines. He started in the field right after graduating from Manning High School at 17 and continued at the trade for 50 years until retiring four years ago.
That same year he started working - 1965 - he bought his first car, a '55 Chevrolet Bel Air, which he still has today.
"It was just a regular car back then," Hodge said.
The car cost $150. It took him six weeks of $25 payments to purchase.
Through the years, he worked at several area dealerships, including Santee Motor Co. in Manning, Goodwin Volkswagen, Jones Chevrolet and Boyle Motor Co., all on Broad Street.
From 1969 to '80 while working at Jones, Hodge walked to work because the Doby Street home was only about 300 yards behind the dealership.
The '55 Chevy served as the family's primary car for 23 years, Hodge said, because Daisy didn't work after having kids.
After working his regular day job, he did side work at night in his shop at home for an additional four to five hours after dinner. Hodge had his own clientele of at least 50 customers and also provided service for a used car dealer in town.
He only charged some people a small amount for parts and no labor costs because they didn't have additional means to pay.
"I just wanted to help people," Hodge said. "People have to have a car. It's part of your livelihood. I made enough to get by and never missed a meal."
All that work added up to a focus on spending time with cars, but Glenn said his father always took time for him and his sister.
"He and Mama were always good parents," Glenn said. "Everything that my sister and I did, he was involved in. As far as being a dad, he probably was one of the best anyone could ask for. He took time to do everything, whether it was sitting down to play games, going outside to play games. We were always a tight-knit family."
Hodge and the family stopped driving the car regularly in '87, he said. He decided to restore the vehicle, which had become a classic for its "shoebox" look.
He took every nut, bolt, screw and piece out of it in the process, and the entire body was off the car's frame.
Then, after a friend's sudden death, he stopped working on it for a couple years. He got back at it about 1990 at the urging of Daisy and finished it in '93.
"For like two or three years, I didn't touch it," Hodge said. "My wife came out to the shop one day and said, 'Don't you think you better start putting this car back together? Because if something happens to you, I will have to sell it for junk since nobody will be able to put it back together.'"
Dad credits time at Crosswell Home
Hodge looks back now on those eight years in his youth at Crosswell as formative to his life. He said he learned three main things at the children's home: discipline in everything you do, how to treat people and learning how to work.
Crosswell had about 50 kids at the time, and everybody had chores, he said. Everyone got up at 6 a.m. each day, and he remembers planting and picking potatoes, corn and cotton in the field, gardening and dishwashing to name a few tasks.
"I tell people," Hodge said, "'when we were in there, we felt like it was the worst place in the world at times because of the work and discipline you had to have.' But, I tell people now, 'I look back, and that was the best eight years of my life. Those years paved the way for the rest of my days. That's what I live by.'"
There were about two dozen boys at the home at the time in the '50s, and everyone "made good, had good jobs, and none of them who I knew of got into any serious trouble. All their backgrounds were good."
On to the shows
After finishing the Chevy's restoration in the early '90s, it was time to hit the road for car shows.
He's been going to shows ever since, in places such as Pigeon Forge, Tennessee; Daytona Beach, Florida; Louisville, Kentucky; and Detroit, Michigan. He has also dotted the map for shows throughout South Carolina, he said.
In 27 years as a cruiser/hot-rodder, he's earned dozens of trophies and plaques, including a few "Best in Show" awards.
After Daisy died in '95, he went on the road a lot for the next couple years.
In the meantime, he re-met Angie, a friend from high school. They married in '97.
"She's stuck by me through thick and thin," Harold said. "She's put up with a lot of time of me being out in the shop and working a lot on that car and another car that I'm working on now. We have been down a lot of long roads to shows in that car just traveling, and we've had a lot of good times with it. We do really well together, and she's a super lady."
After high school, Glenn became a fourth-generation mechanic. He said his father instilled the value of hard work in him and his sister and other kids' lives.
"Being a mechanic, that's all I've ever known," Glenn said.
Ellen's son, Dylan, is currently enrolled at Central Carolina Technical College to become a fifth-generation mechanic.
Glenn said his dad's best qualities are that he's humble and giving.
"He will give you anything you need at any time," he said. "As far as a caring person, you can't get any better than him. He never would say no to anybody about anything."
Harold said what he likes most about the car shows is meeting people.
"That's the main reason I go," Hodge said. "Some of the nicest people on the planet are into cars, and that's the truth."
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