County Heroes: For Larry Burridge, it’s always been cars

Larry Burridge shows off a vintage license plate he cleaned and restored, another hobby he developed related to his passion for antique cars.  (Photo by Sherwood Olin)

Larry Burridge shows off a vintage license plate he cleaned and restored, another hobby he developed related to his passion for antique cars. (Photo by Sherwood Olin)

Larry Burridge loves cars. An experienced mechanic with an encyclopedic knowledge and an artist’s eye, Burridge retired to Maine 10 years ago and found what can only be described as an ideal job for a man of his bent.

Since 2015, he has been employed more or less full-time as a docent at the Boothbay Railway Village Antique Car Museum in Boothbay.

There, the Connecticut native and current Waldoboro resident tends the museum’s fleet of historic cars, gently guiding audience members through the exhibit, answering questions, directing traffic and dropping bits of automotive enlightenment into almost everything he says.

“I was here as a tourist,” Burridge said. “I never dreamed that I would work here one day.”

Burridge loves old cars in general, but has a particular fondness for models from the 1930s. During this period, automotive design advanced rapidly. Cars at the beginning of the decade looked dramatically different from the models produced at the end. For one thing, by 1940 designers had largely enclosed the seating area, ditching early models that left passengers exposed to the elements in favor of enclosed seating areas.

“In 1930, the style of cars changed more between 1930 and 1940 than in any other decade,” Burridge said. “They were just starting to get into streamlining. Chrysler actually designed a car that nearly bankrupted them because it was way ahead of its time.”

He recently spent some time restoring a 1923 Buick sedan that was a new donation to the museum. A visitor to the area donated the car and related materials, including the original owner’s manual and the check used by the donor’s father to buy the car second-hand.

“It was $1,125 (new) in 1923,” Burridge said. “This woman’s father bought it in 1933. We have his canceled check for $500.”

Before arriving in Boothbay, the car had been garaged in Long Island since 1956. At that time, America was changing rapidly and the auto industry was changing with it.

“In 1956, that’s when the superhighways started coming in, and a car like this wouldn’t last on the superhighway,” Burridge said. “It could go 40-45 (mph), but that would push it. This was built over about 25-30 years.

Earlier, discussing the 1902 curved-dash Oldsmobile, Burridge said the cars were invented for a world that no longer exists.

“Henry Ford envisioned the automobile replacing the horse, but he never envisioned people on highways going more than 60 miles an hour,” he said. “A car like the one you usually used, maybe 5 miles. You took it to church. You took it to town and back. If you want to go from here to Augusta or Portland, you take a train or a trolley.”

Burridge is quick to credit Ford with starting the revolution that would become the auto industry, and he’s just as quick to credit his father, Andrew, with fostering his love of cars throughout his life.

Andrew Burridge himself was an experienced mechanic who enjoyed tinkering with cars. By day, he worked for Hamilton Standard in Hartford, Connecticut, making aircraft engines. On the side, he and a friend bought used cars, fixed them up and sold them for extra cash.

At one point, the elder Burridge started working part-time at a junkyard to support his automotive hobby. One day he took his son with him, and Larry found himself struck by a sight that changed his life: a 1929 Oldsmobile.

“I was drawn like a magnet,” Burridge said. “They actually sold it. It was on my 14th birthday. I remember helping them push it through. We had to put air in one of the tires, but I helped them push it. I cried, but at least I know one is saved. I saw many other antique cars there that were crushed.

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Years later, Burridge painted a picture of this particular car. His drawing is currently on display at the Antique Car Museum.

In 1965, when Burridge was 17, his father died in a motorcycle accident. Burridge remained friendly with the owners of the dump where his father worked. The owner’s son, Paul, eventually helped Burridge acquire his first vintage car, a 1935 DeSoto. Starting with more enthusiasm than experience, he completely took the DeSoto apart, only to learn that he had no idea how to put it back together. .

“I was ecstatic,” Burridge said. “I tore it all apart and a few months later it was ‘what the hell is this?'” So Paul ended up putting it back on the dump.

A few years later, Burridge had better luck with a battered Chevrolet he found in a Torrington garage. At the time, in April 1970, he was working for the American Red Cross. His job was to drive the Red Cross blood drive to locations around Connecticut.

It so happened that while working at a blood drive in Torrington, Burridge was asked to find a garage to fix a small problem on the Bloodmobile.

“So I found a garage and the guy said ‘yeah, I can fix it,'” Burridge said. “There was a 1936 Chevrolet out front with a ‘For Sale’ sign, so of course I was outside looking at it. It was a two-door sedan. There was the busy truck behind. The trunk hinges are broken. The trunk lid is on the back seat. No front bumper. Just two empty headlight buckets on the side of the grille. A guy comes out and says “do you want to hear how it works?” – Does it work? Sure!'”

The engine turned over without a problem, although “it was awfully loud because there was no muffler,” Burridge said. By the time negotiations were concluded, the sale price amounted to Burridge’s entire fortnight’s wages he had just received. Burridge cashed his check at the nearest bank, gave the money, and then realized he had no plan to retrieve the car. He lived in Windsor, about 25-30 miles away.

The next day, Saturday, Burridge awoke in Windsor. He hitchhiked to Torrington, carrying a pair of Massachusetts license plates, which he planned to affix long enough for the car to get home.

After Burridge started his prize and wheeled it to the pump, “the guy comes out and says ‘Are you going to ride this home?'” Burridge said. “I said ‘yeah, there’s no other way to put it back.’ He was looking at me like I was crazy, so I said, “Do you want to make the sale or not?” It immediately goes like Sergeant Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes. I know nothing. you don’t know me I don’t know you.”

Burridge drove safely home to Windsor. Today, he tells the story with dramatic gusto, recalling the police car that crossed his apparently illegal ride, the giant hill he had to avoid and the braking problems.

“I was about two miles from home and there was a big insurance company,” Burridge said. “There was a four-lane road at that location. There is a stop light for the insurance company. I’m in the right lane. There was a guy in the left lane and he had one of those brand new Ford Country Squires at the time, with faux wood. There was a guy in an old Ford Fairlane behind him, and he was looking at this junkyard refugee that I drive. He (Fairlane) had never seen this guy (Country Squire) and hit him right in the back. There was no one else around so I just kept going. I was about half a mile from home and the thing stopped.

Burridge finally brought the Chevrolet back to life, brought it home and left it in the garage for over a month until his heart rate stopped racing.

After high school, Burridge remained in the Windsor area. He married his wife, Maureen, in 1981 and in 1989 attended McPherson College, a private liberal arts school in McPherson, Kansas, offering a program in antique car restoration.

“It’s a four-year program now, but it was a two-year program when I went,” Burridge said. “I graduated in 1991. I still have the Model A that I got from college. It was a 1930 Model A Coupe. I drove it and drove it to graduation.”

More than 30 years later, Burridge still has the car parked at his home in Waldoboro.

“I’ve always loved antique cars,” he said. “It’s always been cars.”

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