Characters of the County: For Larry Burridge, it’s always been cars

Larry Burridge displays an old license plate that he has cleaned and restored, another hobby he developed in connection with his passion for antique automobiles. (Photo by Sherwood Olin)

Larry Burridge loves cars. A seasoned mechanic with encyclopedic knowledge and an eye for artists, Burridge retired to Maine 10 years ago and landed what can only be described as the ideal job for a man of his inclinations.

Since 2015 he has been employed more or less full time as a lecturer at the Museum of Antique Cars at Boothbay Railway Village in Boothbay.

There, the Connecticut-born resident, currently based in Waldoboro, tends to the museum’s historic automobile fleet, gently guiding visitors through the exhibits, answering questions, directing traffic, and omitting nearly everything he says with a touch of automotive enlightenment .

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

Burridge generally likes old cars, but he has a particular fondness for 1930s models. During this time, automotive design developed rapidly. Cars early in the decade looked dramatically different from models produced at the end. For one, by 1940 designers had largely closed the seating area, doing away with the early models that exposed passengers to the elements in favor of closed seating areas.

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

He recently spent some time restoring a 1923 Buick sedan that was a recent gift to the museum. A visitor to the area donated the car and related materials, including the original owner’s manual and the check that the donor’s father used 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 its arrival in Boothbay, the car had been in a garage on Long Island since 1956. At that time, America was changing rapidly and with it the automotive industry.

“1956, that’s when the superhighways came along, and a car like this isn’t going to compete on a superhighway,” Burridge said. “That might go 40-45 (mph) but that would propel it. That was built for maybe 25-30.”

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

“Henry Ford envisioned the car replacing the horse, but he never envisioned people driving superhighways at more than 60 miles per hour,” he said. “You normally use a car like that, maybe 5 miles. You took it to church. You took it to town and back. If you wanted to go to Augusta or Portland from here, you took a train or a streetcar.”

Burridge is quick to credit Ford with starting the revolution that would become the automobile industry, and he is just as quick to credit his father, Andrew, with fostering his lifelong love of automobiles.

Andrew Burridge was a gifted mechanic himself who loved tinkering with cars. During the day he worked for Hamilton Standard in Hartford, Connecticut, making aircraft engines. On the side, he and a friend bought used cars, repaired them, and sold them for extra money.

At one point, the elder Burridge took a part-time job at a junkyard to support his automotive hobby. One day he took his son with him and Larry was mesmerized by a sight that would change his life: a 1929 Oldsmobile.

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

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Years later, Burridge drew a picture of this particular car. His drawing is currently in a display case at the Museum of Antique Cars.

In 1965, when Burridge was 17, his father died in a motorcycle accident. Burridge remained friends with the owners of the junkyard where his father worked. The owner’s son, Paul, eventually helped Burridge acquire his first vintage car, a 1935 DeSoto. With more enthusiasm than experience, he began stripping the DeSoto completely, only to find he had no idea how he should put it back together.

“I was absolutely blown away,” Burridge said. “I ripped it all out and a few months later it was like, ‘What the hell is that?’ So Paul ended up taking it back to the junkyard.”

A few years later, Burridge had better luck with a run-down Chevrolet he discovered in a garage in Torrington. Back then, in April 1970, he was working for the American Red Cross. It was his job to drive the Red Cross bloodmobile to locations in Connecticut.

Coincidentally, during a blood drive in Torrington, Burridge was asked to find a repair shop to fix a minor problem with the bloodmobile.

“So I found a garage and the guy said, ‘Yeah, I can fix that,'” Burridge said. “There was a 1936 Chevrolet outside the door with a ‘For Sale’ sign on it, so of course I went out and checked it out. It was a two-door sedan. It had the busy truck in the back. Trunk hinges are broken. The trunk lid is located on the back seat. There is no front bumper. Just two empty headlight baskets on the side of the grill. Guy comes out and says, “You wanna hear it run?” ‘It runs?’ Secure!'”

The engine revved with no problem, although “it was terribly noisy because it didn’t have a muffler,” Burridge said. When negotiations were complete, the selling price was the entirety of Burridge’s two-week paycheck that he had just received. Burridge cashed his check at the nearest bank, handed over the money, and then realized he had no intention of taking the car home. He lived in Windsor, about 25-30 miles away.

The next day, Saturday, Burridge woke up in Windsor. He hitchhiked to Torrington and brought back two Massachusetts license plates that he intended to keep long enough to bring the car home.

Once Burridge ramped up his price and rolled to the gas pump, “the guy came out and said, ‘Are you going to drive that home?'” Burridge said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I have no other way of bringing it home.’ He’s looking at me like I’m crazy, so I said, ‘Are you going to make the sale or not?’ Right off the bat he does it like Sergeant Schultz in Hogan’s Heroes. I do not know anything. You do not know me. I do not know you.”

Burridge safely made the journey to Windsor. Today he tells the story with dramatic enthusiasm, recalling the police car that drove past his apparently illegal ride, the huge hill he had to avoid and the stalling problems.

“I was about two miles from home and there was a big insurance company,” Burridge said. “At that point there was a four-lane, divided road. There is a traffic light for the insurance company. I’m on the right track. There was a guy in the left lane and he had one of those then brand new Ford Country Squires with the faux wood grain. There was a guy behind him in an old Ford Fairlane and he’s looking at this fugitive from a junkyard that I drive. He (Fairlane) never saw this guy (Country Squire) and plowed right in the back. There was no one else there, so I just kept walking. I got about a half mile from home and the thing stopped.”

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

After high school, Burridge stayed 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 that offered a degree in antique car restoration.

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

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

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

(Have a suggestion for a Characters of the County theme? Email [email protected] with the subject line Characters of the County.)

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