Tinker Technician Farmer Friend

Bill Vavra of Schuyler, Neb. operates a two row corn picker on an area farm in the early 1940s. Though a farmer, Bill was notorious around his community as an inventive mechanic who enjoyed fixing tractors and other machinery. (Photo courtesy Bill’s niece Colleen Wachal, Schuyler, Neb.)

He loved coffee and pickles, his accordion, and building things with his hands.

Bill Vavra of Schuyler, Neb., was a farmer of many talents back in the day. However, according to his niece, Colleen Wachal, Bill was happiest when he could get his hands on anything broken.

“He could fix anything, and not only for tractors,” Wachal said. “He made stuff for cars and pickups. He worked on them with no knowledge, no schooling. He did that when he was real young.”

So profound were his mechanical skills that Bill opened a garage beside his home, Sunshine Garage, where he’d work on various projects. The garage, which he operated from 1922-1948, still stands in Schuyler today — soon to become another antique, Wachal said with a chuckle.

Wachal fondly remembers her uncle’s greatest invention, a three-wheeled bicycle, which he used to ride around town during his later years. The reverse tricycle had two wheels in front to give him more stability on his rides, with a basket on the front to hold groceries, and a flag on the back so he could be easily spotted by other drivers.

His bicycle was so famous around town, Wachal said residents enjoyed spotting him around town, and the local newspaper even wrote a story about it.

In his younger years, Vavra worked as a hired hand for a farm family in South Dakota each spring. Her favorite uncle, Vavra would always come see Wachal’s family immediately after returning home from the north, and it was a big event — the children would watch with excitement as he drove down the lane toward the house, then burst into a flurry of activity.

“Mom would set the coffee pot on, and someone would go get a jar of pickles,” she recalled. “He loved Mom’s dill pickles with coffee. Then he got that accordion out. He didn’t know any notes, but he’d play it and get everyone laughing and dancing.”

The farm life remains in the family’s blood today, as does the accordion playing — the little red accordion Vavra once gave to his niece is now in the loving care of her great-grandson, who shows the same affinity for its music that her uncle once did.

“When we didn’t see Uncle Bill coming down the road, it was disappointing,” Wachal said fondly. ““He was a happy man, and he lived a happy life.”

Katy Moore can be reached at katy.moore@lee.net.

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Field editor for the Midwest Messenger.