My Ozarka and C.W. Harbert
BY NORMAN MUELLER
An interesting radio picked up at auction proves to have a pretty unusual history. All it needed was a collector who cared enough to pursue that history. (Editor)
In January 2008 at an estate auction in the Mena, Arkansas, area, I purchased the large, archaic, solid wood, box-like table radio, shown in Figure 1. It had four large dials, three selectors and earphone jacks on a slanted black front, but no name anywhere on it. Except for a piece broken from one large dial and a knob and wiper blade missing from one selector, this radio looked as if it had been well cared for. All the wood was like new with only a few minor surface scuff marks -- a restorer's dream.
The A, B, and C battery compartment could be seen by tilting the radio compartment back, but all the wires were missing. See Figure 2 (see complete PDF or print version). Lifting the top lid revealed the radio components, which were like new with a crystal detector (complete) and a 3-tube lineup, but no tubes. See Figure 3.
Centered under the top lid was a gold metallic label inscribed "Ozarka-Manufactured by C.W. Harbert-West Point, Arkansas," as shown in Figure 4 (see complete PDF or print version). Though I had never heard this name before, at least I now have this interesting set restored. See Figure 5.
When no information for this particular Ozarka could be found on the Internet, I turned to my friend Larry Lamia in Mena, formerly of Vintage Radio in Irving, Texas, for his help through contacts in radio circles. Larry directed me to Jim Sargent in Texas whose knowledge of Ozarkas is one of the best in this region. Even he wasn't aware of an Ozarka of this description in existence and surely not one manufactured in Arkansas.
Figure 1. My Ozarka set as found. The tuning knob on the right is broken and the right-most selector switch is missing.
One possibility is that this particular radio was an early kit form only, never assembled and sold directly by Ozarka, and thus not listed as an Ozarka model.
The Search for C.W. Harbert
The label on this set had so stirred my curiosity that in August 2009 I made the 130 mile trip to West Point, Arkansas, a quaint little town of about 200 located northeast of Little Rock. I wanted to find some descendants of this C.W. Harbert and obtain whatever information I could about him and the Ozarka I had purchased.
After searching for descendants and finding none, nor anyone who knew of them, I chanced upon a gracious lady who introduced me to David Hamilton who had been mayor of the town for many years. His father had grown up with the Harbert's son and he knew the family well. Needless to say, he was dumbfounded that I had come so far to inquire about a family that hadn't resided in the town for 80 years. When I related the story of my Ozarka, he, in turn, told me the Harbert history.
Figure 3. The components inside the set can be seen here. The 3-tube unit on the left actually is a sealed module and weighs about seven pounds! The crystal detector also is mounted on this unit.
The Harbert Radio Story
C.W. Harbert arrived in West Point in 1908 as the depot manager when the Union Pacific Railroad was built through that area. He held that position until a massive strike idled the railroad in 1921.
Harbert then opened a hamburger/sandwich shop in town, and about the same time, he purchased his first radio kit from Ozarka. He assembled the kit, which became the first radio known in the region.
As word spread, many area residents began to congregate at the Harbert front porch to see and hear this modern marvel. Naturally, people began to want to have their own radios, and the enterprising Harbert seized the opportunity. He began to purchase and assemble kits from Ozarka to sell in the area with his own label placed inside the lid. How long he was in this business or how many kits he assembled and sold is not known. How many of these radios like mine still exist is also unknown. I would appreciate any information that might be out there from other collectors.
The Harbert Post-Radio Story
In the late 1920s, C.W. Harbert's son wrote a book titled The Steamboats Don't Come Here Anymore. The title came from the town's history as a shipping center before the railroad arrived. It was then the farthest point north reachable by steamboats on the Little Red River. The book included the story of his father and his radios, as well as stories of other families, some less than flattering, that caused quite a riff in the community. No copy exists in the local library.
Figure 5. My restored Ozarka set. Unfortunately, I am still missing the right dial and selector switch.
In 1928, the Harbert's house burned to the ground causing many a rumor, including that C.W.'s wife torched it in order to get out of that town. That is a possibility, since the insurance from the house allowed Harbert to purchase a new Chevrolet, pack up the family, and leave for Arizona. Thus ended all remnants of C.W. Harbert-Ozarka-West Point, Arkansas, except for the memories of a few old-timers.
Norman Mueller's radio interest dates back to his teens and a gift of a crystal set from his grandmother. He worked for many years in a Zenith sales and repair shop, followed by a career as an industrial switch gear technician for GE and Emerson. Radio as a hobby is now the focus of his retirement years.