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The Case of the $500 Mercedes


Not all of our stories have to make a moral or technical point. Sometimes they simply point out the need for good sense before building one's hopes up too much. Sometimes they demonstrate how fate can raise our hopes, then just as quickly drop us down in the dumps.

We've heard the following story told by folks in every state in which we've lived. That would include: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Wisconsin and California. For you "Prairie Home Companion" fans, we'll use Wisconsin for this time-worn fable.

An antique dealer was traveling through northern Wisconsin looking for pot-belly stoves. Stopping at a gas station near Wausau, the station attendant directed the dealer to an old farmhouse occupied by the widow Johansson. He moseyed on over to the house and inquired of the lady of the house if she might have an old pot-belly stove he might buy. She indicated she did and took him to the barn were he immediately lost interest in the stove.

For in the barn, to the dealer's delight, covered with years of accumulated dust and pigeon droppings, was an obviously pristine, and low-mileage, 1956 Mercedes 300 SL Gull Wing Coupe. The grill had been damaged in a minor fender-bender which occurred back when the car had only about 800 miles on it. The widow kindly explained to her guest that her late husband had bought the car on a trip to Chicago in 1956. He had had a minor accident on a Wisconsin icy road shortly after his arrival back home.

The result was the need for a new grill and radiator. With the nearest Mercedes dealer all the way in Milwaukee, the parts were never purchased. The car languished for years until the gentleman's untimely death. At that point the widow just let the car sit. "Would she sell it?", asked the antiques dealer, trying desperately to contain his enthusiasm; his hopes were at a fever pitch. "Of course I would!" The inquisitor was now smiling ear-to-ear. "And I did!" the woman continued proudly, "I sold the car to another young man from the city for a hefty $500. Yesterday. He's off fetchin' his trailer to haul this thing out of my barn."