Contrary to what a lot of people probably think, Ed Harvey never met my brother John. Not that he knew of, anyhow.
Even though John put Eddie in the Prank Call Hall of Fame (if there’s not such a thing, there should be) when he called him up in the late ’70s to complain about buying a bad oil filter at Eddie’s Auto Parts, the two were never formally introduced, and John was long dead by the time the tapes went viral in 1987. (Note: Viral was not a word we would’ve thought to use back in the day.)
Edward Ralph Harvey, 91, died last week after a long struggle with dementia. He worked as long as he could, keeping long days in his auto-parts store with the marquee sign from the Italian Pavilion at the 1982 World’s Fair. Tough as a boot with a barely hidden sly sense of humor, Eddie Harvey affixed that sign to the front of his store and found it to be a good conversation piece.
Born in Union County’s Little Valley in 1922, Ed Harvey loved to tell the story of his great-grandfather, Jack Woods, who had a license from the federal government to operate a whisky-bottling business, as long as he sold the product out of state. He also sold some in-state, out the back door.
Ed Harvey graduated from Halls High School in 1940. His first job was zipping through the streets of Knoxville as a bicycle messenger. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II and returned home wanting to start a business, so he went to see Claude Myers, president of Fountain City Bank, and asked for a $500 loan.
“At first, he wouldn’t give me the loan, but then he found out I was a good welder and told me if I’d build the swings in Fountain City Park, I could have the money. So I built the swings, and they are still standing. I got my loan – that’s when I was poor as a church mouse,” he told Metro Pulse in 2000.
He used the money to make a down payment on the property on Walker Boulevard where his store stands today. Over the years, he acquired additional property, including a next-door parcel he bought from Cas Walker. He also found time to work on racecars, and to do some racing himself, until he had a bad wreck in the late ’50s.
In his later years, after John’s tapes had been widely circulated, Ed Harvey drew visitors from all over the world who wanted to meet the guy who sold the oil filter. What they found was one of those inimitable East Tennesseans who helped make this place what it is.
He outlived two wives and was the father of four and the grandfather of five, in addition to having a big brood of great-grandchildren. His motto was, “I’d rather be lucky anytime as be smart,” and he counted himself a lucky man.
I’d like to think that by now, he and John have been introduced. And there’s not much I wouldn’t give to hear those stories.