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Teen’s tastes bring past into present

Teen’s tastes bring past into present

Posted: Friday, October 24, 2008 9:22 pm

By MORGAN SIMMONS The Knoxville News Sentinel KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tyler Smith’s house is hard to miss. Just look for the Model A Ford parked in the driveway. Smith also owns a 1971 Chevrolet Chevelle equipped with a V-8 engine. Being a 17-year-old high school senior, you’d think Smith would prefer the muscle car, but oddly enough, the Model A is what he drives to school. He says the 1971 Chevy is just too new. “I love the interiors of the old cars, the colors they chose,” Smith said. “They’re not made of plastic. To me, they’re elegant and classy.” Smith is happily out of sync with the 21st century, and for that matter, most of the 20th century, too. He attends Karns High School, where he excels in all his classes. To locate his chronological niche, you have to turn the calendar back to the 1930s, perhaps as late as 1945, when Earl Scruggs developed the three-fingered banjo style that shaped early bluegrass. In terms of his taste in clothes, Smith favors overalls, leather equestrian boots and a felt fedora. He is an excellent banjo player but doesn’t own an iPod. Next to his Gibson banjo, his prize possession is his Model A Ford, which was built in 1928. The Northwest Knoxville teen has no quarrel with television but limits his viewing to the History Channel and a few black-and-white classics, such as “Leave It to Beaver” and “The Andy Griffith Show.” It was while studying history in junior high school that Smith developed an affinity for America’s pre-World War II past. He admired the spirit of self-reliance that characterized the rural South, and he liked the fact that people back then made their own musical entertainment. Smith said he never made a conscious effort to be different from his peers. “My dad always taught me to be my own person,” Smith said. “Sometimes it’s kinda hard ’cause a lot of kids my age aren’t into the things I am, but that just makes me more sure I’ve got real friends.” Tyler’s father, Rick Smith, remembers how, at the age of 3, his son already had strong opinions on how to dress. “He’d pick out what he wanted to wear,” Rick Smith said. “He favored hand-me-downs, the clothes I wore as a kid.” Smith started playing banjo when he was 12. From the onset, the instrument was his soulmate. He hadn’t been playing long when one day he announced to his parents, “I’m going to keep practicing until there’s blood running down the strings.” Growing up, Tyler shared a room with his younger brother, Corey. At night, long after Corey fell asleep, Tyler would keep practicing his banjo. Much of what he knows on the instrument he learned in the dark. To this day when he plays banjo, he doesn’t have to look at the neck. “He’d lie in bed and fall asleep with the banjo,” said Tyler’s father. “I’d come in after the lights were off and take it off his chest.” Smith loves old cars and belongs to the Smoky Mountain Model A Club. For the past year, he has been building a Ford roadster in his family’s garage using a Model A chassis. The club members — most of them retirees — have been helping him find parts and offering him advice. The engine is from 1937, and Smith bought the frame for $200 from a friend in the club. “Most of my close friends are over the age of 50,” Smith said. “I kinda worry what’s going to happen when they pass away.” In addition to his musical talents, Smith has a strong aptitude for engineering. He is interested in learning a trade such as welding, which he is studying at school. He wants to apply those skills to the A model hot rod he’s building at home. Bill Warwick, a welding instructor at Karns High School, describes Smith as “a hologram out of the 1930s.” “He’s about 60 years out of sync as far as his personality and style of dressing, but not with his interaction with other students,” Warwick said. “He’s one of them. He understands their choices, but that doesn’t keep him from making choices of his own. “I see him as a well-rounded, modern young man with a vision of the past he incorporates into his daily life.” On a recent afternoon, Smith took a visitor for a ride around the block in his 1928 Model A Ford. The car made a lot of noise as it accelerated up the hill. Clearly, the Model A wasn’t built for speed. Smith said he never takes it on the interstate. “It doesn’t like to be pushed over 55, but I like back roads anyway,” he said. ——— Information from: The Knoxville News Sentinel, http://www.knoxnews.com Published in The Messenger 10.24.08

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