Custody battles are nothing new, and from 1906 to 1910 Lake Stevens was the scene of a whopper. This tangled tale begins with Annette Fitch-Brewer, who on Christmas Day 1905 took her 6-year-old son from a Cleveland hotel against the wishes of her wealthy ex-husband.
She and her boy, Isaac Curtis Brewer Jr., took a train to Canada. From Ottawa, they rode another train bound for the Northwest. At several stops, they saw their pictures on posters that offered a $200 reward from the boy’s father, I.C. Brewer, of Sandusky, Ohio.
On the run, they took horse-drawn coaches and the Great Northern Railway through Montana and on to Spokane, where Fitch-Brewer was impressed by the elegant Davenport Hotel. Knowing that her ex-husband had tracked her to Seattle, she took a Northern Pacific rail line to the Hartford junction, near Lake Stevens.
She and the little boy she called Curtis took refuge at a Lake Stevens ranch owned by Harold Illman. His ranch was next to the Rucker Mill, run by Everett pioneer brothers Wyatt and Bethel Rucker along the lake’s north cove.
Under the assumed names of Mrs. McIntyre and Boyd McIntyre, they lived at Lake Stevens until a detective hired by the father took Curtis from a Lake Stevens schoolhouse on April 14, 1910.
All this is known because in 1913, Fitch-Brewer published a book, “The Story of a Mother-Love.” There’s a copy of it in the Everett Public Library’s Northwest History Room. The mother-son story was featured in this column 12 years ago. David Dilgard, who recently retired as a history specialist at the Everett library, presented a 2005 talk about Fitch-Brewer, “Hiding Out at Lake Stevens.”
Several days ago, an Iowa man called me to share a new chapter in the old story.
Mike Knox is a ceramic artist who teaches art and design at Winona State University. He lives in Manchester, Iowa, and owns a 1923 Model T Ford that once belonged to Annette Fitch-Brewer Nelson. Sometime after her years at Lake Stevens, the divorcee had remarried.
The Model T, according to a log book the woman faithfully kept, was purchased new from the Hudler Motor Co. in Everett. Throughout the custody saga, she had clearly been a woman of means, with helpful friends along her runaway route. Her book offered no reason for the divorce, nor did she face legal consequences after Curtis was reunited with his father.
Knox, 47, plans to drive the Model T on a roughly 2,500-mile road trip, from Jefferson, Ohio, to Everett, retracing a trip Fitch-Brewer Nelson and her husband made in the late 1920s. He hopes to put a better engine in the car and make the journey in 2018, with someone following along to film it.
“This car has been in my family almost 50 years,” said Knox, whose father bought the Model T in 1969. Mike Knox, who has owned it the past 20 years, said Wednesday that the auto log shows the car made its last trip to Washington in 1928.
“Because of this diary and the history of Annette, I want to honor the strength of women — and what this woman did,” Knox said.
He plans to enlist a friend in Iowa, Cliff Kauffman, to ride along as a mechanic. They are now applying for grants to pay for mechanical work on the car, and help with trip costs. Knox hopes for $5,000 in grants, which he plans to match.
Knox wants to leave Ohio in June 2018 and arrive here three to four weeks later. That schedule would mean arriving exactly 90 years after the Model T was last in Washington.
The log shows the car traveled through Yellowstone National Park. “The diary is pretty funny,” Knox said. “When she’s out in Utah, she writes that she met a kid in a 10-gallon hat. He asked ‘How far you going?’ She said ‘You’ll just have to ask the Ford.’ ”
Often called the “Tin Lizzie,” the Model T was made by the Ford Motor Co. from 1908 to 1927. Knox said his car will only go about 45 miles an hour, tops. His itinerary will keep him off the interstates, and bring him to places the first owner stopped.
Fitch-Brewer Nelson’s life ended in Ohio, but her years at Lake Stevens weren’t the last spent living in Snohomish County.
An Everett Public Library file on Annette Fitch-Brewer contains Dilgard’s research. He wrote that Polk city directories “show Annette and Curtis residing at 3014 Grand Avenue in Everett in the 1919-20 and 1922 editions.” Fitch-Brewer was an enumerator for the 1920 Federal Census in Everett.
In 1919, according to a World War I book called “Snohomish County in the War,” her son, Curtis, was a cadet captain during Reserve Officers Training Camp at Kenyon College in Ohio.
Knox calls his antique car the “Talking T.” That is a fitting nickname, considering the diary that tells the car’s history in the words of its dramatic first owner. Knox has good reason to hop behind the wheel of a 95-year-old car next summer.
“This is an epic journey on so many levels,” he said. “And I want to keep the story alive.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.