(From the L@L archives)
My dad was one of the million or so guys who suffered a broken arm trying to crank start a Model T Ford.
Long before cars had electric starters, the only way to fire up the four cylinder engine was to turn it over manually using the crank provided in front. Trouble was if the spark wasn’t set properly, the engine could fire prematurely causing the crank to spin violently, kickback in reverse and break the hand or arm of the operator.
In spite of that tough painful experience, my dad always spoke almost reverently about Model T’s and what a wonderful piece of machinery they were. When still a bachelor in the1920’s, he and a pal of his had the adventure of a lifetime driving their “T” over all kinds of roads and through all kinds of weather conditions from South Dakota to Detroit, Michigan..the motor city where their car was made. 15 million tin lizzys rolled off Henry Ford’s Detroit assembly line between 1909 and 1927. After 1913 they were all painted black.
When dad retired in the late 60’s he started going to flea markets and auction sales in search of Model T parts. Before long, the folk’s small garage was filled with rusty fenders, wooden wheels and old engines that had been seized-up for decades. He devoted every free moment to the task at hand; trying to create one good car from several piles of junk.
I can still see him out there..up to his elbows in dirt and grease.. patiently piecing together parts for that relic.
Dad was a farmer and a house builder. I was never aware that he knew so much about mechanics until he tackled this project. In truth, though, everyone who ever owned a Model T had to have some mechanical knowledge in order to keep them running and road worthy. Clearly dad had not forgotten a thing about what every part was for and where it went.
By the time he had a rolling chassis, the old man pulled a surprise on those of us who’d been following his progress. This wasn’t going to be your run-of-the-mill Model T sedan, coupe or even roadster. He was building a depot hack…an early version of the taxi cab designed to haul travelers and their luggage from the train depot to their local destinations. The depot hack’s body was made of wood instead of steel and recreating it would challenge all of dad’s extensive wood-working skills.
When it was finally finished, dad and his odd looking flivver soon became familiar sites driving around town and in every parade within a hundred miles of Volga
He absolutely loved that car which is why we were so shocked to hear that he’d accepted an offer to sell it to a museum in Chamberlain. I don’t think it was because he desperately needed the money. It’s more likely that his greater joy was in “building” the “T” than driving it because before long he was back at auction sales and scrounging around shelterbelts in search of parts for another one.
Dad’s second and last Model T was a 1926 burgundy
Mom eventually sold it for 36 hundred dollars which she shared with us boys. Wish now I had the car instead of the cash.
A few years ago I did a story on the museum in Chamberlain..which was going to auction off everything in the collection including dad’s depot hack. With Linda’s blessing and some inheritance money in the bank, I decided to try bring the car back into the family. I was prepared to go as high as three thousand dollars if need be. Within 30 seconds, the bid was at four thousand. I finally stopped bidding at six thousand dollars when it became clear that a fat cat car dealer from Montana who didn’t give a hoot in hell about sentimentality wasn’t going back to Billings without it.
I hate to admit this..but I was secretly hoping that the first time he tried to crank-start what was rightfully my car, he’d have the spark set wrong and learn a painful lesson about Model T “kickback.”