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Model T Still Has Allure After 100 Years


Fort Worth Star-Telegram

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) – Bill Eads has seen wives come and go.

But he still has Henrietta.

A beauty even now, at 83, his true love is a Model T Ford.

The 1925 touring car was built the year F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby, when Calvin Coolidge was president.

It cost about $260 at a time when the average annual income in America was $1,236.

Meticulously restored a violin maker applied the finish to the wooden steering wheel the mint-condition automobile has an estimated worth today of about $20,000.

More important is the sentimental value, for which no price guide exists.

Asked whether he would sell it, the car’s 58-year-old owner ran a hand over his gray beard.

“That’s not a consideration,” Eads said matter-of-factly.

“I’d let the bank take my house but not the car.”

The driver turned the four-cylinder, 20-horsepower machine onto a lightly traveled road near his east Fort Worth home.

Chugging along, working the three foot pedals, he honked the horn “a sick bull,” he called the old-timey sound and in his mind’s eye the back road carried him into the past, to a cherished time more than 40 years ago when young Bill sat in Henrietta’s passenger seat, a boy gazing out at the West Virginia countryside, in the company of his father.

John Eads bought the neglected, rusting vehicle from a farmer in 1959 for $500.

He slapped on some paint and got the engine running. His wife made new upholstery and gave the relic its feminine identity.

For years the family took the machine on antique car tours and drove it in parades.

Speed-limit signs on the outskirts of towns cautioned motorists to slow to 35 mph.

“Heck, we had to speed up to go that fast,” Bill Eads recalled with a grin.

He took possession of the family prize in 1993 and devoted three years 1,000 hours to restoring it, replacing every broken, bent and worn part, which was most of them. He sprayed layer upon layer of black lacquer, 18 coats, until the body gleamed, as it does now, as lustrous as polished onyx.

For several years he ran his own business, selling Model T replacement parts.

Eads’ father died this year, but not before his son took Henrietta to Florida and gave the 87-year-old man one more ride in the heirloom that has been the source of so many warm and happy memories.

One doesn’t have to own a Model T, however, to appreciate it.

Spotting the enduring piece of history on the road, other motorists and passers-by invariably light up and honk or wave.

One belt. No oil pump. No catalytic converter or keyless entry system or dual-zone climate control.

It’s a simple machine.

But traveling 25 mph is still a joy ride.

An old love song said it best: The fundamental things apply…as time goes by.

This is a celebratory year for Model T enthusiasts.

One local hobbyist, Russ Grunewald, is president of the National Model T Ford Club of America, an organization with 8,000 members and several chapters and affiliated clubs in Texas.

Fort Worth has the Cowtown Ts. The Texas Touring T’s meet in Bryan. There are the Cen-Tex Tin Lizzies (San Marcos) and the Space City T’s (Tomball) and the Paso Del Norte Model T Ford Club in El Paso.

In July, Grunewald and friend Sam Paris, head of the local club, loaded their antique cars onto trailers and drove to Richmond, Ind., where Model T enthusiasts from the world over gathered to celebrate the car’s 100th birthday. The event drew 2,000 people and about 900 Model Ts.

The historical significance of the car is not lost on Grunewald and others who possess an encyclopedic knowledge about Henry Ford’s production of sturdy, reliable and low-cost transportation for the masses that ushered in a new industrial age.

The first Model T was built for sale on Oct. 1, 1908, and priced similarly to a Cadillac, about $850.

In years that followed, the moving assembly line increased production and lowered the vehicle’s cost.

By the 1920s, half of all cars in America were Model Ts.

From 1908-27, Ford built 15 million of them, the longest run of any single model automobile except the Volkswagen Beetle.

Grunewald’s 1926 T, like Eads’, is immaculate, perfectly maintained, a testimony to the owner’s pampering.

It features a hinged windshield to aid ventilation and a manually operated wiper on the driver’s side.

“Ever seen the gas gauge?” Grunewald asked a visitor.

He removed the gasoline cap.

On the 1926 and ’27 models it is mounted on the hood.

His Model T gets 15 to 20 miles per gallon, depending on driving speed and the wind.

The car’s original owner was a Methodist preacher in Fredericksburg.

The man’s estate sold it to someone in San Antonio, where it was fully restored. Grunewald, who drove a ’25 Model T runabout in high school during the 1940s, bought the car at a swap meet in 1983.

Grunewald eased onto a residential street.

“C’mon, Baby. You can make it,” he urged, as the 1,200-pound

Lizzie began to negotiate a hill.

Grunewald has a copy of a 23-page instruction book each Model T owner received.

The manual urges the motorist to break in the new car slowly:

Your Ford car will climb any climbable grade. Do not in your anxiety to prove it to everyone climb everything in sight.

A good rule is if you crave the fame, climb the steepest grade in your neighborhood once and let others take your word for it or the word of those who witnessed the performance.

As Grunewald puttered along he explained other standard features of the touring car.

The Model T, he said, came equipped with Armstrong power steering.

Armstrong steering?

Grunewald turned into his driveway.

“You can steer it,” he said, with a straight face, “if your arms are strong.”

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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