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Feature Article - 31, 2007

Be careful of whom you talk to

byVirgil Garrett

It all started with a conversation with a friend, both of us shop instructors, when he casually mentioned, "You should own a Model T."

My reaction was rather negative, but after some considerable discussion and finally the exchange of a small amount of cash, I became the owner of a frame, springs, engine running gear, body and a few other miscellaneous parts in rather dubious condition. But then, I had obtained my driver's licence by passing my test in a Model T, and feeling certain the necessary parts could still be found, somewhere, somehow, I embarked on this challenging restoration project.


After cleaning the engine of a thick layer of grease, grime and dirt, serial number C98603 was revealed, and it matched the same serial number on the brass nameplate under the dash. It denotes my car as a Canadian-made 1916 model.

Extra parts are where you find them, whether they come from fence corners, store piles, garages, flea markets, barnyards or old barns. Further assistance came from many sources, including friends, neighbours, and even strangers. They helped me find a radiator; round gas tank; coal-oil sidelights; turtle deck; windshield; wheels with wooden felloes (a wooden rim inside the outer metal rim in which spokes fit); and 30 x 3 tires including the Etonia, Atlas, Firestone, and Goodyear varieties. I also acquired bearings, bushings, brackets, springs, and best of all, a 1916 hardcover owner's manual giving accurate, detailed information, both helpful and essential in a restoration project.

With plenty of elbow grease, I removed dirt with a wire brush, sanded parts to bare metal, undercoated the body, and filled pits, which were then resanded to a smooth finish so I could paint them. Other work included welding broken parts, and shaping new body metal, which was formed, fitted, and fastened together with rivets and woodscrews. Wooden parts were also rebuilt, seats reupholstered, back cushions pinned in place, while the top pads and top were re-sewn. And if you don't have the pieces, make new ones, as I did.

Tiredness, tedium, repetition, and improvisation were the order of the day, but then so were the rewards. The restoration achieved offset these many frustrations. My success, ability to solve problems, and pride of accomplishment describe the many steps, negative and positive, I went through to reach the final finished project.

Model T Memories, I have many. Driving my first car; being in charge and moving over gravel country roads at the fantastic speed of 20 to 25 miles an hour. Going to ball games, squeezed in like canned sardines, lustily singing at the top of our voices the favourite songs of the day. Cranking the engine, each vibrator coil singing its own tune. Checking the amount of gasoline in the tank under the front seat with a ruler for a gauge. A leaking radiator required a stop at a pond to fill up. Not needing hand signals to indicate your intentions. Watching for cattle as they often grazed along the roadsides and in the ditches. And tire chains in winter beating a noisy rhythm against the back fenders if they were slightly loose. These are just some of my many


I was one of the earliest "Mr. Fixits", making haywire and fence pliers the tools of the Model T trade. This was the exciting, magical, mystical world of the fabulous Model T, to which Henry Ford had made a lady out of Lizzie. Everyone then beat a pathway to his door, and you just had to be a part of that world.

Photo: Rebecca (Gatfield) and Eric Dinelle celebrated their marriage last year in Virgil’s Model T

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