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A Jaunty Model A To Last a Lifetime

By JOHN GOULD / November 19, 1993



MEMORIES surged when we brought the Model-A Tudor out from the back stall in the stable and made it ready for the road. The old Ford was last exposed to public gaze back in 1981, when it and my college diploma were the same age, and I drove it to Bowdoin College for our 50th reunion. I had a sign on each side saying, ``Class of 1931 Courtesy Car.'' Henry Ford did bring his new models out in the fall, so this one we have was bought new in September of 1930, but remains a 1931 model.

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The purchaser was my father-in-law-to-be, who bought it for a daughter betrothed to me. Sweet music. She drove it to business, but when we set up housekeeping in Maine I already had an automobile, so hers languished in a garage in Massachusetts that cost $378 more than the Model A did. Her father drove it some, but was road skittish and usually made excuses to work in his garden. We brought it to Maine, and it was our family vehicle as the youngsters grew up. So now it needed only a state safety sticker, and it could go on the road for further adventures.

But our children did not learn to drive with this classic car. As farm children, they started with the tractor, and son John was tooling about the place when he was 4 or so. But both of them did their roadway practicing with the Ford. The boy's maiden voyage was memorable.

We had a neighbor at the time, by the name of Bill Knox, who was a trooper with the Maine State Police. Bill was a stalwart sort, handsome in his uniform, and when the time came, I suggested to Bill that he ride out with son John and see if the lad was ready for his official examination at the registry. On his next day off, Bill came and arranged all six-plus feet of himself on the back seat of the Tudor sedan, and said, ``OK, let's go!'' John took the wheel and they rolled forth onto the highway to be gone over four hours.

It isn't every unlicensed young man who takes his first tour with a state cop in the back seat. Bill gave directions, and they went up the Ridge Road to the Bowdoinham Road, crossed by the Rabbit Road past the Fisher Schoolhouse, and came to Richmond by Bowdoin Center. They stopped at Harwoods station for hot dogs and ice cream. They doubled back to Bowdoin Center, and came home by Mosquito Hill and Jack's Crossing. Bill said he'd had the time of this life, and that the boy would pass his test with no trouble. He did.

The first year I took Kathy on what would become an annual trout hunt and a father-daughter tradition, we used the Ford Tudor and had an ample day at Flatiron Pond. Being, I think, 5, she was irrational, so instead of having a trout feed at noon, we paused to cook each trout as she caught it, and then she'd catch another. We passed the day pleasantly, and Daddy sacked her down the trail. She was sound asleep, dreaming about next year.

On the way home, the old Ford came to Piazza Rock. On the road of those pretourist days, Piazza Rock was the place to shut off the ignition key, put the gear in neutral, and coast downhill for seven miles right into Madrid. The high moment of this was the place called Masonic Hill, where three esoteric levels gave a roller-coaster thrill the highway engineers later removed. About halfway to Madrid the nuts came loose, and our front bumper dropped off. We ran over it.

Resenting this, the bumper came along downhill behind us, snapping and snarling vituperation and contumely. Several times it almost caught us. But it gave up, and in a mile or so we got the Model A to an easy trot, turned on the ignition, and went back to get the bumper. It lay a-jingling in the middle of the road, vibrating with a nasty chuckle.

Nobody has ever owned this paragon save my wife; it has not been ``restored,'' as buffs usually like to do. Now and then it got new points and new plugs. But it sits about as it came from Michigan, FOB $597, including heater, optional stop light, and a cover for the spare tire. It has, if you press me, become a bit difficult to maneuver older legs into the thing, but the memories are comfortable.

We get a lot of Rolls and Mercedes and such hereabouts, and nobody looks up. But permit us to pass with a squawk from the Model-A horn, and people stand and stare, smile and wave. I did have to buy a new battery this time.