Just a girl and her mom out for a drive
When I was a kid, I would spend long weeks every summer at my grandparents’ farm near Tuscola, Illinois.
And if the weather was perfect, and the country roads were not covered in fresh tar and gravel, and my grandfather wasn’t working in the fields…
He would take me and my sister, Jennifer, for a ride in the rumble seat of his 1931 Model-A Ford Coupe.
My grandfather was a simple man not given to luxuries. He read the bible from cover to cover every winter, lived in the same house for more than sixty years, and always paid cash.
That Model-A Ford was his one indulgence, and he treated it like a baby.
Grandpa bought the car in 1967 from a young man named Terry, who lived near Sioux City, Iowa. When my grandfather wrote to Terry to inquire about the car, Terry replied, “I’m a junior in college, and I’m going to Iowa State University, 200 miles from home. I need to sell the Model-A because I need the money for college.”
Definitely not a “Hot Rod”
The young man went on to say, “I hope you like the car. Dad and I don’t care to sell it to someone who is going to make a “Hot Rod” out of it. It isn’t encouraging to see someone completely change something you have worked so hard to perfect.” (I might have to steal that line the next time I’m dealing with a difficult client!)
My grandfather must have convinced Terry he would take good care of the Model-A because Terry agreed to sell it to Grandpa for $800, cash, of course.
Grandpa was quite the negotiator
Now my grandfather was worried about the time it would take, not to mention the wear and tear, to drive the Model-A all the way back to Illinois from Iowa. But shipping it was too expensive. So my grandfather negotiated delivery.
It seemed that Terry had an uncle who drove a semi, and occasionally his route took him through Illinois. My grandfather asked if Terry’s uncle might deliver the car on his next trip to Illinois. The result was that Terry’s family agreed to keep the car over the winter until his uncle could deliver it in the spring.
Letters, photos, stories, and friendship
This is how my grandfather and Terry began sending letters back and forth to each other all through the winter and into the new year. Terry wrote to my grandfather about old cars and college football and how the corn and beans were doing.
He talked about his grades and his plans for the future – he was going to be a social worker. When he was late replying to a letter, he apologized to Grandpa, saying, “I wanted to answer your last letter earlier, but procrastination is the thief of time.” (I’m going to use that excuse the next time I’m late on a project!)
At Christmas, Terry told my grandfather he was headed home for quarter break because “a fellow needs a vacation once in a while.” He said the three-hour drive was much easier now that “the new interstate and freeways have improved transportation very much.” And he signed his letters “a fellow Model-A man.”
In the spring, when the car was finally delivered, Terry asked for a photo. My grandfather sent him one with both he and my grandmother proudly standing in front of their new Model-A Ford.
Loving care passed down
My grandfather took loving care of his Model-A. He and my grandmother drove it in parades and to picnics with their antique car club, entered it in shows, and won boxes and boxes of trophies.
Before my grandfather went into the nursing home, he gave the car to my mom. It’s been sitting in storage for years until my mom found an 89-year-old guy named Conrad in southern Indiana who works exclusively on Model-A Fords.
For the past two years, Conrad’s been working on the car. And he and my mom have been sending letters and photos back and forth. Just like Terry and Grandpa all those years ago.
Conrad replaced the running boards, installed a new roof, replaced the distributor, rebuilt the carburetor, and added new tires and breaks while his wife completely restored the interior.
Conrad finally delivered the restored car a few weeks ago, and Mom couldn’t wait to take me for a spin when we arrived
An archive of letters
Tonight I’ve been sifting through all the old letters from Terry to Grandpa. I found the picture of Terry and his family and the handwritten receipt for each of my grandfather’s cash payments.
I’ve been thinking about a young man off to college writing to someone he’s never met about the car they both love. I’ve been thinking about Conrad, who also loves this car and who so lovingly restored it for my mother. And I’ve been thinking about all the rides I took in the Model-A as a child and about my son Jake, so excited to be standing in the back of the rumble seat as a boy.
Tonight as my mom and I were tooling around town in the Model-A, strangers waved, neighbors stopped to ask about the car, and the young man following us in his sports car rolled down his window to shout, “Lady, I love your car!”
No profound lessons this week. Just a girl and her mom out for a drive on a beautiful summer evening. And gratitude for the old Model-A that keeps on running and for that young man who sold it to my grandfather all those years ago and for all the letters he wrote and my Grandpa so carefully saved.
If I were more clever, I’d create a gif for you with the sound of the old horn to sign off. You’ll just have to imagine the long, drawn-out “ahhh oooo gah” in your mind.
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