We weren’t sure when the 1929 Ford Model A was last started and driven.
My siblings and I were back in southeast Nebraska – where it rained seven inches, stayed up in the 90s (heat and humidity), and the chiggers were hungry. We had five days to get a little work done on the house, clean out a couple lifetimes worth of everything imaginable, pack some inheritables off, and get the old cars running and sent off to new homes.
First there was the 1931 Ford Coupe. It was Dad’s first car ... a year or so before he went into the Navy during WWII, he needed a way to get from the farm to the factory in town where he was working, producing airplane parts. His dad took him to a car lot in the big city, they bought the used car and the car dealer showed him how to drive from the edge of the lot to the edge of town and then got out ... Dad figured it out from there.
When Dad came home from the service, that was the car he drove when he took our Mom on their first date; and stole his first kiss; and got mired in mud out on the farm road and had to withstand the cutting remarks of his future father-in-law who hitched up the team and pulled him out that evening.
The Coupe was the car Dad was restoring when his health went south a couple years ago. He had it running, and he had all the body parts painted, the upholstery redone, the rumble seat fixed up ... but he hadn’t put it all together. A car club buddy of Dad’s came over and started the engine, just to see if it would run ... and it ran well.
A grandson decided to take on the project and we loaded it up on a trailer – all the dozens of pieces – and he hauled it away. Someday, we hope, it will be put together and scooting around, giving rides to great-grandkids out around the Denver area.
Then there was the 1929 Ford Model A Sedan. It was Dad’s grandfather’s car, and older relatives remembered great-grandpa driving it around and the permanent splash of tobacco juice down the driver’s side from when he’d stick his head out the window and spit while driving down the road.
Dad had restored this car several years ago and it was pretty and ran well and he drove it in all the area parades.
He hadn’t felt up to driving the Sedan for a few years. We got the battery charged up and a car club buddy of Dad’s came over to help get it started. We tried all sorts of ways and tricks. It turned over, but wouldn’t take. The buddy was sad, but couldn’t think of anything else to try. Then an old coffee crowd buddy with a Model A came by and tried. He gave up after an hour or so.
My brother and I stood around wishing it would have started ... just one more time.
Then, it was as if a voice came down to us: “Check the gas, dummies.”
It was dry.
We put some fuel in. And then I was privileged to climb up behind the wheel and engage in the ritual of starting an old car, which I’m pretty darned sure must be good for any number of life analogies:
1. Open the gas valve.
2. Flip on the ignition.
3. Pull the throttle down a notch or two.
4. Fully retard the spark.
5. Pull out the choke.
6. Press your foot down on the starter and when it turns over let up on the starter, push in the choke and give it a little more gas ... all at once.
7. When it’s running, advance the spark until the whole jalopy stops shaking and starts purring.
8. Yell and shout to celebrate, back it out of the garage, plop over the curb onto the street, and drive around the old neighborhood a few times, ahhh-oooooggging everyone you see, making Betty who lives up the street move her cane from one hand to the other and wave and grin, making the bevy of kids out on their bikes pull over and wave and jabber and cheer, making the guy in the big red pickup pull over and watch you go by.
Were he alive and hearty, and were this not a time of pandemic, old Dad would be driving that Model A around in a Fourth of July parade or two today.
Why is it, I’ve wondered, that there’s something exciting about just riding in an antique car? It helps that it was a car your great-grandpa spat tobacco juice from and your father spent years babying along. And the noise those old cars make when they start up and when you engage the klaxon is ten times better than any collection of Independence Day explosives.
Happy Fourth of July, Dad. Hope you get to drive an old car in a parade up there.