By Douglas Stewart/Contributor
(Published May 30, 2007, 2:00 p.m.)
The world changed the day that Henry Ford brought out the Model T.
Consider the times: The Model T came out in 1908, the Wright brothers' first flight was five years earlier and the first commercial airline would fly in 1926.
If you wanted to travel long distance, you had three choices, trains, horses, or ships, many of which still plied the seas with sails and steam.
The first "T" rolled off the assembly line on September 27, 1908, and the United States would never be the same-neither would the world.
"You can have any color, as long as it's black," Ford told reporters.
Model T's brought the first affordable motor vehicle to the masses. Built internationally-under license in Canada for Canadians and for shipment to South Africa-and selling for well under $500, the average person could buy freedom. With few, very few paved roads, let alone highways, Americans could move across the country, across town, across wherever they wanted to go. Of course, gas stations were still rare, but at that time, gas prices were at pennies a gallon and the "Tin Lizzie" got 25 miles to the gallon (what does your SUV get?).
Enter the Model A. Introduced on October 20, 1927, but not sold until Dec. 2 of that year, the Model A took the country by storm.
Prices ranged from $385 for a Roadster to $510 depending on the model. The top-of-the-line Fordor went for $570. Built until 1931 and no longer available in only black, but in six color schemes, the Model A set the standard for years to come.
Fast-forward to 2007 and the village of Sharon will celebrate the Model A on Sunday, June 3.
Model A Day actually began in Rockford, with the Rock-Ford A's, a local club. The first event was held in 1988 at Midway Village Historical Museum. The museum is a working model of an 1890s town. Perfect ambience. It drew 80 participants and hundreds of spectators. By 1996, it had grown so large that the museum was about to assess a participants' fee to cover clean-up costs. That and the fact that they had really outgrown the facility, led them to look elsewhere.
Meanwhile the village of Sharon had decided to restore the downtown business district as it appeared in the mid 1800s-seemed like a marriage made in heaven.
Member Mike Peters, also a Sharon resident, contacted the Main Street Association and presented them with the idea of moving Model A Day to Sharon. And a new tradition was born-Model A Day in Sharon is held on the first Sunday of June every year.
We had over 300 cars last year," Peters said, "and a lot of clubs attending from Milwaukee, Rockford, Indianapolis, Madison and Joliet, among others." There are, of course, classic cars that are not Model A's, so Main Street, with just 40 spaces, is dedicated to the A's.
Peters said the Model T was produced from late 1908 until 1927. In early '27, Henry Ford laid off just about everybody to retool for the A. The Model A came out in October and everybody got called back to work. The A was only produced for four years, from 1928 to 1931.
There were 24 different models-trucks, pick-up trucks, roadsters-and they all used the same chassis and drive line.
"Made 'em cheap to manufacture," Peters said.
Gone was the old "any color as long as it's black."
Peters said black was chosen by Henry because it was cheap. "There were now six different color combinations, all two-tone."
Peters has been involved in doing restorations since 1980. "My dad and I restored a 1930 Model A truck, and I was hooked," he said.
He has done six restorations, not all of them Model A's.
What's involved in a restoration? "Well, the most difficult one took me 15 years," he grinned.
"It was a ground-up restoration. I found the body in a pine woods in Berlin, Wis. The chassis I got from a Model A parts guy in Waupaca; the fenders where O.K., but the body was shot. My father-in-law gave me the engine. There was, of course, no title. I kept all the documentation on the project and the great state of Wisconsin gave me a title based on that. I'll never do it again."
Cars are found in all states and conditions. John Berg, a member from Illinois, found an abandoned car in a ditch. He cleaned it up a bit, but liked the way it was and left it that way.
The car, stuffed to the gills with stuff, inside, outside and on the roof, looks like an "Okie" escape vehicle from the dust storms and Depression of the late '20s and '30s.
Strangely, many necessary parts are still manufactured-but not by Ford.
"We couldn't do these bumper-to-bumper restorations if it wasn't for the cottage industries that make these parts," Peters said.
There were 5 million of these cars built, but only about 10 percent of them survived the scrap metal drives of World War II. Still, that's a whopping half million cars.
"They were steel, and that's what saved their bacon," Peters said. There was not a lot of wood in them, just steel needed for the war." And the parts are plentiful and cheap. A radiator, for example, goes for $385; the mounting set for it is $3.70. "Cheap, just like Henry," Peters said. But no one makes engines, frames, or front end assemblies; those must be found," said Peters. And, of course, there are original equipment dealers and swap meets.
Peters will be there at Model A Day's 11th annual festival with two cars: a very pretty 1928 Roadster, cream on black with a rumble seat and all, and a 1928 Speedster. "The Speedster isn't really a production car; it's more of an early hot rod. Both restored by Mike Peters. John Berg's Okie car will be there, and a lot more. "We sent out 70 invitations to five different states," he said.
Besides the restored 1920s and '30s look, which is worth pictures itself, the townsfolk of Sharon dress in 1920s and 30s attire and get into the spirit of the past. Admission is free and all are welcome. The daylong event features food: a pig roast (with all the trimmings), an old-fashioned ice cream social and running board lunches. Entertainment will include gangsters and period skits, Charleston dancers, a roaring '2os magician, a Dixieland band playing the greatest hits of the '20s and '30s, dance performances, 1930s strolling musicians, and the Singing Savino Sisters.
There will also be a free swap meet, vendors and fun for everyone of all ages-and 350 cars to drool over.
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