Four Legs to Four Wheels

After 75 years, an Iowa man is back at the wheel of his 1922 Model T.

Lewis Pearson

Lewis Pearson at the wheel of his restored 1922 Model T.

Photo courtesy Lewis Pearson

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I’ll begin this story in the early 1940s. Arthur J. Pearson, my father, was a tractor farmer in the northeast corner of South Dakota. My uncle, Kermit Bartlett, was a horse farmer near Browns Valley, Minnesota, about 20 miles away.

In those days, there was no TV for entertainment. There were, however, radio, ballgames, horseshoes, dancing and horse racing. My uncle’s hobby was racing a trotter and pulling a 2-wheel (hackney) cart. He won several races over the years before his horse was injured in a fall. After that, the horse limped and would no longer trot, but he still had a very fast gallop.

Back then, weekend family gatherings were very common. At one of those get-togethers, my uncle talked my dad into letting me have that horse. He was getting tired of feeding the horse, but it was still a good riding horse and he thought I should have it. I was about 12 years old.

Later, the horse got stubborn and mean, and was hard to catch when I wanted to ride. On one of those rides, the horse threw me and I broke my collarbone. One day while we were in town, my father and I visited with a friend who was a wheeler/dealer. He had an old truck headed for the scrap pile. This guy thought he could get more for our horse (for mink feed, the hide and bones) than for the old iron in the truck. My dad had a truck on the farm just like it and it would be handy to have two of them, so they traded even up. Now I had a truck instead of a horse.

Time went by. I was drafted into the Army and spent two years in Korea. After I was discharged, one of the benefits offered servicemen was a certain amount of education for the amount of time served, so I went three years to a trade school, the North Dakota State College of Science, in Wahpeton.

In 1960, I graduated from the school’s refrigeration and electronics courses. Several days before graduation, Collins Radio of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, came to the school, conducted tests and hired most of the class (about 27 of us). My wife and I moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and I began working for Collins Radio Co.

Meanwhile, Dad’s truck and mine had been retired from farm duties and were parked in the trees. After my dad died and my mother sold the farm, a friend of mine retrieved the trucks. More than 30 years went by. I retired from Collins Radio and shortly after that, my wife, Della, died.

One day I was back visiting my brother, Roger Pearson, and other relatives and friends in my hometown of Sisseton, South Dakota. My friend who had retrieved the trucks encouraged me to restore them and keep them in the family. He offered to sell them to me for a reasonable price. My oldest son, who had a car trailer, hauled them for me.

A few more years passed. I had already restored a 1925 Model T Coupe, a 1931 2-door Model A Ford, several John Deere tractors and old gas engines. In the meantime, I met a nice lady and remarried. Edith and my children thought I should get to work on those trucks and get them running again. We restored my dad’s 1923 Model T first (read about it in the August 2013 issue of Farm Collector). Later we began restoring my 1922 Model T. My truck is now complete. It is 95 years old. I drove it for the first time on my 87th birthday in 2015, about 75 years after it was traded for my horse. This is the first vehicle I owned, and I still have it, and it is now back in running condition.

My brother, Roger, helped me get the truck, and my three sons (Lee, Randy and Larry) and grandson Andy did most of the work. My grandsons Jay, Tyler and Bill also helped. My wife Edith and daughters Kathy and Judy offered encouragement. Even though I don’t drink or smoke, they said it helped keep me out of the taverns. FC


Lewis A. Pearson lives in Marion, Iowa.