In 1926, when Henry Ford realized that his Model TT truck had become obsolete, the stage was set for more than a mere replacement. The truck he unveiled in October 1927 – the Model AA truck – was a stronger, more powerful vehicle, well equipped to conquer rural roads.
“You have to remember most of the roads – dirt roads – were terrible at the time,” says Lee Young, librarian/archivist at the American Truck Historical Society. “If you loaded down a truck with any kind of weight and you got on a dirt road with mud, you needed all the power you could get to move it. The Model AA truck was tremendously important on the farm and an awful lot of them were used there.”
Though the Model AA’s production run lasted only four years, the choice proved propitious for the manufacturer: In 1929 Ford set a new record for truck sales. And one Model AA truck is still going strong in the collection of a Minnesota man.
After watching a 1929 Ford Model AA truck languish in a pole barn for 15 years, Leon Bray, Crown, Minn., couldn’t take it any more. He finally asked the owner what his plans were for the old relic – and Leon ended up as the truck’s new owner. “By that time the truck hadn’t run in over 20 years,” he says.
The son of a truck driver, Leon grew up with trucks. “My dad drove Mack trucks and I have a Mack truck,” he says. “They’re a lot harder to work on. When my friend decided to sell this 1929 Ford, I knew it would be a lot easier to work on. Also, you don’t need a CDL commercial license to drive it in Minnesota, like you do for the Mack. So I said, ‘This Ford is the one for me.’”
Originally a working farm truck in the Chamberlain, S.D., area, the Ford was already restored when Leon’s friend bought it from a museum that was closing. Use of authentic Ford parts was apparently not a top priority in that restoration. “I don’t think the headlights and the grille shroud are original, because they are chrome or nickel,” Leon says. “The only others I’ve seen on these vintage AA trucks are painted black. I don’t know if somebody changed those parts or what.”
The front bumper is another conundrum. “I don’t know if it’s a car or a truck bumper,” Leon admits. “Cars had chrome bumpers, but I’m not sure if trucks did. It appears to be basically the same bumper as the Model A auto.”
When Leon bought the truck, the body was in decent shape but the engine needed mechanical work. He replaced the radiator, rebuilt the carburetor and worked on the fuel tank. “It’s an early 1929 model, so it had a 3-speed transmission with an auxiliary adding another high and low speed behind that,” he explains. “Later 1929 Model AA’s just had a 4-speed transmission. Those early 3-speeds wouldn’t go fast enough to drive on roads, so they added the auxiliary with an extra high and extra low gear.”
The truck’s U-joints needed to be replaced. Ford used aftermarket U-joints between the auxiliary and the main transmission. Finding a replacement proved impossible, so Leon had a U-joint rebuilt at a friend’s shop. Leon added bushings and new bearings to fit around it. “These U-joints just have steel bushings,” he says, “but there are no bearings in the U-joint itself, so the U-joints are non-greaseable.”
Leon also installed a new head gasket and fuel lines. Because the Ford runs strictly on leaded gasoline, he uses a fuel additive. The first time he started the truck after completing repairs, it started easily. “The lead provides lubricant for the cylinders,” he says. “I’m told you’ll burn up the valves if you don’t use leaded gas. I guess there’s a lot more clearance for the pistons in the newer engines than in these old ones.” The Ford has an electric starter; Leon’s never had to use the crank that came with the truck.
The truck’s tires needed a bit of work. The 700-20 tires aren’t hard to find, but the split-rim tires are no picnic to work with. “You have to make sure you get the split rim back together correctly,” Leon says. “On the Model AA you put the tire on the axle and insert the snap rim to hold it in place. It’s like a big washer that fits around the edge of the rim.” His 1929 has single back wheels; models from the 1930s had duals.
The original, standard issue ahooga horn still works. “My grandkids like to play with that,” Leon says. “I’ve removed it to fix it, because it rusts up real easy. It has brushes in it like an electric motor. They spin inside and make a growling noise that comes out as the ahooga. The brushes last forever but they get corroded, so I have to clean them every now and then.”
The AA is rated in the 1-1/2 ton category, a fact that surprises many people. “It’s so small compared to today’s 1-1/2 ton trucks, which are a lot more massive,” Leon says. Because the Ford is a rare antique, he won’t test it with that weight, but he’s confident it could handle it. “Basically, the Model AA just has heavier brakes and springs, and the rear end is heavier than the one on the Model A,” Leon says, adding, “It’s a glorified Model A.”
Compared to other trucks of its time, the Ford was cheaper, he adds. “Not in how it was built,” he’s quick to say. “It cost less.” In fact, one of the things Leon likes about the truck is that the body is made of heavier, higher-grade steel than that used in many vehicles today. “It would withstand almost anything because of how solidly it’s built,” he says.
Not everything is hunky-dory with the 1929 classic. “The only thing I don’t like is that it has a torque-tube enclosed driveshaft, and you have to pull the rear end to get to the transmission,” Leon says. “Otherwise, as far as the engine and other parts, it’s easy to work on.”
The AA was progressive for its time, but Leon would be the first to acknowledge subsequent advances in automotive technology. “It’s not a real good driver,” he says. “The front wheels shimmy quite a bit until you get it to cruising speeds, about 35 mph. It will go faster, but I don’t feel comfortable driving it much faster.”
Leon takes the truck to three or four shows a year and runs it in parades. Many shows are top-heavy with Macks, so the Ford draws a lot of interest. “There aren’t a lot of Ford Model AA trucks around,” he says. “Most of them were scrapped out during World War II. And there are a lot more pickups than Model AA’s.”
People at the shows have an immediate connection with the truck. “They remember their granddad having one just like it on the farm,” Leon says. “You don’t see another one around very often. It’s unique that way. You sure won’t meet another one going down the road when you’re driving it.” FC
For more information: Leon L. Bray, e-mail: email@example.com.
Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.