Wisconsin man handcrafts fantasy truck: “1919” Ford Model T Pickup
Henry Hummelbeck owes his collection of old iron to practicality, patience and luck. But his pride and joy — a Ford Model T pickup he built by hand — he owes to his wife, Margaret.
Henry and Margaret moved to Chicago from Germany in 1962. Over the years, while working as a plasterer and drywall man, Henry began almost by accident to build a collection of old iron. “I am all the time interested in old stuff,” he says. When he saw a Model T in a customer’s garage, Henry told the owner how Margaret would enjoy the vintage automobile. A few years later, the man offered Henry the car — a 1918 Model T Roadster — and Henry bought it. “All I had to do to it was overhaul the engine,” he says. “Then I kept it in my garage in Chicago.”
A few years later, when Henry heard of a widow who wanted to sell her late husband’s 1929 Model A Sedan, he decided he would have a mate for his Roadster. The Model A has a 4-cylinder engine that puts out 40 hp and is capable of speeds up to 50 mph. Henry’s Model T Roadster has a 20 hp engine; it can be driven at 25-30 mph.
One day Henry and some friends were sitting in his workshop, looking at a picture of an old Model T pickup with its box filled with flowers. “We found that picture at an auction,” he says. “We got it because Margaret likes flowers, and she especially liked seeing flowers in the pickup.”
As the men talked, someone suggested they build a pickup like the one in the picture. Margaret was all for it: She had long wanted to put flowers in the bed of a pickup like the one in the photo. “She said, ‘make a flower wagon for me,’” Henry recalls, “so we decided to build one.” Ford did not build a Model T pickup in 1919, but if the company had, there’s a good chance it would have looked like Henry’s fantasy Ford.
Henry found the frame for a 1919 Model T at a farm auction; the farmer had used it as the bottom of a hay wagon. A friend found a 1919 Ford Model T engine, and another friend came up with fenders.
Once the frame was set in the shop, Henry and a friend used the photo as sort of a blueprint to build a Model T “body” out of cardboard. “We did this so we would know what kind of size to use,” he says. “We used the picture to figure out how big everything had to be and how the pickup would look. Then we measured everything and made the cardboard pieces. We used them to start cutting the body out of plywood and then set the pieces on the frame to see if they fit. Sometimes we had to make changes.”
Everything — floorboards, fire wall — is made of wood, except the obvious metal parts like the engine and windshield frame. While Margaret stained and varnished the wood to preserve it, Henry contacted a friend in the upholstery business in Chicago. Using old photos as a guide, he had seats made. A friend with a body shop prepped the fenders and painted the vehicle.
Parts for the project were easily obtained. “Many of the pieces we needed for the pickup are available from a couple of big dealers,” Henry says. “You can buy most of this stuff.”
The pickup sports kerosene lanterns mounted below the windshield. “I got them just for show,” Henry says. “We don’t use them anymore.” Headlights were more of a problem. “They’re harder to find, because mostly they are rusted out on the bottom, as moisture gets in them and pools, and you can find them in real bad shape.”
Though the running board and fenders appear to be one piece, they are actually separate parts bolted to each other as well as to the frame.
The windshield, found at the Badger Steam & Gas Engine Club show in Baraboo, Wis., needed a bit of work. “I had to remove the old glass and install safety glass,” Henry says. “You can still find windshields, though some of them are in real bad shape, rusted out. This one was in good shape after sandblasting and patching.”
Other than the wood and upholstery, the only pieces on the entire vehicle that are not original are the radiator and the hood. “We bought them and then set the whole thing together,” Henry says.
Overhauling the engine presented the biggest challenge. “We took the entire engine apart and took it to a machine shop where they bored out the cylinders to make them bigger,” Henry says. “Then we brought it back and set it together.”
Originally he ran the engine on leaded gasoline but eventually switched over to unleaded. “We use regular gas,” he says. “There’s no difference in the engine’s performance.”
Not surprisingly, Henry says he’s never seen another Model T Ford pickup like his. People ask where he bought the pickup; when he tells them he built it over the course of three years, they are dumbfounded. He enjoyed seeing the vehicle take shape and he especially enjoys using it. “I drive all my cars,” he says. “I go to shows, take them around the neighborhood, even give people rides in them.” FC
For more information:
Henry Hummelbeck, W7940 Klempay
Rd., Mauston, WI
— Read more about Henry's collection in Unsuspecting Customer Buys Rare Cockshutt Tractor.
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; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.