Kids Use Stripped-Down Model T Ford as 4-Wheeler

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Photo Courtesy Richard Stout
Richard Stout’s stripped-down Model T Ford in the mid-1950s. Left to right: Jean Burlingame, Kenneth Stout and Jerry Burlingame.

In my youth, I was fascinated by my dad’s stories about a stripped-down Model T Ford. He told of his dad having an extra Ford car in the late 1920s. One day when his dad went to town, my dad took the body off the Ford. His dad was vexed and had him put it back together. Eventually the car came apart to become a trailer. But in the meantime, my dad and his brothers ran just the engine and chassis around while sitting on the gas tank.

On their farm, they had some land along the river. Small pothole ponds there had water in them most of the year. In the winter they ice skated on those. They took the stripped-down Ford to the ice and really slid around, getting behind it on their skates and holding onto a binder twine rope. Dad told of being with it on ice 2 inches thick and having to keep it moving or it would break through. His brother stopped it and the front wheels broke through. The water was only about 18 inches deep. Dad had to get in the water to pick up the front end while his brother backed it out. Listening to stories like that made me want to do something like this, but our farm did not have a pond.

In the mid-1950s, Dad came home with what was a Model T chassis trailer. On another trip to the junkyard, he came home with a T engine and transmission, which was one unit. That was the start of a Model T. My dad would not round up a Model T to take apart; he just kept bringing home parts from the junkyard. That and what parts Dad had around the farm are what I used to put together a stripped-down Model T. Mother did not think too much of these ideas. To get out from under this when she griped at him, Dad would say it was my deal and she would not say anything to me about it.

It had a spring wagon seat to sit on and two 1-gallon antifreeze cans soldered together for a gas tank on the dash. It had a two-speed rear end. That really helped when I ran it in the cow pasture. When the grass was wet or if there was a skiff of snow, it would really slide around, almost pivoting on one front wheel. If I could get someone to drive it on light snow, I had barrel stave skis that I used to slide around behind it, holding onto a baler twine rope.

Some neighbors didn’t think much of it when I ran it out on the road. You could really open it up, but I was afraid it would quit, so I did not get very far from home. I heard the sheriff called Dad but neither ever said anything to me. In a back lot I laid out a short 0.10-mile racetrack. It was 10 to 12 feet wide; I had no competition. I even took the blade and banked it. Only in one spot was there a close tree if you went off the track. I took my frustrations out on that track with the T. It saved my good car a lot of abuse. Believe me, people look at you sideways when you say you have a racetrack. I found out it was best not to bring up these subjects with your girlfriend. One told me I thought more of cars than of her. It did not last! FC

Richard Stout lives in Washington, Iowa.

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