Grandson Restores the 1918 Ford Model T His Grandfather Assembled by Hand a Century Ago

Leon K. Humble, 83 years old, a retired electrical engineer and entrepreneur living in Phoenix, on his 1918 Ford Model T, as told to A.J. Baime.

In 1918, my grandfather Carl Maute bought a Model T. The story I was told is that it came to his home in North Dakota on a railroad, packed in five or six crates. The crates were probably carried by horse and wagon to his home in Wolford, N.D., and he assembled the car himself, because there were no car dealerships in the area. My grandfather was a farmer and a carpenter, and around 1930 he used a hacksaw to cut out the back seats, and he built a wooden bed to turn the vehicle into a pickup.

I grew up in Wolford, a town so small there were five people in my high-school graduating class. I have vivid memories of the Model T. There’s a picture of me sitting on the hood at around age 4. I remember it being a tough old vehicle. At the time, the roads where we lived were made of clay with some gravel sprinkled on top. When it rained, the wheels would get caked in mud. I remember once we were coming back to our farm in the rain and we got stuck. We had to walk the last mile and a half. [Ford built more than 15 million Model Ts, between 1908 and 1927.]

Leon Humble sitting on the Model T’s hood when he was about 4 years old in North Dakota.



Photo:

Leon Humble

In 1956, right out of high school, I joined the Army. I came home to North Dakota in January 1960, and in February, I hitchhiked to Phoenix, and ultimately enrolled in Arizona State University. I lost track of the Model T completely.

Almost 40 years later, in 1996, I decided to try to find the old car. I started making phone calls back to Wolford, where I still had family and friends. Turns out, my grandfather died in 1951 and left the car to my uncle. He gave it to a museum where it stayed for a long time, then he sold it for $1. I was able to find the owner, but the car had been rotting for years. The wooden pickup bed my grandfather built was intact. But the rest of the car was in terrible shape. The front seat was stuffed with horsehair, and rodents had had a field day. Some of the metal was damaged through the years, and the whole thing stank to high heaven.

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I bought the car in April 1996. My wife, Carole, and I went up to North Dakota, and trailered the Model T back, pulling it behind a Chevy Tahoe. But I was not able to start on the restoration until 2009. I was still working, so I would work on the car on weekends. I joined three Model T clubs so that I could meet people who knew what they were doing. They recommended a Model T expert in Buckeye, Ariz. I called him up, he came out to look at the car, and he soon started work on it while I continued working on the mechanical stuff. The restoration took three years, and we finished on July 2, 2012. On July 4, I drove it in a July Fourth parade.

Leon Humble’s restoration of the Ford Model T took three years. Two days after he finished, he drove it in a July Fourth parade.



Photo:

Caitlin O’Hara for The Wall Street Journal

‘It takes a certain amount of skill to drive,’ says Leon Humble of his Model T. ‘Top safe speed is 30 to 35 mph.’



Photo:

Caitlin O’Hara for The Wall Street Journal

Ford made more than 15 million Model T’s from 1908 to 1927. This one spent most of its life in rural North Dakota.



Photo:

Caitlin O’Hara for The Wall Street Journal

Ever since, I have been taking this car to car shows and driving it in parades, although Covid has put a crimp in that. It has won a half-dozen first or second prizes at car shows. It takes a certain amount of skill to drive. Top safe speed is 30 to 35 mph.

The Model T is arguably the most important car model ever built. When I think about my childhood memories of this car—and how tough it was—and I think about how much I enjoy driving it now, I can understand why this little model is the one that put the world on wheels.

The year this Ford was built, World War I was raging, and so was an influenza pandemic.



Photo:

Caitlin O’Hara for The Wall Street Journal

Write to A.J. Baime at [email protected]

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