Local antique car buff gets first 1913 Model T sold in Garden City

10/14/2013

By SCOTT AUST

By SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

Growing up in Garden City, longtime resident Ronald Naab used to watch a 1913 Model T Ford owned by Burtis Motor Co., in many a parade.

So when Naab learned a couple years ago that the car, the first ever sold in the community, was available, he jumped at the chance to acquire a piece of Garden City history.

"More than anything, the fact that it was the first car sold in Garden City (was the reason he bought it)," Naab said.

According to a 1985 Telegram article about the sale of Burtis Motor Co., the Model T was the first car ever sold at what was then McCoy Motors in 1913. It was purchased by June Baldwin of Garden City for $400 to $600, equal to about $37,000 today.

In 1918, the dealership got the car back as a trade in and held on to it for decades, bringing it out to run in many community parades over the years

In late 2008, the car was purchased by Bill King who outbid another buyer on the online auction site, eBay, where the dealership had put the car up for sale.

Naab bought the car from King and decided to have it professionally restored.

"I've known the car ever since I was a little kid. I used to ride in it with the guy who got it ready and drove it in parades when I was probably six or seven years old," Naab said. "It's just one of those things. Kind of like the first car you ever had. When you get to be older you can't wait to get one back just like it."

For the restoration, Naab sought out Lilleker Antique Auto Restorations of College Station, Texas, a business that specializes in Model T restoration. The process took about a year and a half.

"That was a very nice car, with some great history as well," Ross Lilleker, owner of Lilleker Antique Auto Restorations, said during a phone interview. "It was a pleasure to work on it, really."

Lilleker stripped the car down and essentially rebuilt it from the ground up. But it helped that Naab's car was in pretty good condition, he said.

A lot of Model T's out there are little more than beat up farm trucks, Lilleker said.

Lilleker said the challenging part of restoring a Model T is finding the body wood, because the cars have a wood frame inside a steel paneled body.

"That requires quite a lot of time and patience and skill to re-wood the frame so all the doors close properly and that sort of thing," he said.

Originally from England, Lilleker said his fascination with Model T and Model A Fords grew since he was a small boy. He restored cars with his dad as a hobby, including some Model Ts. When he came to the U.S. in 2001, he drove a Model T from College Station to Prudhoe Bay Alaska, a 12,000 mile tour.

"I'm a pretty hard Model T guy, really," he said. "This car had great history. To be able to trace the history back to day one is really nice."

The car was painted its original color, midnight blue. Lilleker said from 1909 to 1913, Model T Fords were painted several colors and it wasn't until 1914 that the standard was to paint them all black.

Getting the wheels correct was also a bit tricky. Some restorers use oak, which is a mistake. Lilleker said they should really be done in hickory because oak is a very hard, brittle wood.

"Mr. Naab wanted to do it right. He wanted it restored accurately, keep the original parts, and do it properly," Lilleker said.

Naab, a lifetime Garden City resident, has operated many businesses but is currently owner of Home Pro home inspections and works with his wife, Connie, inspecting homes.

Naab said the car had been indoors all these years so it didn't have any rust or major wear and tear but a few things were missing, like the original headlights, which are kerosene fired, the horn and the carbide generator.

"Back then you didn't have electricity so everything was gas, including the lights," he said.

The headlights are powered by acetylene gas through a carbide generator on the driver's side. To start the car, first it must be primed. Then a hand crank is turned at the front of the car for the engine to turn over.

The car has a four-cylinder engine, and probably could reach speeds up to 40 miles per hour. It gets between 13 to 21 miles per gallon and can burn gasoline, ethanol and kerosene.

"It's an automatic transmission. Two speeds forward, one reverse," Naab said.

The speeds are controlled by foot pedals; the spark and throttle are controlled by a hand lever on the steering wheel. A 10-gallon fuel tank is located under the front seat.

Restoring old cars is somewhat of a hobby for Naab, who restored a 1931 Model A Roadster himself.

"I just kind of like them. I like the old, original stuff. I've never been into putting big V-8s in or things like that," he said.

Now that he owns the Model T, Naab plans to enter it in local parades and in national competitions and events put on by the Model T Association of America.

"That's one of the reasons we wanted it as perfect as we could get it, so we could enter it in that stuff," he said.

Naab got the car back from Lilleker just over a week ago, just in time for this weekend's Emmaus House Car Show at the Finney County Fairgrounds.

"If anybody wants to see the car, it will be on display there," he said.

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