Farm hand: 1914 Ford Model T

Staff reports
Farm Forum

More than a century ago, Henry Ford set out to put the world on wheels. Eventually he created a universal car for the multitudes — the Model T.

Ford produced various versions of the Model T by the millions before the last one rolled off the assembly line in 1927.

One of those first 1914 Model T Fords is now in the hands of John Mays in Conroe, Texas. When new, it rolled off the assembly line with a touring car body that Mays describes as a convertible with a front and rear seat and no side windows. It had a base price of $550.

The early history of the Ford is a mystery; however, Mays suspects the original owner was a Michigan farmer who decided that he needed a pickup bed more than a back seat. Sears-Roebuck provided a pickup bed kit to take the place of the back seat.

In 2014, the unrestored Ford was advertised for sale in an antique car magazine. “I wanted an unrestored Model T,” Mays says. At the time, the Model T was resting in an Ohio storage facility.

Seller and buyer agreed to meet in Dallas in September and the Ford was more than Mays had anticipated. “I couldn’t be more pleased,” he says.

Mays then towed his 1914 Ford pickup home on a trailer hitched to his 2012 Ford pickup. The engine casting date on the four-cylinder, 177-cubic-inch engine is 11-20-13, which indicates that it was originally installed in an early 1914 Model T.

The engine delivers 20 horsepower to the rear wheels through a planetary transmission with two forward gears, one reverse and neutral. The 10-gallon gasoline tank is mounted under the front seat and fuel is fed to the engine by gravity. Mays has a Ford measuring stick used to indicate how much fuel is left in the tank; it has three sets of calibrations to accurately measure square, round, or oval fuel tanks.

Four quarts of oil lubricate both the engine and transmission, Mays says. Instead of a dipstick to check the oil level, the Model T has two petcocks, one above the other. If no oil flows out of the lower valve when it is opened, the engine needs oil. If oil flows out of the upper valve when it is opened no additional oil is required.

Mays says he has christened every vehicle that he has owned according to its personality. “Otis seems to fit” Mays says of his newest acquisition.

The 12-spoke wheels are shod with 30-inch tires, each one filled with 55 to 60 pounds of air pressure. Only the 3.5-inch-wide rear tires provide braking. The 3.0-inch-wide front tires are there for steering duty.

Since the Model T did not come equipped with a driver’s side door, the spare tire is placed where a driver’s door would have been. Above the spare tire is a brass horn that can blast out a warning by squeezing the rubber bulb.

A pair of horizontal glass panels forms the windshield. Mays explains that the top half can be swiveled open for ventilation or, he says with a grin, “If you want bugs in your teeth.”

When it comes to crank starting the Model T, Mays says the most important thing to remember is to retard the spark advance in order to avoid a possible bone breaking kickback.

When he first got the Model T Mays was concerned with the differential, which originally had Babbitt thrust washers. “Babbitts will tend to deteriorate after 100 years,” he explains. The original washers were replaced with bronze ones for reliability. They probably will be good for another century.

Mays says that, when new, the headlights on his Model T were illuminated by carbide gas created in a canister on the left running board. “The canister held carbide pellets and water,” Mays adds.

When the two were mixed, gas was created and directed to the headlights through rubber tubes. The glass lens of each headlight was then opened and with a match the headlights were lit. The cowl lights and taillight were simply kerosene lanterns.

“Around 40 miles per hour is the limit for me,” Mays says, “but I really enjoy driving around 20 to 25. I’m driving a Model T and I enjoy that, so why hurry?”

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