Monday, December 23, 2013

Charlie: Depot Hack Therapy

By Rob Watson

In the eight years Charlie and I have been friends we have worked together on about three Model T restorations.  Mixed in were a few repairs, upgrades, and tuneups to his and other folks jalopies.  The first with which I had helped was an assembled pile of junk seen on a used car lot while passing through a nearby town. A later restoration began as a request by one of Charlie's friends to "tune-up" a depot hack the friend acquired... well, here is that story:

The friend had gone to the entertainment mecca of Branson Missouri. One of his choices of entertainment was to attend an automobile auction there. As the auction moved along, a number of rather nice autos came up for bids and sold. Then, a very attractive Ford model T depot hack was driven onto the auction block. Bidding was slow so the friend decided to throw in a bid. You know, just one bid to move thing along. His one bid won the day, so to speak. He failed to notice, until later, that the car was pushed from the stage.

In attempting the tune-up, it became clear the whole motor/transmission assembly needed a complete overhaul. With financial assistance from the friend, and technical assistance from another friend, The job was accomplished with excellent results. In the process, Charley became enamored with the depot hack idea.

You see, depot hacks are all custom made. Charlie's research showed there are hundreds of them and no two are exactly alike. The primary feature they have in common, other than a model T frame, motor, transmission, and running gear, is they are all made almost entirely of wood... finished, varnished, and polished to a high shine. (They are also the most likely forerunner of the "Woody" station wagons of later years)

The third leg of our triangle (desire, knowledge, means) came in the form of a model T frame, motor, transmission, and running gear, supplied as a gift from the owner of the depot hack described above.
In the following picture, Charlie's future depot hack sits on the trailer as it was delivered.

It is said this "gift" sat in a pasture, fully exposed to the weather for over 50 years, including being fully submerged during at least one flood.

My job has always been that of minor assistant: instances requiring extra agility such as crawling under the car... fetching tools... cleaning parts... sandblasting... Observing Charlie's restoration processes have been an education in the conservation of money and dogged persistence.

Our first task was to recover and restore the engine. Most of the engine parts were rusted to most of the other engine parts. Cutting tourches, big hammers, punches, various forms of lubricants, rust dissolving agents, and patience were the main tools. With some paint and a few replacement parts we got this:

A trip to the lumber store got us two sheets of very nice plywood ($78) for the sides and front of the body. The structural parts of the body were made from refinished wood recovered from a piano ($0) and the sideboards ($0) of a cattle truck. The seats ($0) we rescued from a discarded school bus. Fenders, running boards, and other body parts were "in stock" or traded with the "model T old boys club" ($). Most of the nuts bolts and screws were purchased new ($?) as was the rubber covering for the roof ($?). Below is the result:

The reader should remember that with Charlie, everything exists as a work in progress. There is always room for improvement and he is the one to try it. Below, me, Charlie, and his other able assistant, Jake, take the depot hack to town for coffee.

 Therapy? Charlie's lovely wife will sometimes gently remind him that he is no longer young. I counter with the declaration: "Working on these old pieces of junk is what keeps you alive."

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