On the first Friday of each month, 96-year-old Bill Kelly and his wife, June, along with Bob Pressly of Lee's Summit and other members of the Kansas City Chuggers Model T Club gather at Blue Ridge Christian Church to promote interest in the Model T.
“That's what we do,” says 57-year-old Pressly, who joined the Chuggers five years ago with his wife Janet.
“And you don't have to own a Model T owner to become a club member,” he adds. “You just have to be a Model T enthusiast.”
No one is more qualified to join the club than the Kellys, who became Chuggers about 45 years ago. Today, a large backyard garage Bill Kelly constructed years ago houses three Model T's – a 1912 Touring, a 1915 Roadster and a 1924 Roadster. Also squeezed in is a 1926 Model A Sport Coupe. In another nearby garage are a Model A and a Model T. Ford sold 16.5 million Model T's in a variety of styles from 1908 to 1927.
While sitting around a small kitchen table in Kelly's Independence home, Bill recalls growing up with a 1922 Touring Model T. However, it wasn't until years later he became really interested in cars and purchased his first Model T from a neighbor boy for $5 and drove it home while living in a rural community near Seymour, Missouri.
“During my high school years, I owned at least three Model Ts in different stages of disrepair,” Bill recalls. “That was my family interest. Of course (World War II) came along and when I got out of college, I started getting interested in Model Ts when I went to work at Bendix" in Kansas City.
As a high school student, it didn't take long for young Bill to become acquainted with his prized purchase. While he and three classmates were returning home from an overnight excursion, a rod went out about 30 miles from Seymour.
"The engine failed, and the car stopped," Bill says. "So we took out some tools and tore it down. We took out the rod, put it back together and drove home on three cylinders.”
After listening to Bill's story, Bob Pressly interjects: “You have to have tools to drive a Model T. You're going to have to stop at some point and work on it.”
Noting he and Bill Kelly are both retired Bendix engineers, Pressly recalls he became interested in Model T's about seven years ago when a young man came to work at Bendix and mentioned his grandfather had restored a Model T and wanted his grandson to bring it to Kansas City. The grandson, not having anyplace to store it, told Pressly of his predicament. Pressly said he would be proud to have the Model T in his shop.
“So he brought it to Kansas City and we worked on it together and he taught me what he knew about Model T's. So I learned to drive a Model T from a 23-year-old.”
Pressly and his wife began searching for a Model T. What they eventually found was a 1914 Model T “Depot Hatch” that transported travelers from the depot to their hotels. Although the depot taxi had been restored in the 1970s and “needed some help,” the Presslys purchased it and brought it from Colorado to Kansas City on a trailer.
Any regrets? None whatsoever.
“I am learning how to do everything to a Model T,” he says. “I fully haven't restored one yet. But I have another pile of 1915 Model T parts that will someday become a car. That is one of my retirement projects. It is a 1915 Roadster that one of the other club members started. He has since passed away and I bought the project car; it really is a pile of junk. (However), some of those parts have been restored.”
What's motivating the retired engineer to continue his newfound hobby is its simplicity, he says, adding; “I didn't know anything about Model Ts. But its simplicity makes it easy to want to learn if you have any mechanical aptitude at all, and I am a retired mechanical engineer.”
For more information, visit kcchuggers.com.
Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.