Late one foggy summer afternoon, my 19-year-old friend Philip showed up and said he needed help. He was on his way home from the Owls Head Transportation Museum, where he volunteers.

Philip wanted a better front axle for his 1926 Model T – the car I was driving to school when I was 17. He recently came into possession of that car because 40 years ago his great-grandparents “Gramp” and Gladys Wiley were relatives, next-door neighbors and my closest friends. What goes around comes around.


In 1953 there was no problem with the front axle on that car, so I didn’t see that there should be any problem with it now. For the past 60 or so years it hadn’t done much of anything but gather dust in Winslow Robinson’s hen house.

But Philip said he wanted to put new bushings in the front end to tighten it up. A close inspection revealed that the holes in the axle where the kingpins went in were a little worn, and it would be nice if he could have a better axle.

There is neither shake nor shimmy in that Model T. A week before, Philip had let me drive it to my 63rd high school reunion, and it handled like a dream. How many people do you know who drove to their high school reunion in the same car they drove to school over 60 years before?

Not everyone at the reunion was overjoyed to see us pull into the parking lot. There was at least one woman there who turned her head and wouldn’t even look. One cold night, she walked 3 miles to get home when I got stuck in a hole in Victor Dennison’s gravel pit. There are some things better forgotten.

On cold days, I took out the front seat and put in the round kerosene heater we’d used in our bathroom when I was a kid. If you have never driven to school on a cold morning with a cozy kerosene stove heating your car, you don’t know what you are missing.

In 1952, more financially secure than I am now, I actually had two 1926 Fords that I drove to school – one, the two-door sedan that Philip now drives and, just before that, a four-door touring car that had no top. In December 1952, I was coming home from school in the touring car when the right front tire went flat.


Back then, when wheels would come off, I’d be slowed down for a day or so, but a flat tire was no cause for alarm and I continued to drive home on the rim. Old Fords had wheels with wooden spokes. By 1952 the spokes were already 26 years old.

The one on the right front was obviously decayed because, almost abeam of Bate Maki’s house, the pounding shattered it. The car slid to the right into the ditch, turned 90 degrees to the right and flipped over, dumping me like water out of a teacup.

If you were involved in an auto accident that did more than $50 damage, you had to report it to the state police. Because I’d paid Tom Bragg only $23.50 for the car, I saw no need to report the accident and was able to hide the vehicle along a nearby side road. That night I played for a dance at Rockland High School with my mother and didn’t dare tell her I’d rolled over in my car until we’d finished the gig.

Did I mention that Philip is learning how to restore antique cars at a school called McPherson in Kansas? I gave the axle business some thought, realized that he was now the Model T expert and put on my coat.

We looked at half a dozen Model T axles in three locations before he saw one that looked good to him. He’d get down on his knees and sight along those axles and find a little bend in each one of them.


Do I need to tell you that when I was 17, a bent axle meant absolutely nothing? The problem was with the half-rotted wood in the wheels, which would sometimes shatter on corners. I know that at least 13 wooden wheels or rear axles broke on me in a two-year period.

You’ve seen sailors who race boats all sitting on one side so the boat wouldn’t flip over. I remember getting three trustworthy companions to stand on the left running board so the car wouldn’t roll over when I made a sharp left turn into the church driveway. The car didn’t roll, but the right front wheel broke and we plowed a furrow up through the church lawn.

The axle Philip wanted still had wheels and the front spring attached to it, so we had to take it apart. When he gently placed the axle in his car and climbed in behind it, he mentioned that Model T axles cost $150 online.

I’m glad Philip found a use for that axle. I’d been saving it for him since his grandmother was 15.

The humble Farmer can be seen on Community Television in and near Portland and visited at his website: