On the Road: Tribute with a capital T

This post was originally published on this site

DRUMHELLER, Alberta — While sipping coffee and chatting in his friend Joe DeMott’s workshop, Ken Hudgeon would often share a dream he had of building and racing a Model T.

“Ken was obsessed with racing the Ts in Montana,” DeMott says, referring to the Montana 500, a timed event that’s been held annually since 1961. “He was always talking and reading about hot rodding a Model T motor and building a car so he could participate.”

Although Hudgeon and DeMott, both of Drumheller, had known of each other for most of their lives it wasn’t until 15 years ago that a friendship began over their shared passion for antique cars. That’s when Hudgeon bought a Model T. Someone told him to take it to DeMott for help to get it running, and the two connected over that project.

“He’d be by my shop here in Drumheller at least six days a week,” says DeMott, 87. “For a Model T racer, we each had a bunch of different T parts, but neither of us had enough to build a complete car. Between the two of us we thought we might.”

Clearly, DeMott explains, this was Hudgeon’s project. But it all started with an old Model T frame DeMott had squirreled away on his property. It needed straightening, and while DeMott was doing that work he snapped a picture of Hudgeon sitting on a platform between the frame rails, arms outstretched gripping an imaginary steering wheel while his feet operated imaginary control pedals. Hudgeon then took the frame to his own shop and began building in earnest. But when Hudgeon died suddenly in early 2017, DeMott wound up with most of his friend’s Model T pieces.

That’s when DeMott’s neighbour John Gallagher spoke up.

“John’s quite a helper around my shop, and he’d just finished restoring a 1951 Ford half-ton in here,” DeMott says, adding, “with that completed, he began talking about putting the T together in Ken’s memory.”

When he was 16 years old, DeMott bought and tinkered with an old Model T, using it to, as he tells it, “do what a young guy thinks he needs to be doing with a car in rural Alberta just after the war.”

After he had left the T behind, DeMott moved on to Fords of the 1940s and 1950s. His shop features engine rebuilding equipment and welding and fabricating gear. He’s built approximately seven complete flathead Ford engines for his own restorations.

“I’m not a mechanic,” DeMott admitss, and chuckles, “I’m really not much of anything, but I still enjoy tinkering with old cars.”

When he died, Hudgeon had progressed his racing T to the point of having rebuilt the engine, transmission and rear end.

Another friend, Dick Smeal, planned to help but was sidelined by a medical issue. He did, however, offer some valuable advice, and DeMott and Gallagher carried on assembling the car, using parts and pieces from a variety of sources. For example, while the hood is Model T, the cowl is from a vintage Essex. A small gas tank was found and mounted behind two different bucket seats. DeMott adapted later Model A hubs to the earlier Model T running gear so wire wheels could be mounted instead of the original wooden spoke wheels of a Model T.

“It’s not the prettiest vehicle out there,” DeMott chuckles about the car that is mostly a 1926 Model T.

There were issues along the way. Although Hudgeon had run the engine, DeMott and Gallagher learned the head was cracked. There were problems with the frame, too, but after spending this past winter in DeMott’s Drumheller shop the Model T has now run for approximately 75 hours.

The car was on the dirt track at Dinosaur Downs Speedway in late May for a shakedown run, and instead of the Montana 500 race, DeMott and Gallagher have chosen to run the car with the Alberta Fairgrounds T Racers. They hoped to have the car in tip-top shape for a June 16 event on the track in High River.

Their ultimate goal, however, is to have the Model T back at Dinosaur Downs the weekend of June 30 and July 1. The Fairgrounds T Racers will run on Saturday only during a busy race weekend at the dirt track. The racing is inexpensive entertainment at $15, kids 12 and under get in free. Check Dinosaur Downs on Facebook for updated details about the weekend.

“Ken was a pretty good friend,” DeMott adds, and concludes, “he’d always wanted to race a Model T, so when he died so quickly, I thought seeing the car he’d started in a finished state was something worth doing in his memory.”

Greg Williams is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). Have a column tip? Contact him at 403-287-1067 or gregwilliams@shaw.ca

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: