Cooter & Uncle Bud Meet Henry Ford
This is an article submitted to the MARC Magazine in response to their request that I write a synopsis regarding our preparation to enter the Fine Point Judging event in Indianapolis in 2005
These articles, stories and accounts of my life, as I recall them, and are copywrited. Unauthorized use will be pursued at my determination, to the degree that I am inclined. Any hard feeling caused by memories that don't match yours are unfortunate and you'll just have to get over it! Feel free to contact me if you have a request for their use.
I was born in southern Michigan , raised in southern Ohio and moved to South Carolina , after a traffic accident claimed the life of my wife and two daughters, to work in Winston Cup (Nextel) Stock Car racing for 21 years. I had the distinct pleasure to work with some pretty fair stock car drivers like Dale Earnhardt, Ricky Rudd, Bill Elliott, Mark Martin and the Allison Brothers among many others. I had a fabrication shop that built and repaired race cars and show cars, and was a car owner for several years as well.
When you were involved in Winston Cup racing at that time you worked like a dog. When I first got started I looked back at one point to notice that at the beginning I had worked continually for 13 years and 5 months without a single day off, and the only time I spent with my remaining family was when we raced at the track in Brooklyn, Michigan.
It was during this time that my nieces and nephews began calling me “Uncle Bud”
Towards the end of my racing career I had done so much working and traveling that I woke up one morning on the left coast and had to wrap a towel around my waist, walk through the parking lot to a telephone booth to look at the phone book, to tell what town I was in, so I knew what type of car we brought to this town, so I knew what to talk with the guys about at breakfast. Two months later I was doing engineering work in an office.
After a stint as director of research and development at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, I purchased some acreage and a new house that required some additional wood work. A friend of mine that was doing that work introduced me to “Cooter” as she became to be affectionately known after we were married. It was a term of endearment that I began using after her self proclamation that she was as slow as some of the turtles that inhabited the 3-acre pond that is in our front yard. (here in the south some folks call some turtles “Cooters”). She may think she is slow and “pokey” at times, but I'm here to tell you I could never have completed this project without her constant help and encouragement. I'm very happy to be married to her, she's my best friend and am proud she is my wife.
The restoration of this pick up began a little over 5 years ago when we overheard a gentleman in Winston Salem, North Carolina mention that he had a Model A truck at home that he was trying to sell. We pulled him aside and asked if we could take a look at it, he said “you betcha”, so we followed him home.
Neither of us were knowledgeable at all about any Model A's , let alone trucks, but we both loved the “look” of it immediately. Lack of knowledge has never stood in my way before, so we drug it home. A good friend of mine, Dave Rumely, and I drove it around the farm for a few days, then brought it into the shop and started taking it apart. We thought we would begin restoration, after all, I figured, I can build a race car, how difficult could this old car restoration be? Man, what an eye opener!
Let me take this opportunity to give props to all those folks who have accumulated the vast knowledge through effort and research that it take to authentically restore one of these Model A's. After all the effort that it takes to accumulate this knowledge, I was amazed at the willingness of those gurus to share their knowledge to a new restorer.
After separating the body from the frame we sought bodywork and painting advice from a well known and respected antique restoration business. After they came and looked at the cab, they were very polite and professional in there assessment, but the gist of the conversation was that “you better get something better than this to get started with”. Well, that marked the first setback, but it sure wasn't going to be the last one. We found another pick up cab in Phoenix , Arizona with a dented and broken roof. Upon inspecting it closer upon arrival at our shop we should have asked for a reduction in price upon the discovery of several bullet holes in the driver's door. Further investigation found no more evidence of foul play, so we raised the roof off the original truck and slid this cab underneath it.
We installed new wood at this time, and it was going slow until it was pointed out to me that this new wood required some shaving and trimming to fit. We had figured that the wood was correct and that we had a sheet metal problem. It was also at this juncture that we determined that the roof wood was pre-assembled before attaching to the windshield pillars and the top of the rear body section.
It was about this time that Wisconsin's own “Doctor Doolittle”, the purveyor of detail from Chilton, gave us sage advice in recommending that I get in touch with Rob Mills who had a wide bed pick up similar to ours, and who turned out to be most helpful in many areas of our restoration. MARC's own Roger Kaufmann did and continues to provide exacting details for our use in the restoration of our commercial type Model A's. But, I must say that the person that provided us with the widest range of the most exacting details for our project was John Kluttz. John became our mentor very early in this project and was continually available to answer the incessant number of detail questions that we asked of him, all of which he knew the correct answers to. We also got lots of help over the duration of this project from fellow members of the Queen City Model A Club in Charlotte , N.C. All of them were willing to help or answer questions at the monthly dinner meetings. Thanks, Guys!
My best friend, the afore mentioned wife “Cooter”, was most helpful in the dis-assembly and cleaning process. She was extremely willing to do any amount of cleaning, de-greasing ,sandblasting work that was required. How could a Model A man ask for more?
One of the more interesting aspects of the restoration process that I really liked was the numerous tools, jigs and fixtures it took to accomplish the work required on this project. I made a rotisserie for rotating the frame, fixtures to check straightness on the fender and running board brackets, headlight assembly jig, steering box support for assembly, fixtures to pre-assemble the brake backing plates, tools to check pinion and carrier bearing pre-load, on and on and so forth. I even made a tool to remove and re-assemble the knob on the windshield wiper actuating rod. It seemed like it would never end, but I enjoyed the tool making as much as the restoration effort.
One of the more fun parts of the project was when Peggy (“Cooters” real name) and I went on those excursions necessary to find NOS and original parts. We have a small motor home that makes travel somewhat easier, and we both enjoyed the treasure hunting. We still find it interesting to determine if a part is actually original and if it is appropriate for our application. Without exception everyone we have dealt with has been pleasant and willing to help us, but we still find differences of opinion that are not always easy to sort out.
My inability to maintain a clear picture in my mind of all the details required, as well as my engineering and fabricating background, made it easy for my to begin keeping track of all these details by making sketches, drawings and lists for items required and their relationship to each other. I began by going thru the Judging Manual several times in an effort to make a list of all the fasteners required and listing them by the finish (or lack of) required. Those lists included raven, black, unfinished and cadmium finishes, as well as nickel and chrome plating, and a list for those few items on our vehicle that were stainless steel.
I sometimes found some conflicting information, so on these hardware finishing lists I added columns that showed the item description, the chapter and page of where it was shown in the Judging manual, the page it was shown in the parts price list, the page it was shown in the Standard Hardware book. Additionally, I had a column to show if I had acquired that piece, a column to show if it had been prepared to send to the plater or was ready to be painted.
This turned out to be a substantial list and I was getting confused as to how to remember where all these items went, so I started to make little sketches, which sometimes turned into drawings. Some of theses were merely sketched on notebook paper, some were done in AutoCad while others were photocopies of other drawings that were stretched, widened, or in some way mutilated to suite my needs. On each of these “drawings” I would show the mating parts along with the hardware with corresponding notes showing the appropriate finish. This list making and drawing took an enormous amount of time as well as untold phone calls to the afore mentioned gentlemen for their input, but grew into a full notebook of information that at first glance appears to be the scribbling of an errant cartoonist, but became invaluable when it got down to crunch time as the deadline to leave for Indy approached.
Of particular difficulty was the acquisition of appropriate drip rails and rear molding for this pick up, as the rear molding was not available at that time and there wasn't any available information at that time for the drip rails. I was able to get a gentleman in California to remove the rear molding from his wrecked truck and send it to me. It came with both top and bottom joined together and still had the roof nails in it. It still puzzles me as to how he managed to do that! At any rate it was identical in every detail to the existing rear molding on our pick up (except for the foot long twist in ours), so that got handled as well as could have been expected. The drip rails turned out not to be so easy.(surprise)
We spent the better part of one and a half years trying to locate a drip rail donor(s), but to no avail. On a trip to Kansas to pick up a few Model A parts, I realized that we were going thru a town that I recognized as the location of a race car tool building company that I used to deal with when I was building race cars. I stopped and we discussed the building of a special set of rollers to build the drip rails. They fabricate and sell a motorized bead roller and we worked a deal that we would buy one of their motorized rollers if they would build us a set of roller dies for the drip rails, but only if I designed the rollers.
For that I had to go to the archives in Dearborn and research the drip rails. They were most helpful and I left with the necessary drawings, but it turned out to not be as easy as that. The special rollers that I designed didn't work (surprise), but a set of additional turning rolls that came with the roller machine were most helpful. Additionally, we ended up going to Covington , Kentucky and acquiring a P7 Pullmax hammer former to complete the job. I had to get out the drawings again and go back to work. I made an AutoCad drawing for the Pullmax tooling jaws, saved them in a .DXF format and had a local machine shop cut them out of ½” plate with an EDM machine that leaves very little “curf” angle. After fitting these fixtures to the Pullmax the drip rails were completed but only after using a shear, a brake, the Pullmax machine, the two sets of closing rollers, the brake again and finally a special tool (actually a round rod welded to another round rod) was used to dolly over the outer edges.
With the help of Rob Mills, the bed wood and other bed items were completed and final pre-assembly was started. We used a template made from a NOS RF fender to straighten the LF fender and made several templates of our NOS LR fender to finish the RR fender. We made a long fixture to check splash apron fit as well as a shop roll-around “cart” to do our pre-assembly with. It was made so that the frame was supported at the spring mounting points so that the inevitable sag that comes with adding the weight would be accounted for when fitting the sheet metal. It didn't go all that smoothly (surprise) but we finally had it ready to go to the body shop.
Here's a real surprise, painting and bodywork costs a lot of money! We were very pleased with the work that was done and was fortunate enough to get the work done close to where we live, and the regular visits made it clear to me how much time and effort is required to do the job right. Thanks to Butch and the guys at Vintage Restorations in Fort Mill , S.C.
The paint work took longer than we had expected (surprise), so the actual assembly time was cut to the last minute, but my faithful wife “Cooter” and friend Dave along with John Kluttz all came thru with a supreme effort to get this done in time, and any effort on my part to take credit for the completion of this project would be inappropriate.
Thinking the hard part was over, we joyfully loaded up for the trip to Indy to see how we would fair in our first attempt at Fine Points Judging. Peggy, who had been looking forward to some vacation time rather than more work wisely chose to stay home. Her foresight was impeccable.
We arrived on Saturday evening and on Sunday afternoon unloaded the truck across the street from the host hotel to look thing over. After unloading we found a small fuel leak and the truck would not start after running for about two minutes. We dis-assembled the carburetor, etc., found nothing wrong but it started and ran anyway. Not wanting to use the clutch and motor to drive up steep ramp to truck we were going to use the winch, but it had not been wired up when it was installed, so Sunday evening was winch repair time.
Monday and Tuesday were class days, and we had planned on waxing the truck during the evening on both of those days, but it rained in the evenings and we couldn't do it in the trailer. Given those circumstances, we got up Wednesday morning at 4:30 and drove to a nearby church parking lot, unloaded and waxed that rascal! Just as we were getting done, the Reverend showed up and was kind enough to understand our situation and wished us well. As things turned out, I wish I could remember his name, as he obviously put in good word.
We were able to leave the camper and trailer on the church lot, so we loaded our tools and a little wax rag into the new “piece” and headed west. The trip was about a mile, but on the way there our ride began missing in high gear. I was pretty concerned as we already had 2 miles on the odometer and had no trouble up to that point, LOL, but it smoothed out as we slowed down, and as we were running late, we proceeded directly to the photo line to get ready for the blue ribbon inspection area.
At that point it quit completely and we were unable to get it started, so it was pushed back out of the way, and as I tried to crank it from under the hood the to check for spark, I suddenly found it. On my right ear!. It appears that the original coil had generated a path of lesser resistance and my ear had generated a path of greater acceptance at precisely the same instant. We were able to cover that situation and I am quite sure however, that you are unable to see either the singed sideburn or the red ear in the judging photo.
During the blue ribbon inspection we were able to get the carburetor adjusted for the Start and Idle, the dash light correctly functioning, the fuel leak was stopped for the moment and the little matter of the emergency brake got corrected at the last minute.
At Start and Idle I was asked if I was nervous yet. Having just recalled the events of the morning and the memory of stock cars at Daytona traveling at 80 miles an hour, 2 feet from where I was changing a tire, I thought better of my initial response and just shook my head no. It was smooth sailing from that moment forward, until it was time to empty the judging area at 10:30 that evening.
We did remember to readdress the coil situation, but it didn't fix the problem this time. After much help and assistance from well wishing gentlemen, it was well after dark at the time, so as a last resort, I decided what had to done to correct this situation. I was able to locate a “loaner” coil in the parking lot. I installed it, got the truck to the trailer and replaced the coil. By now it was 2:30 in the morning. (By the way, if you were the person who owned the dark colored Phaeton, I'm sorry, but if you contact me I will replace the missing lock washer).LOL.
Thursday was nice and sunny and portrayed a brighter outlook for the upcoming mandatory tour. We trailered to the race track and unloaded just as the track officials said they were opening the gate. Quite some time later they did, and we proceeded to take our lap around the outside of the track prior to actually getting onto the speedway. We got onto the track where turn two transitions onto the backstretch and all was going well up to and including turn three, but as we completed the short shute approaching the entrance to turn four that rascal got the hic-ups again, and died!
I had worked several years in the pits at Indy and remembered that the safety vehicles parked in an area between turn four and the entrance to pit road that was in a lower position and hidden by a mound of dirt, and having an instant desire not to be seen by most of the 750 of so Model A's that WERE running, I found an area where there was asphalt connecting the apron to the inner entrance to pit road and headed straight for it.
I made it to the slightly hidden area only to discover that we had not brought any of our tools including the show tools, and neither my friend Dave nor I chewed gum. I raised the hood to look for something easy to fix, and not finding anything I shouted to Dave that if he was a praying man this might be a good time for it. When I looked up from under the hood his head was bowed, but I think he was just trying to hide from the crowd that was parading by.
At any rate, I silently made my own request, lowered the hood, jumped in, stepped on the starter and that piece came to life nice as you please. After a hurried “Thank You”, I eased my way back into the single line of metallic creatures that were following each other around the asphalt ribbon, being careful not to make any of the other cars have to pass us, as we had been warmed that they were not permitting any form of “racing”. We had been told they would stop us, load us on a roll back, not pass GO, and deliver us to an undisclosed site if they caught us.
We were able to complete the tour with some minor sputtering, and were looking forward to our first awards banquet, unaware that we were supposed to have registered our desire to sit at certain assigned tables. When we arrived we were obviously surprised to find out that the $30 plate of Cordon Blu might have to be eaten by our setting the plates on one of the light fixtures that were attached to the back wall. It was the wall nearest the kitchen area, so we were comforted by the fact our dinners might be warmer than the other folks were, as they had to travel less distance and the lights would assure that the meals were kept warm for the duration of the event. As the dinner came close to starting however, Jerry Miller, the event chairman (nice job Jerry) called out for those tables that might have an extra seat or two to raise their hands, and we were quickly seated at the table of some extremely cordial folks who were attending the meet and had just completed competing in the car games. They were race fans and a spirited conversation ensued. They treated us very well. Thank you all! When they came around to collect our tickets we remembered that we had folded them over and they were still attached to that non-working coil. The waitress mentioned something about being an Earnhardt fan and they did bring us the food. It was great!
As the time for the awards got closer I was getting worried about our results. Our initial goal was to get over 450 points and get a “MARC of Excellence”, and not having been thru the judging as a participant, I was getting concerned as to how some things that we had done might be interpreted. Would they be able to tell how much work went into this or that? Would they be able to tell this took research ? Did I over restore this or under finish that? Would they really take time to look for this detail? What about all those fasteners, will they see how much work went into them?
The answers to these questions and more were moments away, and I was getting anxious to find out what they were. As they announced the point totals I was very happy with the total for our truck and relieved to find out that the Judges had indeed taken time to look at the most intimate details. We were going to be able to bring home the “MARC of Excellence” award, but I was not prepared for the events that followed. I am sorry, but I didn't know about the Raymond H. Matthews Award, but was happy to bring it home for the highest points total for a commercial vehicle.
We didn't realize that the high point car (498) of Marco Tahtaras was not competing for the “Henry” and that would make us eligible. We were completely surprised by this sudden turn of fortunes, particularly after the proceeding week's events, but were not mad when we were called to be introduced to Henry Ford.
Peggy and I would like to thank each of you who played any part at all in helping us achieve this. It was beyond our expectations, and we are grateful and appreciative. We are particularly thankful to John Kluttz for his unending patience to our questions and willingness to help when it was needed. Thanks John!
Additionally we are very appreciative of Rob Mills, Roger Kauffman, “Doc” Kalinka, Frank Soden, Bill Sturm, Ray Shelor, Sam Nixon , Vintage Restorations and Walt Bratton for technical advice and/or quality workmanship. And of course our friend Dave Rumley.
I'm sure there were others, but rest assured that if you offered advice we at least considered it, if you sent us information be sure we read it, If you offered friendship we gladly accepted it.
Thank you all, Will and Peggy Cronkrite