From Truck Yeah!: People did amazing things to get their mail before we could send messages with a few buttons... like put off-road tires on wooden-spoked wheels. Here's the (mostly) complete and fascinating history of an "off-road snowmobile coupe", as told its by owner/seller who knows of "at least three" in existence.
People did amazing things to get their mail before we could send messages with a few buttons... like put off-road tires on wooden-spoked wheels. Here's a the (mostly) complete and fascinating history of a "off-road snowmobile coupe", as told its by owner/seller who knows of "at least three" in existence.
This very special Model A Ford convertible cabriolet was originally manufactured around June of 1930. Leonard Quammen of Lindsay in north eastern Montana had it modified by a local blacksmith named Walt Freeman in 1940 or 1941 for use in delivering rural mail around Lindsay. Leonard farmed near Lindsay and had mail routes both north and south of Lindsay. He would deliver mail on one route on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and deliver mail on the other route on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Goodyear 11.25 x 24 pneumatic tractor tires were used on 24" tractor tire rims. These tires were introduced in the mid 1930's and were Goodyear's first pneumatic farm tractor tires. They had a diamond with a hole in the center for the tread pattern. This distinctive tread design was not self-cleaning when running in mud so these tires were not as popular with some farmers as they might otherwise have been. Goodyear had thousands of various sizes of this type of tire in their warehouses in the late 1930's and found it hard to find homes for them. They eventually sold them for snow applications such as on this car or for use on agricultural equipment such as grain combines that were normally only used in dry weather conditions. Leonard did try skis on the the front once. They would work fine on snow but when there were bare spots in the road, they did not work well.
The four tires on this rig and now over 70 years old so they are showing their age. You can still see the name GOODYEAR painted white on all of them. This may have been done at the factory but I am not certain about that. There are lots of checks and small cracks in them. The left front tire has a few inch long split in it so someone may have installed a boot (a section of a tire used to reinforce a weak spot in a tire casing) inside the tire many years ago.
Amazingly, none of the four very special tires ever appeared to have sat flat as usually happens with vehicles of this age. When that happens, the tires often develop bad cracks, become weak in the flat spot and later blow out. These ancient tires have some minor flat spots on them so when I drive this car, it does not ride smoothly. I have never driven it over 10 miles per hour or so. At that speed there is enough tire vibration to make the front fenders flop a bit which makes this car look like a big bird which just ate too much trying to take off and fly.
I have listed the mileage on this car as being only 25,649 miles because that is what is shown on the speedometer odometer. That may be how many miles were on this car when Leonard wound up with it for the snowmobile conversion. After the Model TT Ford truck rear axle assembly was installed, there would have been no place to drive the speedometer as there was on a stock Model A Ford drive shaft housing.
The rear axle and wheels are from a Model TT truck in order to get the higher numerical axle ratio to handle the larger diameter tires. The front wheels are made from 21" 1928 or 1929 Model A wheels. The outer row of spokes was long enough to reach the 24" tractor rims. The inner crossed spokes were completely removed and replaced with spokes about 3" longer. All welds on this conversion were done with a torch because electric arc welders were still a scarce item in rural Montana in the early 1940's.
Please notice the 5/16" x 2" steel straps used to mount the rear fenders. They were torch welded to the thin steel on the back of the body and to the thin fenders. This took a very good welder who knew what he was doing in order to avoid burning through the light sheet metal. The inner parts of the front fenders have been cut and extended with sheet metal triangles in order to raise them up to clear the large front tires. The backs of the rear fenders have been modified in a similar way and were opened up to a larger diameter. The rear fenders were torch welded directly to the body quarter panels above the wheel wells.
This car was originally dark blue and was repainted a medium blue about the same time it was converted for mail delivery. The top is not the original and was replaced a long time ago. Whoever installed the custom replacement top did not tailor it properly so it could fold down. I suspect whoever had the original top replaced was more concerned with keeping the eastern Montana weather out than enjoying fresh air on the nicer days. The front seat upholstery is the original whip cord and is in tough shape. The rumble seat back rest is the original black material and is still in amazingly nice original condition. Leonard removed the rumble seat cushions so he could haul more packages and groceries for his customers.
I have nick-named this car "Bigfoot" and displayed it at the Model A Restorer's Club national meet in Merrillville, Indiana in 2009. There were over 300 cars there but I suspect this ugly old beast attracted more attention than any other car there. I gave at least 200 people rides in it around the parking lot even though the brakes don't work at all yet.
While I was at that Model A meet, it was very interesting to note how people reacted to this gem. I would say the majority of them appreciated it for what it was made into and encouraged me to preserve it they way it is now. Several people simply could not understand how anyone could "hack up" a car as scarce and desirable as a Model A cabriolet is. Every time I patiently reminded them that any Model A cabriolet was most likely nearly worthless in 1940 or 1941. That was because the folding top covering would have been about 10 years old at that time and in poor condition. Very few people in Lindsay Montana would have had any use for a "topless" Model A Ford. Why would anyone invest $35 or so in having a convertible top installed on a car worth about that same amount? I suspect Leonard acquired this car for next to nothing, had the conversion done to it, found out that it worked OK on the bad roads and later on had a new top installed that did not fold down.
As an interesting side note to the issue of the fragile convertible top, I will add another related story. My Dad was born in 1921 and grew up on the home ranch north of Geraldine Montana. He worked together with Grandpa and Grandma for many years who never owned a pickup truck. They had a 1929 Model AA Ford truck and later added a 1937 International D-15 tonner to the fleet. After WW II, Dad drove 70 miles to Great Falls Montana and paid $35 each for a 1929 Model A Tudor sedan and a 1929 Model A business coupe. It was like a sport coupe with no landau irons and had a trunk rather than a rumble seat. Dad drove them home and then did something terrible to each of them.
Dad had a large Lincoln electric arc welder generator powered by a 1934 Nash straight 8 engine. He fired it up and used it to burn the back off of the business coupe. He then built a respectable looking wood box for it and had his very first pickup. He usually drove it to the field and hauled fuel and supplies in the box. He mentioned working in the field one day before a severe hail storm came along. The tractor had no cab so he hid behind one of the rear wheels of the tractor until the storm stopped. He then walked back to his Model A pickup and found that the hail storm had completely shredded the canvas top covering. Since the car now was "topless" he simply tossed his jacket into it through the open top.
I still have that pickup which was built it January of 1929 so it still had the old style 7 tooth sector steering gear. Dad mentioned that the steering gear was worn out so bad that the steering wheel had about a quarter of turn of slop in it. That made it hard to drive so his trick was to drive near the edge of the road so the car would pull to the right and he would have to pull back some on the steering wheel. It is a wonder that he never went into the ditch. Once he changed oil on the engine and forgot to tighten the oil drain plug. Thank goodness the car had an oil pressure gauge on it and he happened to notice the needle jumping around. He walked back to where the trail or oil started, found the oil drain plug, walked back to the dead Model A, installed the oil drain plug, filled the engine with tractor motor oil and continued on to the field.
Dad removed the Tudor sedan body, shortened the chassis, mounted the rear axle rigidly to the frame, installed an auxiliary transmission from a burned up 1929 Chevrolet and mounted a 25 foot long paddle elevator above the other Model A. He added a flat belt pulley between the Model A transmission and the Chevrolet transmission. By putting the Model A transmission in gear and the Chevrolet transmission in neutral, he could use the power from the Model A engine to drive the paddle loader and use it to load grain. He used it in harvest to unload trucks and well as later in the year to empty the grain bins and load trucks when hauling the grain to the grain elevator in town. This "grain loader" as we called it was quite an innovation before the grain augers became popular in the early 1950's.
I have over two hundred vehicles in my collection and have never had any vehicle create as much interest and attention as this car does. I showed it at a local car show a few years ago and won the antique class over 6 other nicely restored Model A and V8 Fords. This is not a show car and I don't collect trophies but I was happy to see the crowd show their appreciation for a truly special and unique "survivor" vehicle like this. I really treasure this car as it is, due to it's special history, and would never restore it. I have worked hard to take care of it and preserve it just as it is.
The third from the last photo is of original artwork done a few years ago for me by Don Greytak of Havre Montana. Don is well known for his fabulous and super realistic pencil sketches of farm and ranch life as well as transportation related topics. The image measures 12" high by 15-1/2" wide while the outside of the frame measures 20" high by 23-1/2" wide. Please notice the "US MAIL" sign above the front license plate and the pair of stick on defroster shields which are still on the inside of the windshield of this car. It appears that Leonard Quammen used the rumble seat to deliver a Christmas tree to a friend who is on horseback. This unique piece of artwork sells with this car.
At this time, I know of at least 3 more Model A Ford mail delivery cars that are still in existence but they have been neglected and are in poor condition. I also know of a WW II Dodge 1 ton 4wd chassis that a mail carrier installed a Chevrolet sedan body on. He then installed 4 road grader tires and used this vehicle to haul mail for many years. This vehicle still exists in a friend's junk pile and I am trying to get it. I can barely remember it as a child. The owner of that vehicle had Polio and built it while working in a wheel chair. I have no idea how he ever got into and out of that vehicle but I do know he always took somebody with him when he used it for mail deliveries in tough weather.
This car was featured on pages 22 and 23 of the May-June 2010 "Model A News" magazine published by the Model "A" Restorers Club. This car was also mentioned but not shown in the history of the Quammen family in the book "Our Times, Our Lives" A History Of Dawson County. This interesting book discusses the history of the country around Glendive Montana and includes a section describing Lindsay Montana. I recently found a copy of that book here on eBay so that copy goes with this car.