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Local club rehabbing Model T for Reagan museum in Dixon

Maurice Dyer Fox Valley Model T Ford Club works engine compartment 1919  Model T Coupe club is rehabbing for

Maurice Dyer of the Fox Valley Model T Ford Club works on the engine compartment of a 1919 Model T Coupe the club is rehabbing for the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home and Visitor Center in Dixon. The engine is being rebuilt in Ohio while club members work on the rest of the car in South Elgin. | Dave Gathman~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 8, 2013 6:16AM

SOUTH ELGIN — As they toured the Ronald Reagan Boyhood home and Museum in Dixon last winter, it was natural for Elgin-area residents Steve Angvick and Bob Stauffer to take a special interest in its garage.

Displayed inside was a 1919 Model T Coupe just like the one on which Reagan learned to drive. And back home, Angvick and Stauffer were — and still are — active members of the Fox Valley Chapter of the Model T Ford Club International.

When they asked the tour guides what condition the almost-century-old car was in, the guide said it actually was not drivable. So the Elginites got an idea: Bring the car back to South Elgin and put it back into the condition it would have been in when it rolled off a Detroit assembly line, the year after World War I ended.

“This isn’t the actual car that Ronald Reagan learned to drive in. But it’s the same year and model,” explained club member Maurice Dyer. “The one he used was owned by his father, who was a shoe salesman, and nobody really knows what happened to that. But this one had been donated to the museum by another family.”

“We want to get this into running condition so it can be used in parades and so forth. But once we got it apart, we realized it needed a total engine rebuild and rehab.”

Formed in the 1960s, the Fox Valley Model T club has 45 members. Not all actually own their own Model T’s. But all are committed to preserving and studying what most historians agree is the most important model of automobile ever built. Made using Henry Ford’s newfangled “assembly line” technique between 1909 and 1927, it was the first car cheap enough to be affordable by “the common man” — somebody like a shoe salesman in Dixon.

The Model T was almost single-handedly responsible for bringing the Automobile Age to America, Dyer said.

“We actually don’t know how many miles this one has on it,” Dyer said, “because they didn’t have odometers, or even speedometers. They didn’t need to, because they maxed out at about 35 miles an hour. They could go faster, but the unpaved roads of their day didn’t let you.”

Club members put the coupe into a trailer and drove it to the Fox Valley about three weeks ago, placing it into a six-car garage and machine shop owned by 86-year-old club member Bob Scheitlin of South Elgin.

They took out the engine and drove it a week ago to a shop owned by Kevin Preuss of Columbiana, Ohio, who rebuilds engines for antique cars. When Preuss found out this was part of the Reagan museum, Dyer said, he agreed to rebuild the engine for free, a project that would normally cost $4,000. Snyder’s Antique Autos in New Springfield, Ohio, donated $1,000 in custom-made parts.

Meanwhile, club members back home have been rehabbing the rest of the car. For example, they scrubbed at the heavily corroded metal rings around the lights until their color changed from grayish brown to shiny brass. Herb’s Glass of Elgin donated a new windshield, although this will be the now-required safety glass rather than the shatter-prone glorified window glass installed on the original Model T’s.

When the rebuild is done, Dyer said, club members will form a caravan of antique vehicles on the first weekend of June and drive the Model T back to Dixon.

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