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Many Model T mysteries

Aug 3, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

This is one of those few 'no start' summers

One of the great mysteries of summer at my house is whether the Model T will start.

I refer to the 1924 (some say 1926) Ford Model T automobile my father acquired in 1956 so that he could drive it in the City of Riverton's 50th anniversary parade that year. He also drove it in the Fremont County Fair Parade, and it's been entered in every fair parade since then.

There's some wiggle room in that sentence. Yes, the Model T has been "entered" in every fair parade since 1956. But that doesn't mean it's made it to Main Street.

Often the little black coupe has started with relatively little trouble, remarkable enough considering it sits idle in the garage for 360 days a year on average. It has a battery and a foot-controlled starter in addition to the crank up front, and the right combination of battery charge, choke, the spark, throttle and prayer will fire up the four-cylinder engine.

My dad drove the parade route about 45 times, I'd guess. I've done it about a half dozen. That leaves another five or six years when the T just wouldn't go.

One year it started precisely five minutes after the parade ended. Another it made it as far as the bottom of the parade hill before quitting, and we pushed it the rest of the way.

Two years ago I fired it up, drove it to the top of my inclined driveway and shut it off while I rinsed off a year's worth of dust. The T didn't like that. No go for the parade. Later in the afternoon, it started with no problem. I drove back down the driveway to the garage, cussing Henry Ford's name.

This year there appeared to be a problem with the "sediment bowl" beneath the simple little carburetor. I'd learned as a kid that the bowl sometimes gets some crud in the screen that strains the gas before it goes into the engine. Sometimes just tapping the sediment bowl with a small hammer will unconstipate the works. If not, there's a little nut that can be removed so the gas can drain out while the mechanic employs the expert technique of jabbing the precision instrument, known as the unfolded paper clip, in and out of the hole to free up the sediment.

Having been tapped, drained and jabbed, the sediment bowl and screen were, I hoped, ready for action. We hooked up the jumper cables and gave it a go.

The T, now 88 years old, tried to start. I believe it wanted to. It sputtered and gagged. It lurched and backfired. It shimmied and belched. The quaint old dashboard light came on. The horn honked.

By then, however, the plastic grips on the jumper cables were melting and smoking, alarming certain family members waiting impatiently nearby.

At this point, in the interest of full disclosure, I suppose I ought to mention that these procedures were being attempted roughly five minutes before parade time.

The same certain family members offered the gentle reminder that it might have been better to try to start the T some hours, even days, earlier, and that perhaps now was the time to give up on the noble effort this year so that we might get the rest of the bleepity-bleeping Ranger parade entry to the bleepity-bleeping starting line.

After listening to this fine bit of reasoning, I abandoned the effort for the day and vowed to consult my Model T Ford Service manual about carburetor work. The next day, I cracked the volume.

Page 207: "Position spray nozzle gasket over end of spray nozzle and run down spray nozzle in to mixer chamber using certified spray nozzle wrench. ... Place float on mixer chamber and insert float lever pin. Check adjustment of float with certified Ford gauge. On the Ford Model N.H. carburetor, the distance from top of float to machined flange on mixer chamber is 15/64" to 1/4". On the Kingston carburetor this dimension is 7/16"... Position mixer chamber gasket on flange of mixer chamber. Install float chamber over mixer chamber, then place mixer chamber nut gasket "C" on float chamber and run down and tighten drain valve assembly "D," being careful not to loosen the corresponding assembly for the ... "

Jeez Louise. On second thought, where's that paper clip?

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