By Brian Earnest
The owners of a 1933 Ford Deluxe station wagon probably thought they were in trouble with the law one fateful day back in 1966 when Maine State Trooper Roland Foss paid them a visit.
Still in uniform and driving his patrol car, Foss stopped at the home in rural Edgecomb, Maine, to inquire about the old woodie wagon that was sitting in the yard.
“It was just sitting there, and I walked up and said, ‘Are you interested in selling that?’ and she said she’d like to get rid of it,” Foss recalled. “I had no idea how much it was worth or what they were asking, but I asked her what she had to have for it and she said $295 and I said I’ll take it and I drove it home. It was as simple as that.”
Foss has never been able to retrace the entire life story of the rare 1934 Ford Deluxe “woodie,” but he did find out that the woodie had been used for many years as a school bus for a small private school in Rhode Island. The wagon could fit “probably 6 or 7 kids,” Foss figures, and it seems like quite a few probably took rides in the Ford over the years. “I’ve seen pictures of the thing in use in the late 1940s, I would say, judging by the looks of the people and cars around it,” he noted. “How long it had been in Edgecomb, Maine, I don’t know.”
Foss admits he never would have guessed how rare and valuable the ’33 woodie would become when he stopped and made that impulse buy 46 years ago. He seems to have developed a knack for spotting valuable old cars before anyone else and getting them for bargain basement prices. Foss made similar deals years ago for a low-mileage 1934 Ford and a 1936 Packard, among others.
He wasn’t sure what he was going to do with the station wagon when he first got it, but Foss wasn’t in a hurry, either. “It was in pretty rough shape,” he said, “but very few pieces of wood were rotted at the time. The running boards needed be recovered and the upholstery was gone. I put new tires on it, but that was about all I did to it at the time. I would say 95 percent of it was very presentable, but there was, like, three pieces of wood that were rotted and they were replaced at a boatyard.
“After that, it pretty much sat in the barn. I’m gonna say it was in that barn until ’95 or ’96. I didn’t do a thing to it, but I had other cars — a ’62 Corvair — and I didn’t have any money to do anything. Then I retired from the State Police and I got a couple other jobs after that and my income changed a lot and one day I told my wife, ‘I’m gonna dig that car out and see if we can do something with it.’”
Even if Foss hadn’t decided to restore the retired school bus and make it young again, the old Ford would still be a coveted prize in the collector car world. Only 1,654 of the V-8-powerd Deluxe station wagons were built for the 1933 model year, and survivors that have not been customized are very few and far between. Prices for top-shelf specimens have soared into six figures in recent years and among Ford flathead fans, the woody wagons are true trophy cars.
The 1932 model year was one of the biggest in Ford history, of course, but 1933 had its share of changes, too, and the Deluxe wagons reflected some of that evolution. The boxy, upright styling of 1932 gave way to more streamlined and swept-back look, with a pronounced rake in the windshield. Murray, which Ford used for its wagon bodies, redesigned the model’s exterior with wider front doors and a sloping “A” pillar. The wood body sections were constructed of maple and the steel body originally came in a brown with a matching rubberized canvas top over the cab. The steel-spoked wheels came black from the factory.
The wagons were powered by the 221-cid, 75-hp flathead V-8 that shifted through a three-speed manual transmission. The cars rode on 112-inch wheelbases and used four-wheel mechanical drum brakes and semi-elliptic leaf springs with a solid axle in front.
With three rows of seating — including two separate middle seats with some space between them to allow access to the third row – it’s not hard to imagine the wagons being able to pull school bus duty for a handful of riders at a time. The widows slide up inside the top and snap into to place. “Except the back one, that one rolls up and ties into place,” Foss noted.
The wagons weighed in at 2,635 lbs and at $640 they were the most expensive cars in Ford’s lineup. Buyers who wanted to fancy things up could tack on options such as a greyhound radiator cap, dual windshield wipers, leather seats upholstery and whitewall tires (5.5 x 17).
Foss wasn’t sure how far he was going to take his restoration efforts when he finally dug his wagon out of storage. He got the car running without much difficulty, but to truly enjoy the car and do it justice, he knew it would need some attention. “We got it on the road a little bit and went to a couple of parades and a couple local shows, and it stunk so bad we choked all the time,” he laughed. “We stunk so bad when we got home. One night I just said, ‘That’s it. I’m gonna tear it all apart.’”
In the next few years, Foss spent much of his free time tending to the venerable Ford. “I spent so many hours on a creeper under that car paint and sanding — I can’t even tell you,” he said. “As far as my time, you couldn’t pay me for it. I spent hours and hours under that thing.”
Foss got some help from an unusual source along the way, and it turned out to be a bargain. “I took the engine and transmission to Southern Maine Vocational College,” he said. “They build stuff in the classroom and they rebuilt everything for me and all I had to do was pay them for the parts. They did a beautiful job. I taught motor vehicle inspection there when I was a Trooper, so I knew the instructors.”
Perhaps the biggest issue Foss had with the Ford came later when he discovered some of the wood supports needed replacing. “I opened one of the doors one day and it dropped about 2 inches. Two of the wooden door posts had rotted off…”
He wound up getting the door supports and some of the roof supports rebuilt by a boat yard in Maine. “They did a great job with it and they’d never done it before,” Foss said. “It turned out so good that another guy here took his Mercury woodie there. They got another job out of the deal.”
Along the way, the wagon got new brakes and suspension parts, a refurbished gas tank, bodywork on the hood, fenders and running boards, and a new coat of brown paint. “Then we took it to the guy who did the upholstery and he reroofed it,” Foss said. “One thing that I found out that made me chuckle is that everybody who restored these 33 woodies … all the guys put black tops on them. I haven’t seen another one that is tan. They are supposed to have tan tops and black wheels… The car was totally black when I bought it, except for the wood. I put it back to tan like it’s supposed to be.”
Foss said that the only “school bus” modifications that the Ford had were a sliding bolt in the doors, apparently to keep the kids from pulling the handles and falling out, and a school bus sign in the windshield. “The sign was gone, but the letters hand imprinted themselves on the glass!” Foss said.
Foss has had the car on display at the Boothbay Railway Village for “probably the last seven or eight years,” he said. And as much as he has become attached to the old Ford over the past 46 years, he said it is probably time for the car to have a new owner.
“Yeah, that’s where we are. It’s for sale,” he said. “I’ve had some offers on it, but I haven’t sold it… It’s not really a car you should be putting on the highway, you know? My friend who has the national winner trailers his everywhere. I’m not really ready to do that. But it’s just too valuable now to put out on the road. It drives great and it’s got plenty of power because it’s got the flathead V-8. The only thing that scares me are the mechanical brakes. They work good, but it’s a pretty valuable car to be out there with all the other cars. It’s insured, but it’s scary.
“I’ve had it a long time and I’ve got my heart and soul into it. For now, it’s going to stay in the museum until somebody else wants it.”
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