Car of the Week: 1920 Ford Model TT Truck

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By Brian Earnest

Bob Hansen chuckles at the realization of how much the old car hobby has slowed down for him in recent years. Maybe not slowed down figuratively, but certainly literally.

To be sure, Hansen is never in a hurry when he is behind the wheel of his gorgeous 1920 Ford Model TT truck. The venerable Ford wasn’t meant to go very fast, and that’s just the way Hansen likes it these days. The slower he goes, the more folks have a chance to admire the truck’s beautiful woodwork and enjoy the familiar “chugga-chugga” of the wonderfully simple Model T engine.

“I’ve had a lot of cars, but none that were this old,” he laughs. “Most were Corvettes and muscle cars. I went from really fast, to really, really slow. But it’s a lot of fun. I’ve got a ’47 Chevrolet, and it’s faster than this, but it’s also pretty slow. I don’t have anything fast anymore!”

Hansen, a resident of Waupaca, Wis., was in the market for an old pickup or truck a couple years back when he came across his current truck. He wasn’t sure if he was looking for a finished truck or one he could do a little restoration work on, but when he discovered the 1920 TT, he knew he wouldn’t have to do much. He was sold almost immediately.

“The previous owner had pulled it out of a swamp not too far from here over in the Wautoma-Neshkoro area,” said Hansen, referring to a pair of small central Wisconsin communities. “He found it out behind a little root beer stand there called Milty Wilty’s… He pulled it out of there and put a new body on it and completely rebuilt it. It was pretty bad, I guess, from sitting out for so long.

“I wanted a one-ton. I didn’t really want a small truck. I wanted a big pickup truck, and there was one in town for sale, but I couldn’t get together with the guy and buy it, so I saw this one and that was it. I just loved the wood. It’s African mahogany and white oak. All the little slats — that’s all African mahogany. And they used that for all the little floorboards.”

Judging by the way most of the Model T trucks from the era were treated, it’s a good bet Hansen’s toy was never babied like this in its first life. Ford began offering it’s TT line in 1917 with a one-ton chassis that was not much more than a heavy-duty version of its Model T automobile platform. The trucks rode on solid rubber tires and were propelled through a worm-driven rear axel connected to the 176.7-cid, L-head four-cylinder engine that was rated at 20 hp. The trucks had dual brakes, cowl lamps, front fenders and not much else. The 125-inch-wheelbase chassis carried a base price of $660 and turned out to be popular with the buying public — Ford wound up building a total of 135,002 of the new trucks.

Several aftermarket companies offered bodies for the TT trucks, using either wood or metal. “You could order just the chassis and get your own cab, or some would come with a cab,” Hansen pointed out. “Then you could put your own box or stake bed or whatever on there. This one probably would have been made of plain wood, and most of them would have been painted — probably either green or black. Hey, if you’re a farmer, you didn’t worry about stuff like that

“I’m sure it was a farm truck, but it’s geared so low you really can’t go on the highway, or go fast at all… I’m sure it was just hauling grain and bails of hay.”

A variety of cab designs, both closed and partially closed, were used on the TT trucks, and Hansen’s rebuilt cab is representative of the way many of the trucks looked. It has wooden construction throughout, with narrow, three-panel doors, a two-piece windshield, slightly crowned roof and a cozy bench seat. Steps are located beneath the doors to help the driver and passenger climb aboard. The back of the cab has a hinged panel with three square windows for rear visibility.

After years of driving more modern cars, Hansen has enjoyed the challenge of learning to pilot a 91-year-old plowhorse. “This is geared really low. It’s got the truck rear end in it for pulling heavy loads,” he said. “It goes about 12 mph to maybe 20 mph top speed, so it’s very slow.

“It’s kind of hard to drive, because there is no gas pedal, and it doesn’t have a regular clutch like most people would be used to. It’s all done with the three pedals and the emergency lever. And it’s got the hand gas and spark, so it kind of keeps you busy. You’ve got to keep thinking all the time. When you are used to driving other kinds of cars, it makes a little harder. If you grew up with one of these, it would be just second nature.”

Hansen isn’t afraid to have his truck out on public roads — he just makes sure they aren’t posted 55 mph. “It works good on country roads, but stay away from traffic and traffic lights, he said, “because you can’t get out of people’s way.”

The vast majority of the TT’s saw duty on either farms or as delivery vehicles, crawling slowly around the country as one of the most dependable and affordable workhorse vehicles of the time. Ford wound up building well over 1 million of the TT chassis (production numbers are a little sketchy) during the 11 years before the Model A arrived in 1928, and there are still a good number of the sturdy beasts around these days.

There probably aren’t many as nicely rebuilt and eye-catching as Hansen’s truck, however. His “R.L. Hanson Transfer Co.” is clearly a show-stopper when it shows up a various hobby events, and that’s just the life Hansen had in mind for his lovely old Ford. “Absolutely, that’s what I got it for. I take it to a few shows and have fun with it,” he said.

“And I’ve got friends with Model T’s, and we all kind of have a bond.”

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