Famous Ford collector Edward Towe, 97, dies

 

Kristin Updegraff informed us that her father Edward Towe — of Towe Antique Ford Museum fame — has passed away. The following is his complete obituary:

Edward Towe

Edward Towe, a Montana banker, rancher, and entrepreneur, died March 13, 2012, 38 days before his 98th birthday, of natural causes at the home of his daughter in Sacramento, Calif.

Edward Towe was born in Norway, Iowa, on April 20, 1914. His mother and all four grandparents were born in Norway, Europe, in or near the town of Tau.

He was an entrepreneur throughout his life beginning from the time he became the town’s only bicycle repairman with a bicycle shop in Paullina, Iowa when he was just 15 years old. As a teenager, he bought old Model T Fords and made them into farm wagons.

Edward Towe worked his way through engineering school at Iowa State College in Ames. He was married to Florence Tow, daughter of a prominent Hereford breeder near Dysart, Iowa, in 1935. In 1937 he, along with a cousin, purchased the Ford dealership in Paullina, Iowa, which he ran for a year before moving to California where he bought a gas station and sold gas for 11.9 cents per gallon. All the gas was pumped by hand.

During the war years, he used his engineering skills on the drawing boards of many large aircraft companies designing airplane parts. After the war, he went back to farming in Iowa. He took his profits from the sale of the farm and bought a small country bank in Dupree, S.D., in 1950.

In 1954, he purchased The First National Bank of Circle, in Circle, Mont. From there he expanded to Wibaux, Red Lodge, Baker, Fairview, Reserve (later moved to Plentywood), Richey, Roundup, Butte, Superior, Bozeman, Belgrade and Browning, Mont., and Modale, Iowa. He and his partners sold all but the First National Bank of Wibaux in 1973-1974, in which he retained an interest until 1992. His business sense was good and he helped many farmers, ranchers and businessmen prosper. Many people remember him as the banker who came to school bond sales and bought the entire bond issues when no one else would bid on them.

Edward Towe did not like the government telling him how to run his business. Consequently, he got in trouble with both the federal banking authorities and the Internal Revenue Service with whom he did battle for years.

He collected some 300 antique cars, almost all Fords, starting with a 1923 Model T Ford Roadster which he purchased and fully restored in 1954. Along with master restorer Lewis Rector, Edward Towe developed the finest and most complete collection of antique Fords in the world.

When the collection outgrew the display in the bank basement in Circle, it was moved to Helena, where for 10 years it was housed in the Montana Historical Museum. The cars were moved to the Towe Antique Ford Museum in Deer Lodge in 1979. Some of the cars were moved to Sacramento in 1987 and there continued to be two antique Ford museums until the collection was sold to satisfy an argument with the IRS in 1997. It was the largest sale of antique cars from one collection ever. The cars went to Japan, Holland and many other places around the world. A large percentage, however, were purchased by local buyers which allowed them to be kept in their respective museums and both are still in operation as antique automobile museums today.

Edward Towe was preceded in death by his wife of 71 years, Florence Towe, who died in 2007.

He is survived by his five children: Thomas E. Towe and wife Ruth of Billings; Karen James and husband Wesley of Bryan, Texas; Kristin Updegraff and husband Jim of Sacramento; Sara Horsfall of Arlington, Texas; and Andrew Towe and wife Beth, of Waterton, Alberta, Canada. He is survived by nine grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

Services will be held at the next family gathering in June at Swan Lake and his ashes will be interred at the Norwegian portion of the Norway, Iowa cemetery.

3 thoughts on “Famous Ford collector Edward Towe, 97, dies

  1. Speedy

    Too bad that Ford Motor Company didn’t buy the entire Towe collection at the IRS auction. That would have been a great basis for an official Ford Motor Company museum (While the Henry Ford is fantastic, it fails to represent the full span of FoMoCo’s manufacturing history)

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