Story by Brady Mann,
Photos by Al Rogers
Many people say they have an “old car.” A 1964 Mustang, for an example. Then they ask what I have. I reply, “I have an ’09.” They look at me oddly and I correct myself — a 1909.
My grandfather, Marvin Rostetter, grew up very poor in the small town of Secor, Ill., which has a population of 500. He was born in 1913 to a mother just 16 years of age. Growing up poor and having very little seems to make a person more appreciative of the things they have. Perhaps that is why this 1909 Economy Model G survives. In 1926, Marvin’s maternal grandfather, Henry Robert Brown, died and bequeathed Marvin this 1909 Economy. Being only poor and 13 years old at that time, I am not sure how Marvin managed to retain the car until his accidental death in 1997.
Over the years, Marvin accumulated just about everything he could find at his property in town and at his 120-acre farm. He owned several businesses in Secor, Ill., including a laundromat and a small machine shop. He also raised cattle, sheep and grain.
Not much is known about the Economy after Marvin received it in 1926. He told me somebody drove the car in a parade in the early 1930s, but he never saw it run. Around 1950, the Economy was apparently moved into the back storage room of the laundromat. Before then, it likely sat outside, unprotected, for decades.
Marvin mentioned somebody stole the lamps (he thought he knew who it was, but he would not tell me who) and some local kids cut chunks off the white hard rubber tires and used it for erasers.
The laundromat business closed in 1975, after his wife died, and building fell into grave disrepair. The roof gave way, then the concrete walls let go after being saturated with the added weight of moisture. The big double doors became impossible to open.
Around the age of 12, I remember going into the laundromat and being able to get a glimpse of the steering wheel and rear tire through a crack in the door. I could not see anything else. All I had seen of it came from a picture in the 1957 Secor, Ill., centennial book of Henry Brown sitting in the driver’s seat of the Economy in front of a home believed to be the one in rural Secor.
In 1998, the spring after Marvin’s death, we decided to demolish the property that once housed the laundromat and machine shop. The roof had completely collapsed over the Economy and the walls were close behind. We carefully removed a 10-foot gap in the 12-inch-thick wall, which was 14-feet-tall, and chain sawed the roof and trusses in order to pull out the Economy with a skid steer. The only thing broken on the Economy from the collapse of the roof was one rear spoke and the steering wheel. The front wheels turned and the engine was surprisingly free turning! That day, the Economy was moved into a neighboring garage by lifting the rear end and steering it into position.
The car was then extensively photographed, documented and disassembled. The wood body was completely dry rotted and very brittle. We had one good body side for a pattern as well as a seat side. The fenders were rough, but we had one front and one rear from which to make patterns. The engine, oil pump, transmission and rear end were all in great shape due to a 1-inch layer of caked-on 100-year-old grease and oil. They were totally sealed from the elements. We located the leather seats and hand crank, which were buried beneath them. Each appeared to be original to the Economy.
The restoration was started in 2002 after visiting the other surviving Economy, a Model E, in Michigan. The difference between the two models is the rear seat is fixed on the Model E while the Model G is removable to open up the rear section for use as a truck. That Economy Model E is now located in the Joliet Historical Museum in Joliet, Ill.
The body was reproduced from poplar, the floor boards and running boards from white oak and the dash from a solid piece of cherry that is more than 30 inches wide. The color of the body was black with a Brewster Green under carriage. The green was color-matched by computer on a part that was hidden under the grime and grease. The black-and-gold pin striping was matched as found on the rear leaf springs. The floor boards and running boards were originally covered with black linoleum. The seats were black leather and the pattern was matched exactly to the originals found. Even the spacing on the decorative trim tacks was repeated.
The brass lamps were all missing. However, the top of the Atwood Castle generator was still there. Fortunately, all of the mounting hardware was present. I purchased the matching side lamps, horn, tail lamp and the headlamp through dealers/restorers. The carbide generator is exactly what came off the car, but was purchased off of eBay. While not fully functional, it still could be made to work.
The wheels are the most asked about feature of the car. They are 2 inches wide by 38 inches tall in front and are solid artillery-type wheels. The original tires were gray in color, but are no longer available in that color. So black is the color you get. The spokes and fellows are 50 percent original. All the iron rings are new. The hubcaps are original to the car and have been restored. All the ball bearings and races are original, just repacked.
The 107-cid horizontally opposed, twin-piston engine is air cooled and produces 22 hp; it remains original except for the valve springs and piston rings. The crank and cam, as well as all the babbit, was within tolerance. The engine restorer mentioned he had seen engines from the ’70s in worse condition. There was absolutely no rust in the crankcase. The intake and exhaust manifolds and muffler were all reused. The muffler was wrapped with a 20-gauge sleeve to seal pinhole leaks in the original.
The car is simple to operate. The crank is on the side and spins counterclockwise as opposed to most cars that crank from the front and clockwise. Since the carburetor is on the opposite side of the crank, an assistant is needed. Once the gas is turned on and the coil box is in the “off” position, the assistant places their hand over the carburetor intake. The engine is cranked through about two revolutions and floods the long intake manifold. The spark is then retarded and the gas adjusted to half throttle at the steering wheel. Then, with 3/4 turn of the crank, it fires right off. Occasionally in cold weather, the assistant must hold their hand over the intake to imitate a choke until the engine is warm.
Driving is simple except you are on the right and up 4-1/2 feet in the air and steering 38-inch wheels. The left pedal is depressed to put the car in low gear at the planetary. High gear is achieved by throwing the lever to the right all the way forward as the driver releases his foot from the low speed pedal as the car is moving. However, watch out, the high speed is direct drive to the crankshaft! The reverse gear is achieved by pulling back on the handle to the right, which tightens the other band on the planetary. The brakes are rear expanding shoes and are of little use for stopping.
We enjoy showing the car at AACA national events and local shows where it has received many awards. By attending these shows, we have been to towns that we would have no other reason to visit. Our family has discovered very interesting museums, zoos and natural beauty associated with these towns.
If you see our 1909 Economy Model G at a show, please stop by ask questions. I don’t sit behind the car and stare at on-lookers. I stand out front and engage conversation.
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