By Peter Winnewisser
After seeing Bob Woodburn’s 1930 Model A Ford, finding adequate words to describe it is a real challenge. Odd? Offbeat? Outrageous? Weird? I’m not sure any of these terms fully do the Model A justice. Woodburn himself calls it “Big Ugly.” Local residents at the time referred to it as being the “beast” or the “tank.” Whatever the terminology, one thing is certain: This Model A excites a great deal of interest wherever it appears.
“I have over 200 vehicles in my diverse collection including some very valuable and desirable cars like my 1912 Kissel Car 6-60 semi-touring,” Bob says. “None of them come even close to getting the attention from tourists and car show participants that this mean-looking old Model A Ford does.”
“Big Ugly” is a 1930 Model A Ford Cabriolet manufactured around June 1930 and probably transported to Montana from Chicago by rail. Milton Hill of Bloomfield, Mont., the first known owner, had the car converted to a rural mail delivery snowmobile by Roman Chupp some time before 1940. Hill was the first man to use the car to deliver rural mail. In 1940, Hill died in an auto accident in Bloomfield, Neb. Subsequently, the Model A was sold to Leonard Quamman of Lindsay, Mont., in 1941. Bob Woodburn has title #254564 issued to Quamman on Oct. 22, 1941. The title has a $200 lien, which was paid off on Nov. 30, 1942.
Leonard Quammen delivered mail in “Big Ugly” out of Lindsay, which is located in eastern Montana. According to an email that Bob received about the car, Quamman had a sign on the back of it when he delivered mail that said, “Watch Out For Flying Parts.” (The writer was given the sign when he was a child and offered to give it to Bob, who happily accepted the gift.) Apparently, people were wary of Quamman’s driving and would pull off the road to make sure he didn’t run over them. It seems that he ran over everybody’s mail boxes at least two or three times a year. He also drove it through the post office once without hurting the car.
One day, Quamman became stuck in a snow drift on main street. He recruited a few men from the local pub to help push him out of the drift. One helper was pushing from behind when Quamman decided to back up and take another run at the drift. He backed over the man who, fortunately, was not hurt because of the soft snow and the Model A’s wide tires and relatively light weight. The helper, now under the car, screamed at Quamman to keep from being run over a second time.
In 2008, the car went up for sale at an estate auction in Havre, Mont. The auctioneer knew that Bob had been working on Model A Fords since he was in the eighth grade, so he asked him to drive the car through the auction ring, even though he knew Bob was very serious about owning it. “I wanted this car so badly that day,” Bob says, “that I was quite nervous, which is unusual for me since I have bought hundreds of vehicles, toys and other collectible items at auction.” Needless to say, he was the high bidder. Recently, Bob decided to put the Model A up for sale and advertised it on eBay. It was bid quite high, but did not reach the reserve.
Bob’s Model A Ford mail delivery car has a Briggs body and is in remarkably good condition considering its age and its time as a mail car. The body has absolutely no rusted-out sheet metal thanks to the relatively dry climate in which it was used, and the fact that its owners have each housed the car under cover. It was originally dark blue, but was repainted a medium blue about the time it was converted for mail delivery. The engine is from a 1929 Ford. The mileage shown on the odometer is 25,649.
The front seat upholstery is the original whipcord cloth material and is in tough shape, but the rumble seat back rest is still in amazingly nice original condition. Bob calls the front seat “the $800 seat,” because there is a 4-inch-long by 1/8-inch-diameter steel rod sticking out of the top of the bottom cushion where the driver sits. About three years ago, the rod ripped a hole in Bob’s pants pocket and, without realizing it, his billfold fell out. Neither the billfold nor the $800 in it have been recovered.
Changes to the car include a Model TT truck rear axle assembly and wheels, steel straps (5/16 inch by 2 inch) used to mount the rear fenders, an electric engine heater and four Goodyear 12-by-24 farm tractor tires. These were Goodyear’s first pneumatic farm tractor tires. The front wheels are made from 21-inch 1928-’29 Model A wheels.
The tires are more than 70 years old and are showing their age with many checks and small cracks. The left front tire has a several-inch-long split where someone may have installed a boot (a section of a tire used to reinforce a weak spot in a tire casing) inside the tire many years ago. They have some minor flat spots so the car does not drive smoothly. Bob admits that he has never driven the Ford over 10 mph or so. “At that speed,” he says, “there is enough tire vibration to make the front fenders flop a bit, which makes this car look like a big bird which just ate too much trying to take off and fly.”
Bob says he would not encourage driving “Big Ugly” on a public road. “The first and main reason is that this vehicle is completely unique and cannot be repaired or replaced if ever damaged. The second reason is that it is a hazard on the road, because it literally stops traffic. The third reason is that this vehicle currently has no brakes, and may never have had good brakes since it was converted so many years ago.”
Among the many e-mails Bob has received about his Model A, the following seems an appropriate tribute to this unusual vehicle: “As a winter mail truck, your vehicle not only could keep the mail going through, but could be a winter ambulance, road opener, cattle-feeder in blizzards and welcome sight every snowstorm.”
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