Back in the mid 1970s, a 15-year-old boy followed his brother to a local Spokane parts yard and helped him get some needed items for a Ford Model T restoration. There was an immediate fascination with this magical yard, and now more than 45 years later, Tom Carnegie is still mesmerized by the Antique Auto Ranch.
The yard’s original owner saw something in that young kid and asked him if he would like to come to work at the ranch. Then, when the original owner decided to retire in the mid ’80s, he asked the young Carnegie if he was interested in buying the business. The answer was “yes” and ever since, this spot has been the go-to place for Model T Fords. In addition, there’s a wide assortment of other old cars on the property.
Antique Auto Ranch was first established in 1964 on the ground of what had been a large chicken farm. Many of the cars in the yard have been here since the ’70s and if you’re willing to dig around, you never known what you will find. In the back of the lot sits a long-abandoned house that used to be the residence of the chicken farmer. Today, this ramshackle abode is home to thousands of parts such as generators, carburetors, starter motors and other unsorted and uncataloged mechanical items. The building most likely provides shelter for some wildlife, too, which limited our own exploration interests.
For Carnegie, the parts yard operation is really a sideline; his real interest is in the restoration and preservation of the Model T Ford, and his expertise is known around the world. Customers often seek out Carnegie’s skills and that keeps him pretty busy.
For Carnegie, Ford’s T isn’t just a job, it is an all-consuming passion and he is really at the top of his game, especially when it comes to the famous Montana 500, a three-day endurance race for Model T Fords. There are specific criteria on how the cars in this race are set up with only minor modifications being undertaken. Being a timed event, speed isn’t the most important factor, but reliability and driver stamina is. For the 60th run of the Montana 500 ending on June 24, 2020, the winner was Tom Carnegie. This was his 24th year of competition dating back to 1975 and his 8th overall first-place win. His older brother Rick is also a regular competitor with his first entry being back in 1972!
During our recent visit to the Antique Auto Ranch, we found Carnegie working diligently on the restoration of several Model T engines and their novel planetary transmission. Most of his business today comes from rebuilding these venerable engines and other mechanical components. He also provides quite a few Model T reproduction and replacement parts, and his customer base comes from nearly every continent.
Another facet of the Antique Auto Ranch is its Monday night get-together that Carnegie hosts for local Model T owners. It is a chance for those who share Carnegie’s passion to come and learn from the master. Several of the regulars are also participants in the Montana 500 race.
While exploring the yard, we found some very old parts including a stack of original Model T frames, engines, rear axles and other items to form the basis of a restoration, or the next Montana 500 contender. The mix of parts also includes vehicles built well after the Model T Ford. Other vehicles we spotted ranged mostly from the late 1940s to the mid 1960s with nothing newer.
The eye candy isn’t just in the salvage yard or even in Carnegie’s shop. Parked in the yard during our visit was a Model T roadster pickup that Carnegie says he uses to run parts around the Spokane Valley. He also has several cars that he rotates as daily drivers and not surprisingly, they are all Model Ts. He runs them year-round, and it can get mighty cold in Washington State’s eastern region with temperatures often running well below zero degrees.
Now comes the tricky part: setting up a visit to the Antique Auto Ranch. As stated earlier, Carnegie spends most of his days working on the restoration and rebuilding of engines and other components. Like any craftsman, he relishes in the solitude that he finds in that labor. For that reason, Antique Auto Ranch is open just two days a week for customers to visit: Carnegie welcomes visitors each Tuesday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. On rare occasion, an out-of-town customer can call ahead and make an appointment to visit.
Today, most of Carnegie’s parts business is handled through the internet and he does have an assistant that helps package and ship parts to eager customers around the world.
Antique Auto Ranch
2225 N. Dollar Rd.
Spokane Valley, WA 99212
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