Frank is pictured with his car on Memorial Day 2007.
This Saturday, a 1929 Model A Ford continuously owned and operated for nearly 80 years by the same man will ride to its new home at the AACA Museum in Hershey, Pa. The car will become a part of the Museum’s permanent collection as willed by its now-deceased owner.
The story of Francis "Frank" Hartmaier and his Ford are well known in Model A circles.
In the spring of 1929, Frank, then 17 or 18 and living in Limerick Township, Montgomery County, Pa., asked his mother if he could join a local flying club and take flying lessons. His mother refused his request saying he was too young and could get hurt.
Frank then asked if she would allow him to purchase a new Ford with money he had saved from his job at a local auto parts plant. With his mother's consent Frank took the trolley into Pottstown, PA and ordered a new Ford Model "A" Roadster from the William Young Ford Agency located on West High Street. With the optional spare tire and rumble seat, the price was $560.00. Through various enterprises, Hartmaier had managed to save $305.00 toward the car; the remainder was borrowed through the Pottstown Finance Company.
Frank took delivery of the rose beige and seal brown painted Ford, Serial Number A1533466, on May 16, 1929 and a friendship began that would span almost 80 years.
It wasn't long after Frank acquired his Ford that he was laid off from his job due to the depression. Not to be deterred, he found a job delivering newspapers for the Pottstown Mercury. His route covered 109 miles, Monday through Saturday. On Sunday he delivered the Philadelphia Record for another 85 miles, a total of 739 miles for the week.
Frank and his dependable Ford delivered newspapers throughout the depression until he was able to find work as a machinist at the onset of World War II. When the speedometer broke in 1944, Frank and his Ford had traveled a total of 416,000 miles.
In 1940 Frank was married after courting his future wife, Elizabeth, in the Ford from New Jersey. In 1942 he drove her to the hospital in the Ford for the birth of their only child Judy. The Ford was the only car they owned at the time and it carried them on vacations throughout the Eastern United States and Canada.
The Ford was retired from active service in 1960 and was completely restored by Frank in the late 1960's.
Hartmaier never treated his car like a pampered classic. He and his “A” were well known in the car community. In his retirement, he would think nothing of driving the car all the way from Pennsylvania to Dearborn, Michigan for a Ford gathering. Sometimes he would travel with friends, but if no one was available, he would go it alone. He continued these trips into his 80s.
Model As are not high-dollar exotic cars, but Hartmaier was known to have turned down many substantial offers to sell the car, reportedly stating that it was simply not for sale at any price. He was once quoted in an automotive magazine as saying, "you can only put money in the bank; you can’t ride around in that on a nice day and get an ice cream cone.”
Although the speedometer was eventually repaired, the actual mileage is unknown. However, it is estimated that the car has been driven over 600,000 miles since Frank took delivery in 1929 until his death on January 27, 2009, at the age of 97. It should be noted that the original engine is still in the car having been rebuilt four times during its lifetime.
Incidentally, Frank Hartmaier did fulfill his dream of flying, obtaining his pilots license in 1931. He remained an active pilot until a few months prior to his death.
“I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Harmtaier in 2003 when the AACA Museum first opened to the public,” states Museum Curator, Jeffrey Bliemeister. He toured the Museum with his friend, Fred Servis. “The two gentlemen told me about the car and its history and left me with a copy of a newspaper article done on Frank several years before. He mentioned his intention to leave the car to the Museum upon his death. Several months ago we received a call from Fred letting us know that Frank had passed away in January of 2009. True to his word, the car was to come to the Museum.”
Friends and family members have detailed the Model A and made all the arrangements for its delivery to the Museum in Hershey. Although still operable, it will be trailered to the occasion. Fred will then have the honor of driving the Model A to a welcome area in front of the museum. A ceremony, complete with a cake designed like the Model A, will begin at 2 p.m. Members of Frank’s extended family, plus friends and neighbors, are expected to attend.
The car will remain on display in front of the Museum on Saturday, then it will be moved to the museum’s detail shop before going on exhibit in the ‘20s Scene on June 4. More information is available on the Museum website at: www.aacamuseum.org
A great deal of documentation will come with the car. Particularly noteworthy is the Pennsylvania State title for the Model A in Frank Hartmaier’s name. It is the original ownership document and dates to 1929. Frank managed to convince Penn-Dot to allow him to keep this document when the car was officially re-registered with antique plates. Apparently, at one point, he and his friends contacted the Guinness Book of World Records to qualify the car and owner for record of longest continuous ownership of a vehicle. The status of that attempt are unknown, but the Museum plans to continue the effort.
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