With a ball-peen hammer, a center punch and plenty of 1/8-inch drill bits, the students in the automotive collision and repair program are slowly disassembling a Model T Ford that came off the assembly line 91 years ago.
"Think about it," collision and repair instructor Chris Baker said as freshman Dan Hadfield went to work on an impossibly rusted bolt from the car's deteriorating cab. "The last time anyone put a tool on that was 91 years ago. It's kind of like archaeology, isn't it?"
Students in the collision and repair program have been working on the 1926 Model T since last year, when upperclassmen took apart the chassis of the old car and then painstakingly sanded and buffed the rust and patched the dimples brought on by nearly a century of wear and tear.
A local resident donated the old car to the program a couple of years ago in hopes it might provide some worthy lessons in restoration. It has become a long-term project, but one the tech program is willing to invest in as it thins its stock of donations in anticipation of a move this summer to a new Plymouth South High School.
The chassis is ready to roll.
Juniors in Peter Gellar's class sanded, epoxied and repainted the wooden-spoke wheels last year. Baker plans to push it over to the new school once that opens in July.
The frame rails for the cab and the cowl that separates the cab from the engine will likely be re-attached to the chassis before the end of school as well, but the actual progress is still anyone's guess.
A lot will depend on how the existing cab cleans up. Much of the back is disintegrating. The top of the seating compartment can probably be salvaged. But the lower half is an irregular piece of rusty flakes.
Students are in the process of breaking it all down into individual pieces that will be sanded and repainted. The freshmen expect to fabricate the rusted-out sections, but they will have to learn the art first.
In their first year in the program, they are limited to learning basic skills using hand tools, which is not much different from the way the cars were made.
Between October 1908 and May 1927, Ford built and sold nearly 15 million of the cars. Nicknamed the Tin Lizzie, the first Model Ts had a 20-horsepower, four-cylinder engine. They weighed 1,200 pounds and reached a top speed of approximately 45 miles per hour.
Ford built more than 1.5 million of the cars in 1926 alone. Auto experts estimate that approximately 30,000 Model T's still exist, though some, like Plymouth South's car, require extensive restoration.
The good news is there are still plenty of parts out there somewhere. There is also a market for after-market replacement pieces, which could make or break a restoration.
Baker said he has already reached out to some old car buffs who deal in parts, letting them know that if they cannot get their price for an item, they could donate it to the school and get a tax credit.
At some point, he expects the project will have to come get some such donation. "Luckily there are aficionados who are frequently willing to help," Baker said. "No one wants to see cars that age drop out. People tend to help with parts."
The engine will pose its own troubles.
Baker currently has the frozen motor in storage, in anticipation of the day next year when the automotive technology and automotive collision and repair program all operate out of the same shop in the new high school.
Baker said he anticipates years of work ahead for the project.
The freshmen now tearing the cab apart will likely be seniors when it all comes together, he said. That will be just in time to roll it out for the town's 2020 anniversary parade. At some point, students will have to determine what goes on the back of the car.
In the 1920s, many Model Ts were built with truck beds and used commercially.
For now, it is perfect learning tool for freshmen still learning their way in collision repair.
"Certainly the muscle is not the problem," Baker said. "And what are they going to do, wreck it?"
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