‘Don’t be in a hurry’

Written by Jayson Jacoby June 15, 2012 08:48 am

S. John Collins / Baker City Herald Art Pugsley, left, and Pete Smiley, lower right, help Lloid Dilbeck of Beaverton get his baggage compartment cinched tight on a 1931 Model A Ford Cabriolet Convertible before leaving Baker City on Thursday morning.
S. John Collins / Baker City Herald Art Pugsley, left, and Pete Smiley, lower right, help Lloid Dilbeck of Beaverton get his baggage compartment cinched tight on a 1931 Model A Ford Cabriolet Convertible before leaving Baker City on Thursday morning.
By Jayson Jacoby

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Art Pugsley loves his car but hates freeways.

This is not a coincidence.

Pugsley drives a 1931 Ford Model A Sport Coupe.

It was not designed for freeways.

Which is hardly surprising, seeing as how this curvaceous vehicle was put together on Henry Ford’s famous assembly line a quarter century before President Eisenhower announced that the nation would build a system of high-speed interstate highways.

Pugsley, 75, of Vancouver, Wash., was in Baker City Wednesday and Thursday with a group of nine other Model A owners.

Most are members of the Beaver Chapter of the Model A Ford Club of America.

Pugsley helped to start that chapter, which is officially based in Portland, 51 years ago.

It’s the oldest of Oregon’s 10 Model A club chapters, and has about 350 members.

The group stayed Wednesday night at the Geiser Grand Hotel, then took a guided tour of the building — which is considerably older than any of their cars — before departing Thursday for Boise and, for some drivers, points much farther east.

Ford built almost 5 million Model A’s during the car’s span of just four model years: 1928-31.

Pugsley, who owns a dozen Model A’s — some are drivers, others, as he puts it, are “future projects” — said the only requirement for membership in a club is “interest in the cars.”

Although to that Pugsley adds a nugget of advice:

“You don’t want to be in a hurry.”

Model A’s, though they’ve compiled an admirable record for reliability — how many 80-year-old machines are still usable? — are decidedly sedate in their progress down the road.

Model A’s will cruise in relative comfort at 50 mph to 55 mph, Pugsley said — acceptable for secondary roads, but not exactly suitable for freeways where, except in Oregon, even the big rigs rumble along at upwards of 75.

“I prefer the backroads anyway,” Pugsley said. “They’re more interesting.”

“Ninety-nine percent of it is mindset — if your destination is the paramount driving factor, you don’t take a Model A. But if the point of the trip is in the getting there, they’re great fun to drive.”

Sturdy though they are, Model A’s can’t match modern cars for nearly trouble-free long-distance travel.

Which is why Model A owners, in preparing for a lengthy road trip, are more apt to pack their cars with wrenches and screwdrivers than DVD players and Bluetooth adapters.

“I’ve got enough tools under that seat,” Pugsley said, nodding at his Sport Coupe parked in the lot next to the Geiser Grand, “that we could probably do an engine swap right here.”

He means the entire engine, too, not just changing out a couple of fouled spark plugs.

Pugsley acually helped with just such a job during a long road trip.

His group was traveling through Montana when one of the Model A’s blew an engine.

The owner found a replacement in a most unlikely place — a farmer’s combine.

Turns out Model A engines were so prized for their durability — and no doubt their ubiquity as well — that they were used to propel farm equipment as well as passenger cars.

Although crossing even one state at 50 mph might seem daunting to travelers accustomed to setting the cruise control at 70, Pugsley said Model A owners frequently drive much longer distances.

A few of the owners in his group plan to go all the way to Saginaw, Mich., to attend a Model A show that will attract many hundreds of cars.

Besides their modest top speeds, Model A’s are limited by their relatively tiny, 10-gallon gas tanks.

At an average of about 18 to 19 mpg, the cars need to be refueled rather frequently.

Pugsley doesn’t mind that aspect of Model A travel — except that the increasing scarcity of gas stations in the small towns along the backroads he prefers sometimes forces him to detour to freeways just to find fuel.

As for creature comforts, Model A’s don’t exactly coddle passengers.

Power windows?

Right there in your elbow.

Air-conditioning?

Available, in a manner of speaking.

Pugsley demonstrates how his windshield can be unlatched and moved forward a few inches to let in the breeze.

His Sport Coupe also is equipped with movable wing windows — with artistically etched glass, something you can’t get even on a Cadillac these days — and the dashboard is designed to divert cooling air onto the driver’s and passenger’s legs.

Cooling air if you’re fortunate, that is.

Pugsley concedes that on scorching days — he painfully recalls a 100-degree-plus afternoon in Boise — the Model A is not a pleasant place to be.

But Pugsley, in common with tens of thousands of Model A owners nationwide, happily endures the occasional discomfort for the unique pleasure of piloting a motorized anachronism fashioned from steel, wood and glass.

“The key to enjoying life,” he said, rolling a toothpick from one cheek to the other, “is you’ve got to keep moving.”

At whatever speed.