Many years ago — more than he would like to remember — Bernard Fatla owned a 1929 Model A Ford that was trustworthy and never let him down. After World War II the four-door Ford sedan was showing signs of age and was replaced by a newer car.
Fatla couldn’t bear to part with the old Model A, so it was parked out behind the house. That’s where it sat for a few years, until Fatla came home one day and saw the Model A was not there. Someone driving by had spotted the car, stopped and asked Fatla’s wife if it was for sale. She was paid $45 and the car was gone.
Toward the end of the 1970s Fatla, at his wife’s urging, began casually looking for another Model A Ford; after all, between 1928 and 1931 about 5 million of them were built.
Fatla’s daughter, Barbara, was the one who discovered a Model A pickup in nearby Armstrong Creek, Wis., and alerted her father. Fatla went to investigate and found the rusted 1931 relic sitting unprotected in a field with most of the parts missing. Nevertheless, he couldn’t resist.
“I bought a pile of junk in November 1979 for $164,” he says. “There was no glass, no hood, no radiator, no headlights, no horn and many motor parts were missing,” he says.
The 1931 pickup was dragged onto a flatbed trailer and Fatla towed it to his home in Green Bay, Wis. He disassembled what remained of the truck and took an inventory to see what he needed for a restoration. Fortunately, even today virtually every part for a Model A Ford is readily available.
“I worked on the car little by little,” he says, “until I got the frame out and cleaned up.”
The frame needed a new front crossmember. Once the foundation for the vehicle was made strong, the rest of it slowly came together on the rolling chassis supported by wire wheels on a 103.5-inch wheelbase.
The 200.5-cubic-inch four-cylinder engine was stripped down to a short block and rebuilt to deliver 40 horsepower. Fatla says the original oak floor of the bed and the metal strips between the planks were beyond recovery. The 5-foot-long bed now has a new oak floor, along with new steel strips between the planks.
The truck has no fuel pump, depending instead on gravity to pull gasoline from the tank in the cowl, sending it to the carburetor. The choke is mounted on the passenger side of the cozy cabin.
As restoration work progressed, Fatla purchased some new, as well as rebuilt parts, and sometimes would find a needed part in the most unusual places. After straightening the sides of the bed on his pickup and replacing the floor, he still needed a tailgate, which was missing when he bought the truck.
The hunt led to a backyard playground where a discarded Model A truck bed, filled with sand, was being used by children as a sandbox. He asked their mother if he could buy just the tailgate and she was happy to make the sale. The children didn’t seem to mind either. He took the tailgate home, removed all the scars, and installed it at the rear of his truck.
All four of the windows were missing when he bought the truck. Because all four windows were flat glass, Fatla says a local glass shop easily cut new safety glass.
All of the instruments are mounted in a cluster in the middle of the dashboard. The central gauge is a revolving speedometer. Fatla reports, “I can get 50 miles per hour out of it.” Although he admits that the 1931 Ford was built to do 30 or 40 mph.
Fatla retired in 1984 and moved to Goodman, Wis., where the final restoration task was completed the following year. He painted the old Ford himself, naturally selecting the color black.
“I did all the work myself and I am proud of the final results,” he says. “It took me several years of spare time to finish the job,” the 86-year-old Fatla says. — Vern Parker