Starting Ada

by Grant MacLaren
Photos by Robie Haines (left) and Grant MacLaren


Robie Haines
owner of 'Ada.'

On Sunday, May 7, 1995, a group of Missouri Valley Region Model ''A'' club members showed up at Terry Oberer's to cook some bratwurst, drink some beer -- and start an early 1929 Model ''A'' Tudor; a car now owned by Robie Haines. The Ford hadn't run during the past thirty-five years, but Club President Terry had given an excellent technical program at the regular May meeting, and members were yearning to implement his sound ''theory'' with some practical ''hands-on.'' Terry had said an engine needs three basics in order to run: Fuel, Compression and Ignition in proper quantity and sequence. Would the lesson hold true for an engine that hadn't run for three and one-half decades?

In 1960, the Tudor's oil pan and front cover plate had been removed by its owner; then-sixty year old Ada Gambell. In 1994 Ada, now about ninety-five, sold the car to fellow club member Robie Haines. Ada told Robie the car's name was ''Henrietta,'' but Robie decided to rename it ''Ada'' for obvious reasons.

Back in 1960 Ada had driven her Seal Brown & Rose Beige ''Henrietta'' home to Arnold, Missouri from New Orleans. On the trip north, Henrietta started making strange noises. Knowledgeable mechanics told Ada that Henrietta needed a new timing gear. Armed with that advice, Ada rolled up her sleeves, took the ''A's'' engine apart, and replaced the worn gear. She got it on tight, but quit the engine reassembly before it was complete. Why? Well, Ada hinted about some components being hidden from her by her son. Seems he was a bit embarrassed by his sixty year-old mother working on her old car's engine. So Ada's Tudor stayed on its blocks, where she had put it in 1960.

It was on a pretty May afternoon, some thirty-five years later, that some Missouri Valley Region Club members spent just two hours getting Ada's four-banger back together and trying to start it. Some got their hands dirty; some just kibitzed.

Surprisingly, the old ''A's'' tires and tubes were still in pretty good condition. When pumped up, they held enough air to roll the Tudor around the yard.

With Terry's lesson in mind, about twelve or so did the following: They replaced the Tillotson ''X'' with a freshly rebuilt stock ''A'' carburetor and the distributor with a freshly rebuilt one. They checked for probable good fuel flow by blowing through the gas line. They took the radiator off, checked the timing marks for proper alignment (Ada had them right); timed the distributor, reassembled the front cover plate to the engine, back-flushed the radiator and reinstalled it.

They installed a good six volt battery to replace the one left in the car since 1960 (Its ends were broken out from freezing.) and took the possibly troublesome ''pop-out'' ignition switch out of the electrical circuit. They added a jumper wire from distributor to the terminal box. They cleaned up and installed the oil pan, then added oil -- via the distributor hole in the head. They filled the radiator with water and put about a gallon of gasoline in the tank. Ignition? Check. Fuel? Check. Compression? Well ...

Robie pulled the engine through a few times with the hand crank. A bit stiff, but it seemed to have good compression.

Trying to crank the engine with its starter, it was apparent the replacement battery was almost dead, and the starter spring didn't want to engage anyway -- probably due to dried-out dirty grease. While Terry went to the other end of his yard for a modern iron to provide a 12 volt ''jump,'' Robie pulled the old mill through a few more times by hand. With the choke on, he cranked 'til gas dripped from the carb. The ignition jumper was connected. Robie gave it another good hard pull and ... Pocketa-pocketa-pocketa ... it started, then died. (Probably because the guy at the wheel was so surprised it was running he didn't follow through with his job ... adjusting choke, throttle and spark.) Robie gave another good crank and ''Ada'' jumped to life again. This time she stayed running, sounding just fine. (Is there a sweeter sound?) After maybe a minute, the engine's throttle was "goosed." Lots of mouse bedding and now-roasted nuts shot from the exhaust pipe. Freed of those encumbrances, and with Robie at the wheel, Ada was loaded with passengers, some on the running boards, and taken for her first spin after a thirty-five year hiatus. She ran just fine.

Remember: Fuel, Compression and Ignition in the proper quantity and at the right time -- even if the right time is thirty-five years later. (end)

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