Little Willy

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This is the story of “Little Willy.” Little Willy is a car, well, actually, he is one-quarter of a car as he is a ¼ scale Ford Model T replica. He has quite an interesting story from his “birth” until the present. I would like to tell you his story.

I had a bachelor uncle named Uncle Harold—my Mom’s older brother—who loved the old things and old ways. He farmed the family farm for years and sometime in the 1970s he began to think about retirement and his dream was born. He did not want to buy a Ford Model T and he did not want to buy one that needed a little tender loving care and restore it himself. No, he wanted to build one of his own and run it in the parades for Memorial Day and July Fourth.

So, he set to work. The blueprint for the body and the schematics for the engine were all neatly tucked away in his head. He formulated the chassis from angle iron and used bicycle wheels for the tires. For the body, he used sheet metal and bent it in his barn, paying attention to detail so as to get the right angles and breaks so that the body was an exact replica of a Model T Ford.

The seats were made from fabric-covered plywood and leaned more toward the practical rather than the comfortable. An old riding lawn mower provided the steering wheel and a Briggs and Stratton lawn mower engine was to be the driving force.

One of the mysteries of Little Willy is his name. From the very start, Uncle Harold chose this name but would only chuckle when we asked him where it came from. “When he is all done and ready to be in his first parade I will tell you why I named him what I did,” he would always tell us. Unfortunately, Uncle Harold became ill and passed before his dream became a full reality. Thus, the name “Little Willy” is still a mystery.

So, he sat in my grandmother’s barn for the next few years until she passed since no one knew exactly what Uncle Harold had planned for him. All of us cousins were just starting our lives at the time, being in our early 20s. None of us had the knowledge nor inclination to finish our uncle’s project. Thus, he became part of Grandma’s estate sale.

Unbeknownst to me, my husband, Jim, decided to buy Little Willy for me. So, he came to live with us and, for the next 20 years, he would set quietly in our barn. We had good intentions on finishing him  but, since we were not mechanically inclined, we lacked the knowledge of how to get him running. That was until we became friends with Marv and Jerry Carman, who had been involved in racing for years.

They, along with their long-time friend Bernie Bennett, made Little Willy their winter project and gave him life. First they went to work on his “inwards.” Having set for 20 years, he needed a whole new motor and some fine tuning to get him to purr. Once they got past the necessities, it still wasn’t easy for them to stop. Little Willy had grown on them and found a place in their hearts, just like he does everyone he meets. They decided he not only would run like a fine-oiled machine, he would also look the part.

First they prepped him for a paint job and then gave him his first coat of Ford Model T black. After the finishing touches were put on came the decals. Both doors proclaimed “Little Willy” in gold lettering. Paying homage to Uncle Harold’s dream and Grandma’s distaste for anything not useful, across the back and above the rumble seat more gold lettering proclaimed, “Uncle Harold’s Dream, Grandma’s Nightmare.”

So, Little Willy was ready to go public and, following the dream, we entered him into the Union City Memorial Day parade. Jim and I were clearly too big to fit so Wyatt and Wade, our grandsons aged 11 and 9 at the time, were designated to drive him through the parade. Wyatt was designated driver and Wade was candy thrower. It really didn’t take too much prodding to talk them into performing these tasks!

So it would be for the next four years, Little Willy was one of the hits of our Memorial Day parade each year and even made one appearance in the Branch County Fair parade in Coldwater, Michigan. These are only his public appearances, for he provided a lot of pleasure giving countless kids rides around the farm.

But, just as life constantly does, things and circumstances change. Wyatt turns 16 and has his first truck and Wade is right behind him. In a very short time that happened way too soon, they both outgrew Little Willy. On top of that, Jim was such a big part of this dream that after he passed it just isn’t the same anymore.

So, I have this quandry, “What is the next chapter in Little Willy’s life?” He could retire to the barn and wait for the boys to have kids of their own. In reality, when we consider them finishing high school, college, and starting their own life, that could be quite a few more years down the road. By that time he would probably be in the same condition as he was when he got his new lease on life a few years ago. Tucked away in a barn does nothing any good. Besides, this is not what we want for him anyway. From the beginning, he was meant to bring smiles and happiness to kids and adults alike. This is what we all want for him.

For this reason, we have decided that he will be sold to someone who will love him and enjoy him as much as we do. We would much rather go and watch some other young person drive him in a parade as to visit him in the barn. It’s all about keeping a special dream alive.

Thank you for letting me tell Little Willy’s story. He has had a special place in our family for so long and sometimes a story like that just needs to be shared.