Model A as in … Art?

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman March 15, 2014 14:40

Ron Smith’s Model A Ford is one of about a dozen that rumble up Sonora’s Washington Street for the Mother Lode Roundup Parade each May.

But the 65-year-old man’s 1930 model, a parade fixture for a quarter century, is the easiest to recognize: It looks like a bucket of bolts, a rambling wreck, an auto graveyard escapee. Or worse.

If there’s a speck of original paint on this two-door sedan, you’d need a microscope to find it. The finish is a mix of arrested rust, primer, spray paint and bumper stickers – “This Car Is Not Abandoned,” “Normal People Scare Me,” “Magic Happens.” 

Most of the roof fabric is gone, although wooden struts remain. Also missing is the passenger seat; when Smith takes you for a ride, he unfolds a beach chair and wishes you luck.

His Model A looks like it spent decades in a pack rat’s attic and that everything thrown up there somehow stuck to it.

A pair of bowling pins is fastened to the front bumper, and a cowboy boot is pulled over each. A ceiling fan is mounted on what’s left of the roof. It spins in the wind but has yet to carry the car aloft. A plastic horse is taped to the top of the fan – and it, occasionally, does go aloft.

A tin can, Smith’s version of a cup holder, is attached to the dash. Strings of fuzzy white dingle balls trim the front windows.

Trophies are everywhere: For bodybuilding, bowling and more, strapped or bolted to the running boards and fenders.

Plastered to one window is the car’s latest honor: “Best-decorated vehicle, Columbia’s Glorious Fourth Parade, 2012.”

But concours trophies, typically given to owners of meticulously restored, barely driven museum-grade cars that spend most of their lives in locked garages? Forget it.

“There are lots and lots of restored Model A’s,” grins Smith, hitting his car’s trademark “Ahh-OOOOH-gah” horn. “But there’s only one of these.”

A retired machinist who has restored more than a few cars in his time, Smith bought his A for $2,000 soon after moving to the Mother Lode in the mid-1980s. “I thought about restoring it,” he says. “But that sounded like too much work.”

So he made the car a rolling tribute to another of his passions – recycling. The stuff that’s all over his car is either Smith’s junk, junk given to him by friends, or junk salvaged from the county dump’s recycling store. “Recycle” is spray-painted across a car door.

It’s part of his lifestyle: Garages and outbuildings on Smith’s Tuolumne-area property are loaded with castoffs, surplus, and stuff that may have come within a few minutes of burial in a landfill. All will go into or onto his cars or motorcycles, or become wall art in his shop.

The word “Turbo” also adorns Smith’s Model A. “I’ve seen that word on a lot of fast cars,” he explains. “So I painted it on mine.”

Alas, the four-cylinder, 40-horsepower 84-year-old Ford engine that Smith rebuilt tops out at about 45 mph. But that’s plenty fast enough for parades and, he swears, “It’s solid inside; it’s a good car.”

It’s also an ever-changing car. “A work in progress,” says Smith. “I’m putting new old stuff on it all the time.”

But, as a few sidewalk critics may ask as the car passes by on May 10, “Is it art?”

“I don’t know if it’s art, but I like to think of it as an art car,” replies Smith, explaining a growing genre of cars and trucks transformed by imaginative owners into live gardens, lifelike animals or rolling political statements.

A lifelong bachelor, Ron Smith is a member of E Clampus Vitus, a fun-loving, occasionally imbibing fraternity that dates back to the Gold Rush. He’s also on the Tuolumne City Museum board and joined the Antique Auto Club of America’s Mother Lode chapter soon after buying the Model A.

“I tell them every club should have a car like mine,” says Smith, a past president of the group. “A little diversity is always welcome.”

That diversity on the second Saturday of each May parade day translates into laughter and shouted compliments. “People shout ‘Right on!’ ‘Great car!’ and ‘I love it!’” he says. “A lot of my fellow club members who spend thousands on their cars understand – but don’t want to do that to their own cars.”

So what makes him different?

“A lot of car guys are perfectionists,” he says. “Everything has to be just so. I think it’s pretty clear to people who see my car in the parade that that’s a burden I don’t bear.”

 Copyright © 2014 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman March 15, 2014 14:40
Write a comment

No Comments

No Comments Yet

Let me tell you a sad story. There are no comments yet, but yours can be the first!

Write a comment
View comments

Write a comment

Your e-mail address will not be published.
Required fields are marked*