Ramblings from a Rumble Seat: an Occasional Column by John Brissette
Among the handful of “Pandemic Projects” I’m working on is digitizing family photos. Re- cently I was scanning slides from my tour in Vietnam (October 1969 to October 1970). Among the slides was one taken in my room (better known as a “hooch” then). On the image is a small book- case I made from a scrounged shipping crate. After scanning the slide I was curious to see what books were on the shelves so zoomed in for a closer look. Although it wasn’t possible to read most of the titles, it was clear that many were paperback novels. There were also a few old car books that Linda sent me. One was distinctively blue and gold and, since I had those books shipped home and still have them, easy to identify.
That blue and gold book is “Know Your Model A Ford” by Murray Fahnestock. The volume I have was published by Post Motor Books in 1958 as a reissue of material originally published in 1930. It also includes a section, “Questions and Answers on Ford Service,” which was originally published as a 100-page pocket-size reference and addresses over 350 mechanical questions in non-technical, straightforward writing.
“Know Your Model A Ford” consists of 21 chapters covering all major aspects of the car in- cluding the engine; fuel, cooling, and electrical systems; transmission; front and rear axles; brakes; the wire wheels; and body structure. There is even a chapter about ball and roller bear- ings. Did you know that in the Model A era only Lincoln had more ball and roller bearings (30) than a Model A, which had the same number as a Cadillac (24)? Chevrolets of that period had on- ly 17.
I find Mr. Fahnestock an engaging writer, and very much a Ford enthusiast. For example in the 1930 Forward to the book he wrote: “...we can secure a good understanding of modern au- tomobile design and construction by a careful study of one outstanding car—the Model A Ford.” He went on to write, “Every part of this car has a reason. Discover the reasons, and you will ob- tain a new understanding and a new interest in your car.” He was also modest, finishing his Foreword with this sentence: “Like the florist who sends you a bouquet of flowers, we can only claim the arrangement of the words as ours.” From the chapter about the fuel system, is an exam- ple of his unique technical writing style, “...the location of the Ford fuel tank...makes possible di- rect gravity feed of fuel to the carburetor—obviously the most reliable system. As long as the stars remain in the heavens, we can feel sure the law of gravity is always enforced.” Such phrasing is common throughout the book, making it hard not to smile while reading it.
The book is richly illustrated with line drawings and photographs. Many of the drawings were done by his wife, Hazel, and she signed them with her initials, HMF. Other drawings are the same ones used in the Model A Ford “Service Bulletins.”
Mr. Fahnestock was an interesting man. He started with Ford at the Pittsburg Branch in 1914 where his technical writing skills were recognized—first regionally then nationally. He served as Technical Editor of the “Ford Dealer and Service Field” publication for over 40 years. He joined the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) in 1921. By the time the Model A was intro- duced he was well known for his writing about the Model T, including articles about modifications for greater speed. Mr. Fahnestock is often called the “Dean of Vintage Ford Experts” and his work is still cited and even reprinted. For example, the January/February 1999 issue of “The Re- storer” has a 5-page article entitled “Spark Plugs, What the Parts Man and Service Man Should Know About Them” written for the December 1931 issue of “Ford Dealer and Service Field.”
If you are lucky enough to have a copy of “Know Your Model A Ford,” take some time to read (or reread) it, it is a pleasure to read and is full of great information and insights. If you don’t have a copy but would like one, used copies are available from Amazon and other online booksellers.
In case you’re are wondering what other old car books I had on those shelves more than 50 years ago and over 8,600 miles from home, those I could identify included: “Those Wonderful Old Automobiles” by Floyd Clymer (1953), “Henry’s Fabulous Model A” by Leslie R. Henry (1959), and the “Model A Album” by Floyd Clymer and Leslie R. Henry (1960).