Quest for car leads to wealth of discoveries
By Albert McCracken
for the Salisbury Post
In the North Carolina mountains on the banks of the Pigeon River downstream from Clyde, there is an antique car that hasn’t been seen in more than 60 years. Robert Terrell, a former Panama Canal engineer, abandoned his old Model T Ford touring car near the site of a former Indian campground. When the river flooded after a terrible storm in 1939, it buried the car completely with sand and soil.
Years later, Mr. Terrell’s grandson, Luke, and I had great exciting dreams of digging up the Model T, cleaning it up and driving it to school to impress all our friends. After a few laborious Sunday afternoons of strenuous digging with nothing to show for all our work but a few pieces of discarded junk and blistered hands, we gave up on the idea. I doubt that we had a plan B. If we did, it wouldn’t have involved digging.
Luke never quite got over his desire for an old Ford, and a few years later he acquired a Model A coupe. It looked like the top half of a telephone booth rolling along on wire-spoked wheels but it was quite cozy with two boys and two girls in it.
Recently another friend of mine Bill Braswell mentioned casually that there was a 1923 Model T Ford stored in a building that he owned down east. Vivid pictures flashed through my mind of the Pigeon River Model T that Luke and I dreamed of many years ago. Bill offered to take me to see it.
When Bill and I arrived at the farm, his Aunt Mildred’s neat home was next to the storage building. Aunt Mildred is a spry little 93-year-old widow who still drives and plays the church organ every Sunday.
When Bill opened the door to the building, I felt the old excitement of the 13-year-old welling up. It had been parked there in 1932. The cloth top was now in rags, but the ribs were still there over the front and back seats. One door was flopped open with an old Elgine Coaster Brake bicycle propped against it. Close by was an old RF radio from the early 1900s.
The engine was started by manually turning the crank in the front. On the floor there were three pedals. These were also the two wheel brakes, low gear and reverse. On the steering column there were two levers for spark advance and throttle. The clutch was a long handle on the outside of the driver’s side.
Also behind Aunt Mildred’s house, sat the farm’s original gasoline powered electric plant dating to about the early 1900’s. In another shed there was a 66-year old Farmall M tractor. Out in the weeds stood a rusty old Ford tractor. Off in the distance stood the remains of an old house put together with pegs that held the mortised floor joists in place. This was all just too great.
Bill and I went inside to visit Aunt Mildred. She still has many of the family heirlooms including several pendulum clocks. One was an OG weight-driven clock with the original landscape painting on the glass and a porcelain face. In her front room, Aunt Mildred also had a player piano that looked like new with the original ivory keys and player rolls.
My old friend Luke was a victim of cancer after being exposed to Agent Orange. I wish he could have seen the Braswell Model T. It would be a shame today to learn that the story of the Pigeon River Model T was a hoax dreamed up by our two older brothers, Joe and David, as a prank. I don’t want to know. If it is true that the Model T is there, maybe some anthropologist digging for Native American artifacts will dig it up. I would love to hear his theory of what a Cherokee brave was doing riding around the tepees in a Model T Ford.