What a find – Herb Johnston got his Model T on eBay
By Steve Huffman
Herb Johnston said when the guys at the Hot Rod Barn get together, they talk about what guys have been talking about for decades.
“We discuss mostly cars and politics,” he said. “And occasionally throw a few women in on the side.”
Last month, Johnston gave the good ol’ boys something a tad different on which to chew ó a 1923 Ford Model T he and his cohorts found listed on eBay.
They bought the car through the Internet auction site and had it delivered in August from Kansas. It’s parked in the Hot Rod Barn at the intersection of U.S. 29 and Webb Road outside Salisbury.
The Hot Rod Barn is beside BeBops Restaurant. Wayne Bradshaw owns both the restaurant and the small car museum that is the Barn.
He’s also a long-time partner and friend to Johnston. The two have over the years collaborated on a few car purchases and restoration projects.
“Wayne does 90 percent of the work and I offer advice,” Johnston said, laughing as he spoke.
Which brings us to the story of how the Model T found its way to Rowan County.
Johnston, 82, had been looking for a nice Model T for years. The first car he owned, he said, was a 1926 Model T for which he paid $12 (he swears he’s not making this up).
“I wanted to drive another one while I was still able to drive, before I was put out to pasture,” Johnston said.
Bradshaw eventually ran across the 1923 Model T on eBay. In the pictures, the car looked great.
The Model T had belonged to a doctor in Kansas who owned the vehicle until he died in 1970. According to family members, they then placed the car in a barn where it remained until going up for sale on eBay.
Bradshaw and Johnston bid on the vehicle, Bradshaw even staying up until the wee hours the morning the auction ended so that some diabolical car collector wouldn’t outbid them at the last minute.
Asked how much they paid for the car, Johnston hesitated, noting that it had been many decades since he paid $12 for his previous Model T.
“Just say this one was very expensive,” he finally allowed, grinning again.
Turns out, it was money well spent.
Johnston said he and Bradshaw pretty much held their breath while they waited for the Model T’s delivery. Together, they’ve bought several cars on eBay.
And while the pictures of this Ford looked nice, pictures can only show so much.
“We’ve gotten some good deals on eBay, and also been burned a time or two,” Johnston said.
They weren’t burned this time. When they laid eyes on the Model T, both Johnston and Bradshaw were pleased.
“It’s almost museum quality,” Johnston said.
“I was more than satisfied,” Bradshaw agreed.
Sometime over the years, the car was repainted its factory black (Henry Ford once said, “Paint my cars any color you want as long as it’s black”), but other than that, the creation is almost original.
Because it was purchased new by a doctor who had to travel all hours of the day and night in all kinds of weather, the Model T came with a number of options not found on most of its counterparts.
While there’s a hand crank at the front of the engine, the car also has an electric start, something almost unheard of in the early 1920s. The Model T also has a speedometer and odometer, further options.
The steering wheel has the “fat man” option where it can be raised and pushed out of the way should the driver be of the rotund variety. A factory-original clock that was an option works as well as the day it was new. (Johnston said he’s been told that the clock alone is worth $1,200.)
A doctor’s satchel and tool box are original equipment items still mounted to the Model T’s driver’s side running board.
“Everything about the car works except the owner,” Johnston said. “I don’t work.”
The Model T comes with a four-cylinder motor that purrs much as it must have purred when it departed the dealer’s showroom 85 years ago. The engine produces a not-so-whopping 25 horsepower, which means the Ford’s top speed is only about 40 mph.
But Ford produced the Model T from 1908 through 1927, a period that preceded interstate highways and law enforcement’s need for radar detectors.
Johnston and Bradshaw get the car out occasionally and tool about the southern end of Rowan County, and sometimes into downtown Salisbury. When they parked in front of BeBops last week, motorists continually tooted their horns as they admired the vehicle.
Bradshaw said he built the Hot Rod Barn so diners at his restaurant would have somewhere to go once they’d finished their meals.
The Barn is open six days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. There is no charge for admission and Johnston is more than happy to show his Model T to anyone interested in having a look.
If Johnston should happen not to be there, any of his numerous cronies who are usually on hand are equally happy to show visitors around.
Bradshaw said most people return once they’ve visited the Barn. He laughed about a group of Canadians who a few years ago made a wrong turn off the interstate.
While they were turning around, they decided to take a look at what the Barn had to offer. Then they returned to Canada and told their friends what they’d stumbled upon.
“For a while after that, every month we had someone from Canada stopping in for a look,” Bradshaw said.
Asked if he and his buddies who hang out at the Barn do so just for a good time, Bradshaw replied, “Yeah, and to see who can lie the most.”
But they take their collector cars pretty seriously. They rotate the cars in and out on a regular basis so that visitors are offered a look at any number of vehicles.
At the moment, in addition to his Model T, Johnston also has a 1962 Chevrolet Corvette that’s displayed at the Barn.
“I can go either old man putt-putt or powerful,” Johnston said of the cars he has the option of driving.
Johnston, a Rowan County native who worked 18 years in the composing room of the Salisbury Post before retiring from the purchasing department of Cabarrus Hospital, laughs when he says that with his 83rd birthday to arrive before the end of the year, he’s the oldest hot-rodder in Rowan County.
“If there’s an older one, I want to meet him,” he said.
Johnston and his wife, Ann, have been married for decades, though the couple doesn’t have children.
As Johnston backed his Model T out of the Hot Rod Barn for a drive one recent afternoon, he challenged a cohort to a race.
“Terry,” he said, “when I pull out there, you fire yours up and we’ll race. You might beat me.”