Midtown Abbey Scramble

Posted: October 2, 2019 in Uncategorized


The call comes in late Thursday.  The voice on the phone asked, “Do you still have your 1929 Model A?”  Of course I say “yes” which receives a rapid “Is it available for a shoot on Tuesday?” Of course I say “yes” which receives a “let me show some photos of the car to the producer and see if it works for them.” I warn them that the car looks great at 25 feet but isn’t a show car.  I get a call on Friday letting me know that my car is booked for a Downton Abbey related thing. What is that thing?  I have no clue.  I just know that the car is needed in Midtown by the Essex House on Tuesday. I was going to drive it to the shoot but decided that I would just let them flatbed it as I have been so busy and as flat bedding a Model A typically gets you where you want quicker.  If you know me, when it comes to the car I like to be prepared.

Here is where the fun begins.

With ONLY the weekend ahead of me (and most of that time already planned for other things), there are now car-things to do. It will be tight, but I should be able to get everything done if I get minimal sleep and nothing goes wrong (Yes, this is foreshadowing)

  • Clean the car (it is dirty),
  • Get gas,
  • Fix the split upholstery (front seat – backrest),
  • Patch and touchup paint (currently painted with primer), and
  • Do my already overbooked plans for the weekend.

On Friday I attempted to start dealing with the split upholstery.  I mean, can you really show up to a professional gig with a car that has seats like this?


I can’t figure out how to sew this all back up and no one seems to have any matching materials. I decided that I can try to address this Saturday or Sunday. I am definitely not using black duct tape — but don’t think that it didn’t cross my mind.

The car is old and the existing paint is flaking in several spots.  I decided to paint to the primer patched area of the car with a foam roller. I figure this takes the most time because it will have to dry. It is time for a full car repaint but that is going to be the subject of many future posts. Now I need to figure out how to use incorrectly matched paint I have from years ago to cover up the primer patch I have on the back of the car. I started and moved the car before doing this.  It drove beautifully. The paint went on, dried its “off-color” but was better than the primer patch.  I did a few other small touchups.

I had Saturday plans on Long Island, so Saturday was really a dead day in terms of getting things done. It was however a good day to get a little gas for the car. I drove the car to get some gas.  It drove beautifully.  I made some calls about upholstery.  No luck.

On Sunday I worked in the morning with a client and then rushed home to drive to the detailer.  He did a nice job cleaning the car. It drove beautifully.  I made some calls about upholstery.  No luck.

On Monday I had to work but also new I had to deal with the upholstery.  I my mother suggested a little hidden fabric place that is only a few miles away.  I called and they told me that they have the material. The photo here is of the backrest.  Not for nothing, but if the gig has me showing up and transporting the cast of Downton Abbey, I can’t have the backrest split.  I drive the car to the fabric place and picked up a PERFECTLY matching material which I would later tack onto the seat to cover the old seat. It looks like a toddler was doing upholstery work, but all I needed was a patch.  I can get away with this!  Just need to tuck the fabric a little better and I am fine.



I also then decided to lightly sand the paint patch and put some wheel polish on it.  This didn’t look great but looked good enough. The key was using the wheel polish to cover the finish from the roller.   Again, the car drove beautifully.

I bet you can get how the day started on Tuesday when it was time to load the car onto a trailer.  I get a call 10 minutes before the flatbed driver arrives and the car just won’t start.  The battery is acting dead.  The scramble began to try to start the car.  The flat bed driver shows up. I don’t have a jumper box, but ran around the block to borrow one from a friend who owns a garage.   He only had a 12 volt one – which wasn’t charged… but what the hell.  I take it and then attempt to jump the car.  Something didn’t smell right when I did it. Oh, I reversed polarity for a fraction of a second. A stock Model A is a negative ground car – which is the opposite of what most people would expect.  With the polarity correct I started the car and DAMN the starter revved the engine like it never has revved before.  When you use 12 volts to run a 6 volt starter, you get that thing to hummm!

The car was running.  BUT NOW THE AMMETER WON’T go positive.   Ok, so I can’t charge the car if the generator isn’t giving a positive charge.  Here is how I trouble shot this: 1) check the connections with the generator and the cut out.  They seem to be good, 2) use a heavy cable (I couldn’t find a smaller wire) to bypass the cut out – this “jump” should remove the cut out and enable the generator to provide charge, 3) use an meter and read low charge on the battery, 4) try not to show panic as the driver is waiting and we are running late.  Ok, now I am convinced I either have a bad cut out or bad generator.  I check some other connections and then realize that we have to load the car up if we are going to make it on time.  I know I can jumpstart the car so we jump it and load the car onto the flatbed.  We do just that.

In route to the city I make calls to a few local model A gurus and no one has any solutions – excepting to swap out my cut out and/or generator.  I have a non-functional back up generator and can’t find my back up cut out.  We plug in the “dead” 12-volt jumper box that the garage lent me and basically I spent the trip trying to figure things out.

We make it to the shot at the Essex House with about 30 minutes to spare (we planned for about 1 hour).  I get the car started and decide that I am going to try to trouble-shoot again.  I find a length of wire I keep in the car and again jump the cut-out.  NOW THE AMMETER STARTS TO SHOW A CHARGE!  So, what happened?  I probably had a stuck cut out that was now loose or had to repolarize the generator.  Regardless, it works.  I figure If I let the car run for 30 minutes at high idle, it would charge the battery.   Regardless, I was NOT going to turn off the car (good thing I put in some gas).  I let it run for 30 minutes while NYC shows the car some love.  The producer and purchaser for ABC come and say hello and get in on the fun as well.  I happened to dress in a suit knowing that I may end up in the shoot.  You can’t imagine how many people approach you to tell you about family Model As and their memories as children.  Tom Hiddleston’s personal assistant was one of those people as he is staying at Essex House. I got to meet her and his dog.  It would have been great if “Loki” appeared for the shoot, but he didn’t. I think every doorman and manager at the Essex House posted photos of them sitting in the car.  

My wife is working around the block.  She calls and is going to rush over with a battery charger from a local Home Depot if I need.  I tell her that I think the car is going to be OK and not to worry.  She is great.

The talent shows up.  It is Sarah Haines of ABC’s GMA Strahan Sara and Keke show.  She seemed lovely and was dressed in period appropriate attire.  As a sidenote, my car is a 1929 Ford.  Downton Abbey takes place in 1927 — but hey, it’s close enough — they had this body type released in 1927/1928.  I am then told that the gig is a bit she is using as a lead up to the Downton Abbey movie release and her interviewing the cast and that I am in the shoot.  They did about 5 or 6 takes.  I basically had to back up the car 20 feet and then roll it forward.   One of the  cast members walked by while we were filming.

Here is what ABC did.  The Model A shows up at around the 55 second mark. Strahan expresses his delight with the car at the end of the segment.

Without getting too much into everything, I finally get home after the successful shoot (see videos) and then end up replacing the battery which has a dead cell – only giving 4.3 volts instead of 6 volts.


Greg (an automotive upholstery expert who works with classic cars) is scheduled to  redo my lackluster upholstery job in Mid October.

I’m hoping the car is picked up for more shoots/work soon.  It would be awesome to have more excuses to continue restoring it.  I am now considering what an appropriate timeline will be to repaint the entire car.


Thank you to the people of the Thruway Authority and Tee Zee Constructors. They have been absolutely wonderful…. not just in helping with the coordination of my driving across the bridge, but in all the work they have done on the bridge and for the community.




The old TZ Bridge was designed to last for 50 years and I suspect was never anticipated to accommodate the 130,000+ daily crossings that has punished its infrastructure. If you know the bridge, you know it really has that 50s era highly functional erector set feel.  I am certain it has seen more than its shares of Model As.  For those who followed my road trips a few years ago, you might remember the excitement I had when I first crossed the bridge to start a drive to Boston and the thrill that I had when I crossed it on the way back home.  The old bridge an essential part of Rockland County.

Aside from being more functional, the new bridge is much more elegant. The patterns of the cables are beautiful and the chamfered towers blend well into the Hudson River valley. The new bridge will have pedestrian walkways, a bike path, more lanes, etc.  Check it out at http://www.newnybridge.com/about/

Let’s talk about the car…. The Phaeton did great. In retrospect, I should have adjusted the generator for night driving — but that is just my paranoia for draining the battery. Aside from that the car started beautifully and the engine sounded great.

Folks have been asking, “how did you get to be the last car?” My official response, “I got lucky”.   My unofficial response, “I emailed a lot of people, spoke to more, emailed more, offered up rides, was respectful and genuine with my requests and got lucky”.  I probably should answer, “I’ve been stuck on the side of the thruway in the Model A enough time that I figured that they wouldn’t even notice me there anymore”.

Regardless….. My Model A was the LAST CAR OVER THE TAPPAN ZEE BRIDGE!  How awesome is that!

A Bridge Not Too Far

Posted: October 6, 2017 in Uncategorized

Bridge Attempt!IMG_7738

Yes, the Phaeton is back on the road and feeling much better. After a few years of effectively being a large paperweight, the engine/transmission are now getting along beautifully (they weren’t) and the car has been test driven on a few short adventures.

October 6th is slated to be the night when the old span of the TZ Bridge is closed for good.  This is the bridge that connects my hometown to “the other side of the Hudson”.  This evening, Kobi, Noah, and Gary Holmgren as well as I will be stationing at an undisclosed location and will attempt to be the last car to drive the old span. Sure, there is also the chance that we will be the last car that needs to be pushed over the old bridge, but that is ok too.  As I figure, why not go for it anyway?

A few things:

  • SAFETY FIRST. This adventure CANNOT be done in any way that would interfere with the construction and safety folks who have been doing such a great job. What they are doing is important. What I am attempting is a novelty. Effectively, what they say goes.
  • I’ve spoken with the Thruway Authority. They have stated that they cannot assist me in this adventure; however, did provide me with some insights as to the staging of the bridge closure and loved that I was making the attempt. If you haven’t already, please check out their website. http://www.newnybridge.com/   While I was really hopeful that they would “hook me up” on the side of the road, they have taken the highly appropriate, “can’t play favorites” approach. Again, what they say goes.
  • The Model A is old! If you happen to be driving near us on the attempt, please give us some room. The car meets the safety standards of 1929 but does not have the braking power of modern cars.
  • Lights…. I’ve got them… but again 1929 lighting standards were not quite up to today’s standards. Turn signals…. Yes, I have an arm and can signal which way I am turning… no, I don’t have signal lights to help me do this.

The media:

  • Journal News’s Robert Brum was the first to hear of my planned attempt. He and Seth Harrison met with me on the 5th to do a test run across the bridge. Brum was writing a column about his favorite times with the bridge…. He has a new one. Seth Harris shot some video for an online segment:



  • VIOS news interviewed me on the morning of 10/6. I don’t have a link to it yet.
  • I am told that there was talk about the planned attempt on the radio on 10/6.  I have no idea who was talking about it.
  • NBC and a few other outlets reached out to me on 10/6 to discuss doing a ride along… unfortunately my day doesn’t (didn’t) allow it.  They are all welcome to join me for a drive on another day.
  • I hear that the Juice is Loose and I am hopeful that it is my car chased by the helicopters on TV instead of his… is that wrong?

Regardless, I’ll post more when there is more to report. I would also encourage anyone interested in historic cars to consider rescuing one. There are many Model As and Model Ts that have survived all these years that are looking for home.  Most (ok, many) counties have a Model A or Model T club.

If this is the first time you are visiting this website, you need to scroll way down to get beyond the engine repair technical stuff if you want to get a laugh at the car being broken down on the side of the thruway near Albany or needing water due to radiator problems on route 17 or driving through Times Square.

“Hey John, I am NOT calling about my car. I don’t want to talk about my car. There is a car show in Nyack tonight {two weeks ago}. I thought you would want to show off your new 1940 Ford”. The response from John was, “I am having a martini with lunch”. I thought to myself, “this could go one of two ways”. What did I know? It went a third.

Since the engine and transmission were removed by me (2014/2015), rebuilt by professionals (2015) who let me help, and reinstalled by me (2016), the car hadn’t felt right and kicked out of gear when going up a steep hill. Excepting for breaking in the engine and for an occasional parade, the car has effectively been off the road since my attempted Burlington VT roadtrip ended in Albany NY back in 2014. It took time to get the engine out, time to get it up north to the engine rebuilders, time to get it back, time to reinstall all the parts, time to break things in, etc. This time was rewarded with a car that couldn’t be driven.

In troubleshooting, I had amongst other things, temporarily swapped out the transmission tower with a known working one. I did this because I was told the majority of transmission related problems originate with the tower and figured that if a working one was swapped out and it fixed my problem, then the problem would be in the tower (and I would not have to take out the engine or transmission). The swap out seemed to help the problem a little but the car still kicked out of gear. This led me to conclude that the tower and its parts were ok. Having done this and in hopes to diagnose a problem instead of replacing parts randomly (and having to remove/install the engine and transmission countless times), I researched every possible cause of the kick out problem (with calls to the boys at J&M Machine, Steve Mitchell from Mitchell Overdrive, MAFCA’s technical director Jim Cannon, Les Andrews who literally wrote the book on Model A repairs, Tom Edny who is a transmission guru, and too many other people to list). What I found was that I didn’t have the time/tools/skills to do this work alone. As mentioned in the past, John Karal is our local Model A guru. You may have seen his high hit youtube video rebuild of my 1929 Phaeton’s transmission and a controversial video of him measuring warp on my rebuilt bellhousing. The car went to John’s garage in June.

Les Andrew’s book notes that a warp in the bellhousing COULD be the cause a car to go out of gear if under load (such as going up a steep hill). The first think John did was remove the engine, measure the trueness of the bellhousing, and swap it out with a new one. Using a dial indicator my original bellhousing exhibited a warp of 52/1000s (measured “on the block” and with its thick gaskets torqued tight and evenly). John is going to re-record this video at some point incorporating some of the suggestions he receive and some more of his findings. 52/1000s is well above the specified tolerance of 6/1000s. The replacement bellhousing was an original that measured a warp of only 1/1000 top to bottom and 4/1000 side to side. When installing the horseshoe shims on the reinstall, John utilized feeler gages to measure what would be the correct shim size. This was done with the dial indicator remaining in place. According to John, the new (at least to me) bellhousing was effectively perfect. John also insisted that since the engine would be going in/out of the car potentially more than once, that the original motor mounts be replaced with “float-a-motor” mounts because they would facilitate future uninstalls/installs and that I could eventually put the originals back into the car. So much for me going “all original” (I’ll change them back at some point when I am ready to do the frame off paint job). With this work completed, John took the car for a test drive. The test drive yielded a car that, instead of forcefully kicking out of gear would gently slush out of gear. So, we would likely conclude that the tower is fine and the engine is fine. He went hunting for other things.

John’s next thought was to check/measure the modern universal joint that replaced the original. The universal joint I had installed was a very well made one from Bob Drake and purchased from Brattons. I am told Drake’s parts are normally great. John reports that this “correct” part has a different design than the original one. Part of the design is a concave washer that was “captive” (it can’t be removed).  John believes this was installed backward by the manufacturer. He suspected that this might enable to the U-joint to move about 1/8th an inch which could in turn cause the transmission shaft to move and kick out. <<< Quite frankly, John lost me in his description>>>. John happened to have an original style universal joint in his room of parts, so he decided to swap out the new one with the original one. The Bob Drake part was swapped with a nearly perfect original style u-joint. I’ll be reaching out to Brattons who, as always, has stood behind their parts and did note that they stopped selling this part shortly after I purchase mine.

Before putting it all back together, John wanted to measure all the other parts (including those in the transmission) and use Tom Edny’s checklist on what causes a transmission to go out of gear as one of his guides. I was also encouraging the possible swap out of the entire transmission to a known working one this way we could definitively rule out issues with the engine and universal joint. With this all in mind, I though it wise to reach out to Jim Cannon at MAFCA so he could share his insight. Jim already knew of my car and was happy to lend his expertise. When it became apparent that my ability to relay information was going to be insufficient, I asked John and Jim if they could speak directly. After a few failed attempts, Jim and John spoke and John accepted that their might be a glitch in the transmission (the very one he rebuilt in the online video). Keep in mind, we already ruled out the tower as we swapped it with a known working one. Based on the conversation, John changed the transmission main shaft in case the clearance between the main shaft and the 1st reverse and the high gear was a problem. Apparently, when you install a gear onto the shaft, it should slowly slide down (as opposed to drop and klunk into place). John noted that on the replacement shaft, the gears slowly settled into position (after John “lapped” the shaft and a replacement 2nd high gear was used as the one in there had a 6/10,000 clearance and the new one had 2/10,000 clearance).When replacing the 2nd High gear, John noticed “witness marks” (a scratch or dent that evidences that parts were touching) where the gear and the forks meet. GUESS WHAT….THERE SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN ANY MARKS HERE. Apparently the fork was not sitting against the gears properly. The forks are part of the shifting tower – you know, the very tower we swapped out with a known working one OVER A YEAR AGO. In looking at the marks, John saw that the marks weren’t even (they were NOT true to eachother). This means that something was bent or not sitting right. As the gear couldn’t have been bent, it must have been the forks. After measuring the forks, John concluded that the forks must have gotten bent when he was installing them onto the shifting rod.

I want to stress again that I did previously swap out the tower with a known working one and it did not solve the problem…. so there was no reason to believe that the problem was in the tower (including the forks).

This isn’t where the story ends.  John and I take the car for a drive before I officially pick it up. The car seemed to drive ok.  There are a few things I noted when we got back to his shop:

  • Slight oil leak from #8 bolt (probably a touch of gasket sealant will fix this. I am ignoring it for now)
  • Slight leak from side of headgasket (I am ignoring this for now)

We quickly retorqued the engine.

John gave me a list of things he did/didn’t do to the car including telling me that the rear light wiring wasn’t right, the horn was broken, the floor boards weren’t located down (so I could adjust the brake lights), that he rewired the front lights back to the original ford-plunger style (which I hate), that he un-adjusted the brakes to make installing the engine easier, etc.

I leave for the 15 mile drive home.  After the first bump in the road, I hear a CLANK and then the sounds of what I assume was a drip pan hanging from one side and clunking up and down – the gas pedal top also came off and thankfully landed on top of the transmission and not through to the road. I decide to stop at my sister’s house which is around the half way home market to check under the car. I get to my sister’s house and there is oil now dripping steadily on her driveway. I move the car to the road. I am just hoping that the rear main wasn’t damaged as the dripping was coming from what looked like that area of the engine.

With a closer look, there is a solid drip of oil from big cotterpin under bellhousing, there is evidence that of lots of oil came out of the filler tube and the dipstick hole.  So much for a nice clean engine – actually, I am kind of pissed that I now have to clean it. I checked the dip stick and even with a car that was just driven, it is WELL above full. I called John to let him know and he thinks he may have overfilled the oil. He told me that he probably did and that it will find its own level after being driven for a bit (and I should put something under it in in the garage). If it is an overfill, this is just an inconvenience.  With the drip pan back in place (using a washer to help the cause), I drove home and placed cardboard under the car to catch the dripping oil.

That Sunday I quickly rebolted the drip pan (filing down washers so they would fit properly and make up for old tabs that are work away, visited the wiring for the brake light (which was fine), adjusted the break light switch which was set at a position where it was always “on”, and removed and brought inside the horn which I quickly rigged to work (I’ll do a “more correct” repair later). I then took the car up the biggest hill in the area. It remained in gear.

The car remains “unfinished”. I have to go through my stuff and find everything I removed and put things back. There are parts such as the felt for under the pedal plate that I have to find/order and other things such as floor board screws and cup washers that I haven’t seen in years.

It’s been years since I’ve been able to drive the car or since it has been all in one piece. It will probably take a few weeks before I have the chance to put it all back together and finish bringing the car back to where I want it. Last Monday I brought the car for the annual state inspection. Last Tuesday, I brought it to a village event in Nyack. Two days ago, I drove it 20 miles up/down hills and yesterday I went on a nice 15 mile drive.


While it is great having the car back, after the engine and transmission were “restored”, the follow up repairs to fix this “out of gear” issue (which never should have happened and seems to have been the result of multiple issues) costs me a few thousand dollars and countless hours. In this regard, I can’t help to feel a bit forked over and just warped from the process. I guess the universe just wanted to keep me off the road for a little longer. Hopefully it will be 80+ more years before I have to go through anything like this again. As the moon rises over the Hudson River, I think it is time for me to go get myself a martini — or perhaps a pint of tequila.



Gearing Up —or Out

Posted: January 10, 2016 in Uncategorized

So, I am back on the road.  Kind of but not really.  I’ve put 110 miles on my rebuilt engine and transmission and noticed that the car keeps kicking out of second gear.

John (the local model a guru) and I took the car for a drive, opened up the transmission, and saw nothing standing out as “wrong”.  So what’s going on?  Well, it can be as simple as a “new” part being “close but not close enough”.  That stated, which part might be bad is unknown.  It could also be a warped bellhousing or other part that needs to be replaced (ugh!  I just had these parts completely rebuilt). It can also be a bunch of other things — like a gasket being the wrong size. So what do I do now?  First, I try to borrow a known working “transmission tower” to swap it out with the one I am using.  (Do you have a 29 ford transmission tower you are willing to let me remove from your car?).   The problem probably isn’t in the tower, but swapping towers is an easy way to rule out the tower.  I’m hopeful it is a weak detention spring.  If the car kicks out of gear with the good tower, the transmission will need to be remove — which means removing either the rear of the car or the engine.  Yeah, I’m not so happy.

Short on everything but shorts

Posted: September 13, 2015 in Uncategorized

So I smoked some wires the other day and am now hunting down shorts.  My newly rebuilt J&M Machine Shop engine has 5 miles… yup ONLY 5 miles.  Since getting everything back together and having broken in the engine, I developed a bunch of electrical shorts.  I think the engine gremlins got angry and called in their cousins.  I’ll update you on my adventures in the headlight switch arena at another time.  Today I am taking a brake (no, i didn’t spell that wrong)… a brake light switch to be more precise

Basically, one of my shorts was in this switch.  This sucker was heating up like you wouldn’t believe.  The ammeter pegged past -20 whenever I stepped on the brake.  So, since it was already broken I decided to take it apart myself.  Here is the video.  Easy to fix!

Yes, 4 attempts were made to get the rebuilt engine into the car this AM.  They all failed gloriously.  Let me go into quick detail of the adventure that Len, Gene R, and I had.  Len and Gene arrived at 9:30 ready to have at it…. by “it”, I mean the muffins and coffee.

Attempt 1: Gene started off by suggesting we remove an engine mount to make thing easier and then reinstall it later.  I passed on this and stated that I wanted to try to do things the traditional way first.  So, we jacked up the transmission until it almost touched the firewall.  We placed the engine on a hoist with a “tilting” attachment (so we could change the angle of attack of the engine and “dial in” adjustments).  We got over the motor mounts started getting close and noted that the tilt device wouldn’t clear the coil.  We removed the coil and gained more room.  We removed the front engine mount to gain more room. The engine would not sit on the rear mounts and was hanging at a 3% clockwise…… we aborted the mission after figuring we couldn’t get the tilting attachment and hoist further into the engine compartment without doing damage.

Attempt 2: this time we used a traditional engine lifting attachment and followed the Les Andrews book in terms of placing the lifting point above the #3 spark hole…. no pitch=no good.  We scratched the bottom pan against the front frame a few times.  We bumped the guide bolts against the fire wall a few times. We aborted the attempt and had more muffins.

Attempt 3: Why not try again?  If you do the same thing over and over again, eventually shear willpower makes things happen.  I greased up the leading edge of the rear engine mounts and we put more attitude on the engine (so the front was higher and the back was lower).  After futzing for a bit, I hear a “POP”…. it is just a bolt against the fire wall and no harm done excepting a scratch on the wall — which isn’t is great shape to start.   Mission aborted.

Attempt 4:  Why not reset everything and go at it one more time.  This time with the frame spreader in place.  We lower the transmission a bit.  Install a frame spreader and give it a little crank and start hoisting in the engine.  We don’t have the angle on the transmission to make this work and can’t get the engine in.  FAIL FOUR.  It is now 2:00 and time to call it a day.

What did we learn?  NOTHING

How long did it take us?  about 5 hours

Is the engine installed?  No

In retrospect, perhaps Gene’s suggestion on removing a rear motor mount was the right one.  It was too late in the day to try it.  Tomorrow AM another attempt will be made.  John Karal, the local model a guru and mechanic will be joining me in Nyack.  As I see it, Len, Gene and I did everything correct. J&M Machine must have been feeding my engine fatty foods and not running it, as the engine is apparently bigger now than it was when I got it out of the car. (Ok, we know the engine isn’t bigger and that motor mounts may be part of the problem — regardless special thanks to Len and Gene for putting up with the nonsense.  You are both owed some beers and burgers. )

image photo image (1) image (2)