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October 27, 2010   Email to Friend 

Model A is Modern Time Machine
Debra Davis

Eugene Glenn poses beside his fully restored Model A Ford.
A trip back in time for 74-year-old Eugene Glenn is just a few yards away from the back door of his home in the Lawrence County community of Hillsboro. There, amid rolling fields of corn and soybeans, is the shop that holds his iconic time machine - a fully restored 1930 Model A Ford.

The black paint on the car is so shiny Eugene can see his reflection as he polishes the hood. Atop his head is his favorite cap that looks like something from the The Great Gatsby. The wide, white-wall tires give the car a snappy appearance and a sense of royalty befitting such an antique beauty.

Photos that cover the refrigerator in the house where he and his wife, Rita, live are filled with memories of children and grandchildren, but there's a photo that holds a special place there. It's an old black and white of the Glenns as a young couple in their college days at Florence State (Teachers) College (now the University of North Alabama). It was taken in 1956 in front of Eugene's first car - a 1930 Model A Ford.

More than a half-century later, one of his favorite places to be is back behind the wheel of the Model A he purchased four years ago with his wife of 52 years beside him.

"I saw this car on line and we traveled up there to take a look at it," Eugene recalled about his trip to Virginia to make the purchase. "I bought my first one my senior year in high school and paid $100 for it - it was used, but we loved it." He didn't want to reveal what his latest Model A cost, but indicated it was considerably more than his first one.

Eugene says he loves to drive the vintage car. Sometimes it's just a leisurely ride into town, but the couple also has taken several 1,000-mile trips where they join with other Model-A owners who share their love of old cars. They also participate in several local Christmas parades.

"When I bought this car, it already had a new paint job, but I've completely redone the interior," Eugene said. And he's added some modern amenities like seat belts, brake lights and a key ignition system.

"We still have the old crank start on it and it works, but it wasn't called an arm-breaker for nothing," he said. "If it (the starter crank) jumps on you, it can break your arm."

The couple mostly takes longer trips in spring and fall, when the weather is cooler, because of all the things he has added, the car does not have air conditioning. That's fine with Eugene though, he likes to feel the breeze as he cruises along viewing the world at a slower pace.

"Top speed I guess is about 55 miles-per-hour, but usually we travel at about 45," he said. "It could probably go faster, but that's a good, safe speed for us. We don't travel the interstate, and sometimes we do make some drivers irritated because we drive so slowly. Sometimes it backs traffic up, and we'll just pull off and let them go by, but most people just stare at us when they pass."

"It used to bother me some when we first started traveling in the Model A," Rita said. "People who were total strangers would look at us and come up and start talking. I felt sort of like a spectacle. It was kind of unnerving. But now, we're used to it, and people are generally very nice."

Many admirers want to have their photo made with the Model A and share stories about when they or their parents owned a similar car. The car recently had a chance to be immortalized on the silver screen when it was used in an upcoming movie Water for Elephants, filmed in a rural area outside Chickamauga, Ga. The story from the Sara Green novel, which is set during the Great Depression, originates in Tompkins County, New York.

The movie stars British heartthrob Robert Pattinson, who appears in the popular vampire movie, Eclipse.

In Water for Elephants Pattinson portrays a veterinary student who abandons his studies after his parents are killed and joins a third-rate traveling circus as the veterinarian. Reese Witherspoon also plays a leading role in the movie.

"My friend Scott Owens saw an ad on Craig's List looking for cars to be in the movie," Eugene recalled. "After I sent in photos, they said they'd like to use my car."

There were some minor modifications, like switching the white-wall tires to standard black walls, replacing the license plate and removing the modern turn signals.

The Glenns hauled the car on a trailer to the movie set. They were met by hundreds of teenage fans seeking to catch a glimpse of Pattinson. Glenn said their contact with the actors was very limited, although he did give a driving lesson to veteran actor Dan Lauria who plays the role of the local sheriff in the movie. Lauria is best known for his portrayal of Jack Arnold in the television series The Wonder Years. Reese Witherspoon was not on the set for the one-day shoot involving Eugene's car.

Eugene didn't want to reveal his compensation for the use of his car in the movie, but he and Rita did spend two nights at the Marriott in Chattanooga.

While he's obviously fond of his 1930 model, an even older one soon could be sharing the road. It's the 1929 Model A Eugene bought a couple years ago in North Carolina. It's hard for an amateur to tell where exactly all the parts fit together, but Eugene says he knows he can put it back together.

As a retired farmer, Eugene has done his share of mechanic work over the years. That's come in handy for rebuilding antique cars that don't have the computerized systems that modern-day vehicles require.

"These old cars are lots easier to work on," he said as he adjusted the spark plug on his 1929 model.

And while much of his time is spent tinkering on the vintage cars, he's very attuned to modern technology, including computers, the Internet and progressive farming equipment. His sons, Brian and Don, have some of the most advanced farm equipment available, like an auto-steer tractor that uses a global positioning system to keep the rows straight. Eugene said when he began his farming career, he had a 50-horsepower tractor. Now, the tractors on their farm are five times that size.

"Today's tractors are a lot bigger and more efficient, that's for sure," he said as he looked over the engine of the 1929 model he's restoring. "But they're a lot harder to work on, too. They're filled with all kinds of electronics and computers that the average person just can't work on. That's why I like these old things - I can still work on them. Been doing it all my life, I guess."


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