DETROIT (AP) – A lot of the old-timers know it’s still back there somewhere, hidden in darkness.
Now and then, some of them work up the nerve to ask for a peek at it. And if the owner is around, they just might get the chance to see a piece of history in more ways than one, the Detroit Free Press reports.
They’re the longtime customers of Reindel’s True Value Hardware in Fraser, a 115-year-old store owned by a single family since it was founded. If the regulars aren’t here for the nostalgia behind that longevity, or for something as practical as a specific tool, they come to see the old car that they hear so much about.
It’s a 1910 Model F Roadster – an antique vehicle briefly produced by International Harvester, which was known back then mostly for the farm equipment and trucks it manufactured. The company decided to dabble in the burgeoning car industry, when auto companies were springing up like weeds after a rain and dozens of them competed for money and attention. The Model F Roadster was International Harvester’s foray into the car market.
“Everybody had their own ideas how to make cars back then,” said Charlie Reindel, the 61-year-old owner of the hardware store and the vintage vehicle kept inside it.
He has been told his is one of a handful of these models left in the world, and after years of babying, it’s not much different from when it rolled off the assembly line.
Every square inch of it features some peculiarity. The frame is wood. The fittings are solid brass. Kerosene lamps flank the windshield and fuel the taillights, which are sheathed in thick red glass. The license plate, its original from 1910, is made of porcelain. The thick tread on the tires spells out the words “non-skid” over and over. The carbide headlights are powered by carbon pellets and water, like a miner’s helmet, and they mix to form acetylene gas, which creates a bright light, making the housing dangerously hot to touch.
“When they heat up, you don’t want to put your hand on them,” he said with a laugh.
Reindel isn’t a car collector who saved for years to buy this model and show it off in car cruises. This was his grandfather’s car, one the old man bought brand new a century ago for $1,200 so he could deliver tools around town from his little hardware store.
It’s a family car in the truest sense of the word.
The hardware store was passed down to him the same way. His grandfather started the business in 1898, in a little shack across the street, before building his own place in 1925 on the corner where it still sits.
Business isn’t bad nowadays, Reindel said, but it was better when nearby Groesbeck was lined with hundreds of machine shops that were longtime customers. Many of them were wiped out by the recession. The growth of big-box hardware stores has taken its toll, too. But Reindel’s still gets enough customers who like going to an old-fashioned corner hardware store.
“A lot of people like the personalized service we have, and somebody who can talk to you who actually knows what they’re talking about,” Reindel said.
And enough people are eager to see if that car is still around, too. “A lot of the older guys, they still ask, ‘Is it still there? Do you still have it?’” said Karen Johnson, herself almost family after working here for over three decades, since she was 17.
Though it’s usually in its protective cocoon at the store, Reindel sometimes takes it out to car shows at Greenfield Village or at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, or to show the excited guys in the beer tent at the Lions Club Festival every summer.
Sometimes, just for fun, he’ll take it on a run to the gas station for cigarettes, drawing stunned looks from everyone pumping gas into their comparatively uninteresting vehicles. And when Reindel turns the key and people hear the unusual sounds the engine makes, they swarm.
“They’ve never seen anything like it,” said Al Roy, 54, a longtime employee. He often tags along with Reindel when he takes the car out. “Then when they hear it run, they’re like, ‘Whoa!’”
If someone asks to see it, in those quiet moments when the walk-in traffic ebbs, Reindel proudly shows it off. It’s not just history, he said. It also represents his personal history, something from the past that, like the store where it’s kept, he’s been entrusted to take care of.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “Usually people buy a car from somebody else and work on it. For it to be in the family that long is really pretty special.”
Information from: Detroit Free Press, http://www.freep.com
Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE