PENDLETON — The narrow tires of Jack Remillard’s 1929 Model A Ford Special Coupe skitter on his gravel driveway and stir up a small cloud of dust as the car backs up a steep hill. The car, originally purchased new in Viborg, South Dakota, was the latest of Remillard’s vehicular restoration projects.
Remillard, a retired firefighter, has a passion for the Model A. He purchased his first one in 1985 and spent the next decade and a half painstakingly restoring it to showroom condition.
“They were a fantastic piece of equipment at the time, and so cheap,” said Remillard.
Between July of 1928 and July of 1929 only 50,000 Model A “Special Coupes” were made, a small fraction of the nearly 5 million Model A Fords produced between 1927 and 1931. Remillard estimates that only around 100,000 Model As remain today, a very small percentage of which are special coupes.
After more than three decades of working on Model As of various vintages, Remillard decided he wanted to bring his interest to a younger generation.
“My goal was to get a younger kid interested,” said Remillard. “It’s relatively simple; if you’re at all mechanical you can figure it out. Anybody can do it.”
Enter Jayson Parker, a 16-year-old Pendleton High School student with a passion to learn despite a lack of prior experience in automotive work. Remillard said that prior to their working together, Jayson was not mechanical at all.
“It started out as a school project,” said Parker. “I wanted to have something physical and mechanical to work on.”
The two spent hours in the evenings and on weekends disassembling the car’s mechanical components and cleaning and lubricating them. Parker said that he spent the first month just taking apart components and cleaning them. For Remillard he knew if Jayson enjoyed cleaning bolts he had him hooked.
“If he can do that, I’ve got him,” said Remillard with a laugh.
Over the course of the project Remillard watched as Parker grew more and more confident in his ability to work on the car despite hangups here or there.
“It’s not every day you get a chance to work on a car from 1929,” said Parker. “It shows you that if you put work into something you can achieve it.”
While Parker was able to successfully assist in rebuilding the engine and repairing other mechanicals of the car, the freshly licensed teenager still had to learn how to drive it. Although the Model A features a fairly familiar set of controls, Remillard had to teach Parker how to drive a manual transmission and navigate without the aid of power steering or power brakes.
Remillard said that he taught Parker how the clutch worked and let him take the car for a drive around the fields near his house.
“Seeing it run for the first time made it all worth it,” said Parker. “Getting to drive a car like that was 1,000% better than learning to drive on a normal pickup.”
Remillard first encountered the car when he was working on another Model A “Special Coupe” in the late 1990s, however, it was not until 2018 that he purchased the car from Hope Fischer and removed it from her collapsing garage.
“I was working on finishing my coupe when I learned about Hope’s,” said Remillard. “It seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a look at another Model A coupe that hadn’t been touched.”
Fischer, 95, of Pendleton, recalled that her grandfather purchased the car new in Viborg, South Dakota, in 1929. She said that the car made its way from her grandfather to her mother sometime in the late 1930s before it was eventually passed on to her.
“When Jack talked about buying it, I thought it would be great,” said Fischer. “Neither of my kids were interested in working with old cars.”
Fischer remembered growing up in Hurley, South Dakota, and riding in the car to visit the bigger cities in South Dakota for errands. One day she and her mother were returning to Hurley when they heard a loud bang.
“It was the loudest noise I had ever heard,” said Fischer. “We’d had a blowout and were stuck on the side of the road.”
After being stranded on the road for a little while a local farmer changed the tire for them and they were able to get back on their way.
Fischer enjoyed hearing about the car’s restoration, and the stories that Remillard would tell her about he and Parker working together.
“It’s really hard for me to believe,” said Fischer. “The other boys are out having fun and playing and he’s in there fixing this car up.”
Remillard said that he enjoys working on the mechanics of cars and isn’t really a paint or body person. Because of this Remillard said that he and Parker focused on getting the car running and driving rather than making it look pretty. With the exception of a new roof to replace the old one, which had worn through, and fixing the mechanicals, Remillard and Parker left the car as it was found, scratches, dents, stains and all.
Remillard said that the cars are easy to work on but lack in-depth instruction on how things work.
“There’s a lot of good books,” he said. “The guys who wrote them, they were good mechanics, but they weren’t very good writers.”
While the car will still be an ongoing project, Remillard was successful in his mission to inspire another generation. Parker said that the experience made him think about a variety of new career paths as he finishes high school.
“It opened up a lot of doors into other places I could go,” said Parker. “Eventually I would like to have my own Model A and work on it — when I’m older, at least.”