When my Grandpa died in 1980, he left my parents a little money. It wasn’t much but it was all he had. My father had been his only child. My grandpa’s name was Thomas H. Wilkins and my father’s name was Thomas H. Wilkins, Jr. I would love to have been Thomas H. Wilkins III but my first name is Frank. But at the age of 15, I gave myself the nickname Tom and I’ve insisted that anyone who calls me by my first name uses the name Tom, not Frank. I did this in remembrance of my Grandpa whom I loved very much.
Grandpa didn’t leave me any money, but he did give me something that has meant far more to me than money. He gave me the 1918 Ford Runabout, Model T, that he bought new from Webster Ford on Hoosick Street in Troy, New York. He was thirty years old at the time. Even though he didn’t run it during every one of the years he owned it, he kept it in pristine condition and that is the way I’ve kept it.
Grandpa meant the world to me. He had been a soldier in the first World War, had served in France and risen to the rank of Captain. He didn’t talk a lot about his experiences during the two years that he served, but he did tell me enough for me to know that he had served with distinction. When he returned from the war, he married a beautiful young woman named Frances Blair and settled on Tibbits Avenue in Troy. He got a job with the Postal Service and delivered mail from home to home since the first day of his employment. He didn’t quit working until he received a letter from the U. S. Government telling him that he had to.
Among my earliest recollections are that when he and Grandma came to visit my parents, he’d drive the Runabout and, after dinner, I would enjoy the thrill of having him take me from from where we lived on South Lake Avenue to various places in Troy, Watervliet, Waterford, Green Island, Wynantskill, and Cohoes. He would try to do this at least once a month, except in winter, and I would look forward to those visits with great eagerness. He would tell me about the car’s cylinders, magnetos, starting handle, manual throttle, etc., but I didn’t understand most of what he said.
Before I was born, my Grandpa had owned other cars in addition to the Runabout. As I remember, some of them had been a 1929 Model A, a 1939 Coupe, and a 1953 two-door sedan, all Fords. It was the 1918 car that he loved best. His home had only one garage but, throughout the years, this was reserved for his favorite car.
One tragic Sunday, Grandpa didn’t arrive at our home as he had said he would. My father went to his home to see if he was all right and found him in the garage. The door was up and Grandpa was in the Roundabout with his hands on the steering wheel. He had died in that position. I suppose that is the way he would have wanted it. When his will was read, I learned that the car was now mine. It was a bittersweet moment. I loved the car but I would have preferred to have Grandpa alive instead.
The house my wife, Irene, and I live in has a two-stall garage. One of the stalls has always held the Runabout. I make sure the car is perpetually in good repair and I run it, at least a little, every year. It’s been hard finding parts at times, but keeping it up has been a labor of love. To this very day, the car runs as well as it ever did. This is the red car you see in the picture.
You may have already seen this car in real life. I show it from time to time in various shows and exhibitions. It won first prize a few years ago when I brought it to the Hemmings Classic Car Show in Bennington, Vermont. Several viewers were stepping on each others’ toes trying to buy it from me. There was no way I would do this, of course. The car had become a part of me.
Life has been good to me. I’m 46 now. My wife and I, have been fortunate with the bounty God has bestowed on us. Our children are doing well and it appears we may acquire a grandchild within the year. If so, be it girl or boy, I plan to continue the tradition that my Grandpa started and, leave the same inheritance to my grandchild that he did to me.