Genola car collector ends love affair with Tin Lizzie

(Gene Gruber of Genola is pictured taking stock of the countless Model T parts collected over a lifetime).

Among the more intriguing articles is a muzzle loader pistol dating back to 1848 issued to a Navy officer. The auction bill lists five bound volumes of the defunct Pierz Journal from the 1930s and 1940s. A framed collection of Democratic presidential campaign buttons is sure to catch the eye of visitors. Folks may recall the Adlai Stevenson-Estes Ketauver ticket of 1952, but who remembers John W. Davies or Alton B. Parker? Included, of course, are the more familiar Kennedy and Humphrey names.

But, the Model T collection takes center stage. Without a doubt, Henry Ford’s Tin Lizzie was a favorite of Gene Gruber, now confined to a wheelchair by Multiple Sclerosis. He’s parting with a lifetime accumulation, including two vintage 1925 Model Ts, one with running gear minus the body, and the other a boxy restorable truck.

The mass-marketed, assembly line cars sold for about $250 new in the 1920s and 30s. “Ford said ‘you can have any color you want, so long as it’s black,”’ Gruber explained. He’s quick to engage in a spirited history of the car.

A long-time member of the Lone Eagle Antique Auto Club, Gruber got into old cars as a young man. He used to chauffeur wedding parties from the church to home receptions, sometimes by horse and buggy and occasionally by loaner antique automobile. He recalled visiting the late Ted Thielen’s dealership in Pierz where a used Model T could be had for $15. “In the 1940s you could pick one up for $15 -$20,” he said.

While endearing, the Model T had a peculiar feature, The gas tank was mounted under the seat. There were no fuel pumps, just gravity flow. Drivers often had to back up a hill to keep the car running, something he remembered doing for a bridal couple once. On the floor were high, low and reverse pedals. The vehicle could reach speeds of 40 mph on the straight away.

Although Ford’s car for the common people has been a lifetime passion, Gruber isn’t severing the relationship entirely. One car he’s keeping is a 1927 two-door convertible purchased at a Little Falls swap meet. It took 10 years to put it together from accumulated parts.

Completely restored with original rumble seat, sporty whitewalls and leather upholstery, the car was used for the weddings of sons Steve and Paul. Daughter Susan rode in a classic ‘39 Nash when she got married, another keepsake.” People didn’t look at the bride,” he grinned. “They looked at the cars.”

Like a seasoned fisherman, he laments the ones that got away. One was a ‘31 Chevy bought for $35 and later sold for $100 to a city dealer. “I’ve cried ever since,” he admitted. “It was in great shape with two time mounts and suicide doors. We had no place to put it,”

“In those days we didn’t think of saving cars,” added Millie. “If we could have saved everything, we would have a fortune. Unfortunately, a lot of old cars were scrapped during World War 11 for the metal. But, Gene vowed when he got out of the Navy he’d get one.

Gruber’s first car was a second- hand 1938 Chevrolet he bought with his brother. “We couldn’t afford a new one,” he said. “I’ve been a collector most of my adult life. You won’t see this many parts in the same place again.”

Viewing the neatly sorted rows of hoods, axles, doors, radiators, steering columns, motors and hundreds of unidentified parts in the back yard, he muses: “It blows my mind how much stuff there is.”

The sale starts at 10 a.m. on Sunday, July 9, with auctioneers Dave Schubert and Brad Frisk selling in two rings part of the day. Granny’s Lunch Box will be on the grounds.

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