SIDNEY — “You can’t just sit,” said Wil Prenger, of Sidney.
He was talking about retirement.
That’s why, at 87, he’s still restoring Model A Ford vehicles. It’s a hobby he started almost 50 years ago. But his tinkering on cars began years before that.
“My brother and I would fool around with a ‘33 Plymouth Dad had,” he said. His Ford collection came later.
“We ran a service station in New Bremen. One Sunday, I went to work. Carol (his wife) went to a reunion. She came home and said a cousin had a 1927 Model T to sell,” Prenger said.
He had learned to drive on a Model T when he was 13.
“Our neighbors had a Model TT truck. I had to drive it during (World War II) to haul grain to the barn,” he said. So, in 1972, he went to look at the cousin’s car.
“We call it a cracker box because it’s all square,” Carol said. They took it home to their rural Minster farm. The car needed some work.
“One of the wrist pins had a bad bushing. We tore the engine down. Once we had the piston out, we had to make an oversize bushing,” Wil said.
Ray Luedeke, of New Bremen, rebuilt the engine and the transmission while Wil and Carol started the restoration.
“I’d hold the wrenches,” Carol laughed. The frame was cleaned of grease and repainted, cracked fenders were replaced, the front axle got new bushings.
“Then we started to assemble it,” Wil said. “We set the cab back on and tried to start it. It started very quick.” It had taken four years, but they had done it.
Delighted with their accomplishment, the Prengers took their “new” car to participate in 22 parades that year — and started looking for a Model A.
They joined the Dayton Buckeye Model A Ford Club in 1978 and acquired an already-restored 1930 Model A Ford roadster.
“It had side curtains on it,” Carol said.
They also began work on a Tudor that had been a buck rake. The cab had been cut off and a wide, long-toothed rake had been attached to the back to rake hay in farm fields. By the time the Prengers got it, the body had been put back on, but Wil could tell it had been used as a buck rake because the welds that held the rake were still on the rear axle.
When that restoration was complete, Wil built a 1931 huckster from parts. He would purchase parts whenever he found them, whether they were needed for a current project or not, and stockpile them at the farm.
“At one time, I had three TT chassis, a couple of frames, three Model AAs. When we moved to Fort Loramie, we didn’t have room,” Wil said. In a 1989 auction, they sold a Model T, the roadster, a 1936 Ford and a 1948 Pontiac with no engine.
Some of his historic cars have been used in family weddings. They took the huckster to Portland, Indiana, for a wedding and then drove it to Maria Stein for the reception.
“When it was all over, it wouldn’t start,” Carol said. “Model As never start. We opened the hood to see what was wrong, and there were all these guys in tuxes hanging over the car.”
It wasn’t just autos that Wil took on to restore. On the Internet, he found a Model A John Deere tractor in Cadillac, Michigan, and bought it sight-unseen.
Their largest project was a Model A bus. That one started when a New Bremen friend told Wil there was something he should see at Grand Lake St. Marys. It was something to see, all right. The bus body had been used as a fishing shack. It had no wheels, no floor, no back door. It was in terrible shape.
“There’s no way you can imagine what it would take to build that back up again. But I did,” Wil said. The first problem was how to get it from Lake St. Marys to the New Bremen garage. It took a crane to move it to the back of a flatbed truck.
Then he had to find parts. But finding a chassis was easy. He already had one, thanks to that penchant for buying parts as he found them. His having been a layout man at Minster Machine gave him the skills he needed to mold and weld metal for the body.
“We started (restoring the bus) in 1995 and first drove it in 1999,” Wil said. “We drove our cars. The Tudor was the best one for traveling.” They drove antique cars to Florida for their winter soujourns there.
“Each year, we’d take a different one,” Carol said.
They also participated in car shows and cruise ins, winning a fair number of trophies. Sometimes, they dressed in period costumes for the shows. They attended 18 national meets and every Fort Loramie show since 1999. The bus was featured in an independent movie made in Fort Loramie in 2003. Wil thinks the bus is one of just seven Wayne-bodied Model A school buses in existence in the U.S. He sold it to his daughter two years ago.
His current project, a huckster for which he has built all the wood paneling, will be his last, he said.
The couple have supported each other in their passions.
“Carol’s gone with me to more swap meets than you can shake a stick at, and I went to quilt shows with her. We’ve had a lot of fun with our cars,” he said.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.