Kearns and Sons RS Aesthetics

100 years later, Model T is back at Bell McCall

David Vial stands next to the 1917 Model T his father purchased in 1917 at the local Ford dealership in Hamilton. Vial is wearing the garb of the era, a duster and cap. Jean Schurman photo.

By Jean Schurman

If you get a chance and like history and old cars, be sure to stop in to see the 1917 Model T on currently on display in the Bell McCall showroom on Main Street in downtown Hamilton. The car was originally purchased in October of 1917. It was the third vehicle sold at the business which was then the Stafford Reinbold dealership. The cost of the car was $253 and as soon as the car crossed the curb, there was no warranty. This was the norm for those days.

The car is currently owned by David Vial. It was his father, Herbert DeWitt Vial, who purchased the car in order to drive his sister to church every Sunday. Vial said his dad was 15 years old at the time and thought he may have been the youngest person to own a new 1917 car. Vial’s grandfather also helped with the purchase but it was Herbert Vial that had the responsibility for the Model T. Janie Vial was Herbert Vial’s sister. She suffered from Multiple Sclerosis.

“It was very important for our family to go to church,” said Vial. “so they took a horse and wagon to church every Sunday.”

However, getting Janie into the wagon became harder and harder as the disease progressed and that is when her brother decided to buy the Model T. Although he was proud to be able to help his sister, Herbert soon developed a dislike for the car because it never ran very well and he always had to fix it.

Janie had another dream. She wanted to go to Seattle. So, in 1922, Herbert and Janie set off for Seattle. Remember, this was before paved roads, roadside diners and all the amenities we take for granted today. The trip took 30 days, one way. The car kept breaking down and Herbert kept having to fix it. Since he was the only one with Janie, he also had to take care of a severely disabled sister. Once they arrived in Seattle and Janie got to see the town, Herbert made the decision to take the train back to Montana and ship the car back. He was finished with the car.

When the car was returned, it was put in the backyard and there it sat. Vial said he and his brother spent much of their childhood playing on the vehicle which was, by then, up on blocks. This included target practice with BB guns and so you can imagine the shape it was in by the time their childhood was over. It was also home to chickens and other creatures. And then it sat and became a true ‘rust bucket’.

In 1991, his brother decided to start restoring the Model T but didn’t get very far. Vial, who had a background in mechanics, decided to take on the project in about 2001. It was during the initial restoration of the engine that Vial found that the car only ran on three cylinders because the number 3 cylinder was drilled wrong. They contacted Ford Motor Company about the problem but Ford wouldn’t take any responsibility. (Remember the warranty in 1917.)

Since 2001, the entire vehicle has been rebuilt. It now has four cylinders that all fire. The wooden spoked tires alone cost over $8,000. There are a few odds and ends that still need finishing, according to Vial, and he hopes to finish those this winter. When it’s completed, he hopes to make a trip to Seattle, and the return trip as well. It will be in memory of Janie and Herbert. As for the car, he expects it will remain in the Vial family for many generations.

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