Potter's Model T

Russell Potter, left, and his granddaughter, Joselyn Landers, sit in Landers’ speedster. Potters’ speedster is seen at right. Recently Potter and Landers each loaded up their Model Ts and attended the Model T Ford Club International Tour held in Roanoke, Va.

Russell Potter of Bismarck is one of a group across the country who strives to keep the memory of the Model T alive and to honor its contribution to America’s history.

“There are probably only 150,000 of these cars still around today,” Potter said.

When Henry Ford began producing the Ford Model T in 1908, he envisioned a car that most families could afford to buy and simple enough for the average family man to repair.

It was during the unveiling of the Model T that Henry Ford made one of his most famous quotes.

When a reporter asked him what colors the Model T would come in, Ford replied, “Customers can have a Model T made in any color they want, as long it is black.”

The Model T was the first car built to widely use the assembly line method of manufacturing.

From 1908 to 1927, when the Model T was manufactured, it is estimated that more than 15 million were produced.

The Model T was one of the first cars to actually go down in price during its production. In 1908, a Model T touring car cost $850 and by 1927 the cost of a Model T touring car was $380.

Potter is a member of the Model T Ford Club International.

The club, which has chapters across the country, promotes the restoration of Model Ts, as well as provides a forum for owners to exchange information and to come together to compare their cars.

The club was officially chartered in December 1952.

It grew out of a group of Model T owners who would gather on the last Saturday of the Illinois State Fair to discuss restoration problems, share parts sources, share manuals and literature and swap parts.

Since its inception, the group has spread across the country. Potter chartered the local club in Bismarck, known as the Bismarck Tunklin’ Ts.

Potter, who is affectionately called the “Godfather” by members of the international organization for his knowledge and encouragement to others in the restoration of Model Ts, has a unique contribution to the restoration of Model Ts.

“I have probably rebuilt 5,000 Model T carburetors over the last 20 years,” Potter said.

After a knee surgery left him disabled from his job on the railroad, Potter decided he needed something to do.

So he began a little business in his garage of rebuilding Model T carburetors. He would tear apart the old carburetors, sand blast them, paint them and rebuild them. He soon became the preeminent supplier of rebuilt carburetors for Model Ts in the country.

Potter said he learned his love of the Model T from his father, Edwin Potter. Potter’s love of the Model T has now been passed down to a third generation, to his granddaughter Joselyn Landers.

Landers, who recently graduated from Bismarck-Henning High School, built her own Model T Ford speedster just two years ago with the help of Potter and Ken Wright.

“I have been around the shop and watched my grandfather working on Model Ts since I was 10 or 11,” Landers said.

Potter credits his granddaughter with doing much of the work on her car.

“She didn’t just stand around and watch. She was right in there working and getting dirty,” Potter said.

According to Potter, Landers’ Model T is a speedster.

“A speedster is a non-Ford body on original Model T Ford parts,” Potter said. “The bodies are usually the first thing to go; they usually just rust away.

“We fabricate a body to go with the chassis and engine.”

Work began on Landers’ Model T on Jan. 13, 2006, and it was finished on June 3, 2006. Landers also had the distinction of taking her driving test when she turned 16 in a Model T.

Recently Potter and Landers each loaded up their Model Ts and attended the Model T Ford Club International Tour held in Roanoke, Va.

Each year the international club holds these tours for its members. The event lasts a week, during which time club members go on preplanned tours and events, as well as swap stories, information and even parts. The event concludes with a banquet.

Next year, Potter and his wife, Mary, will host the international tour in Rockville, Ind., in June.

While Potter and his granddaughter were attending the international event, Potter’s son-in-law, Brian Cress, was in Montana with Potter’s father’s Model T competing in a Model T endurance event.

“Pap always wanted to compete in the Montana 500,” said Potter. “So I encouraged Brian to take Pap’s Model T out there and run it.”

“The Montana 500 is an endurance run for Model Ts,” Cress said. “What is unique about it is that it is run on public roads.”

The run was first started in 1961 and is sponsored by the Montana Cross Country T Association. The run is 500 miles and very strict standards are enforced.

According to Cress, each car is inspected prior to the race to ensure that only original Model T parts are installed on the cars. After the inspection, a seal is placed on the cars until race time.

After the run, the top three finishers are broken down for inspection to ensure the integrity of the cars.

Unfortunately for Cress, he had mechanical problems and did not finish the run.

Potter said he hopes to instill his love of the Model T to younger people. He worries the hobby may die out.

“Many of the younger kids want to get these faster cars of the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Potter said. “I want to encourage them to look at Model Ts and get interested in them.

“You can rebuild a Model T for a lot less than you can one of those faster cars.”

To further his cause, Potter is offering a free rebuilt carburetor to any young person who wants to get started rebuilding a Model T.

Landers also is doing her part in encouraging youth to get involved in the hobby.

“When we were out in Roanoke, I talked with a lot of kids and gave them tips and encouragement to get involved with Model Ts,” Landers said.

Landers, who will attend Danville Area Community College this fall, said, “I am proof that girls can be interested in rebuilding these cars, too.”

Potter agreed that it is a great way to bridge the gap between the older and younger generation.

“The time I spent with my granddaughter rebuilding her Model T was the best experience of my life,” Potter said.


To learn more about Model T Ford Club International, go to http://www.modelt.org or contact Russell Potter at 759-7592.

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