Rural Missouri Magazine

No need for speed
Tom Daw has spent nearly a half century under
the hood of Henry Ford's horseless carriages

by Jeff Joiner

These days it’s unusual to see much activity around Tom Daw’s repair shop in Wayland. Tom, who’s nearly 83, is retired after more than 25 years restoring and rebuilding antique automobiles. But before he called it quits, Tom had to finish building one antique car he actually started nearly 40 years before — a reproduction of Henry Ford’s 1896 quadricycle.

Tom Daw takes a drive past his Wayland garage in a replica of Henry Ford’s 1896 quadricycle. In 1963 Tom read a magazine article about the vehicle and spent years collecting parts and thinking about how to build the machine before starting it. He says it became an 40-year obsession until he finished it only recently.

Long before the Ford Motor Company founder created his famous Model T, he experimented with the horseless carriage. Ford’s first motorized vehicle looked more like a four-wheeled bicycle than an automobile. It ran on a tiny two-cylinder engine mounted on a frame topped with a bicycle seat, which was later changed to a carriage seat. It wasn’t the vehicle to revolutionize transportation in the United States, but it was a start.

In 1963 Tom read a Popular Science article about a Ford engineer building a replica of the quadricycle and from that moment he was hooked on the idea of building one himself.

“I still have the article around here. It’s pretty tattered and torn because I’ve read it hundreds of times,” says Tom. “It became an obsession. I had to do it.”

Tom managed the Wayland Lumber Company for nearly 27 years. When the company was sold he found himself looking for other work. He worked for several years for the Montgomery Wards store in nearby Keokuk, Iowa, and began tinkering with Ford Model Ts. He decided to quit his job and go into business, calling his shop Tom Daw Antique Auto Restoration Center.

Tom is known to have encyclopedic knowledge of Ford’s Model T automobiles.

“One of my good friends said, ‘Well, you won’t have enough business in there to open the doors.’ And you know, it wasn’t a month or two that I had so much to do that it boggled my mind.”

Tom started his business in the 1970s in the midst of a renaissance of interest in Ford Model Ts and Model As. But as he worked he continued to think about and study the Popular Science article and convinced himself he could build the quadricycle. He’d already begun collecting parts, or rather pieces that he could make into parts, for the vehicle.

Of course everything Ford used to make the vehicle he had to make himself, and Tom did the same.

“It started with a farm sale where I found a differential with what I thought were the right gears. I bought it off a junk pile for a dollar,” recalls Tom. “Then I bought the pipe for the cylinders. Six months later a friend of mine found a round piece of steel 18-inches in diameter. That became the flywheel. I just started stashing things and picking up things and finally I started working on it.

“At first I thought there is no way I could build it because it would take a terrific amount of skill and a large number of tools. Well, I acquired the tools and I honestly don’t think I had enough skills until I was 70 years old.”

Ford’s original quadricycle engine was a simple device that used no carburetor or starter. Ford started the motor by dripping gasoline into tubes and hand turning the large flywheel until the motor fired. He could also push start it, but because it didn’t have a clutch he had to quickly jump on before it got away from him.

The quadricycle also had no brakes. Ford rigged a lever that loosened a drive belt allowing the vehicle to coast to a stop. He often had to rub his feet against the front wheels to bring the machine to a complete stop. A friend rode a bicycle in front of the vehicle warning people with horses to get control of their animals.

Tom makes a roadside adjustment to the engine of his replica Ford quadricycle. By today’s standards the engine in the quadricycle is a simple design. Ford’s engine had no carburetor and no starter. Above:

With the original design in mind, Tom built his quadricycle with a few modern conveniences like a carburetor, brakes and an electric starter.

“Ford was 33 years old and could push start it, jump on and go. When you’re 83 you don’t jump very far so I had to improvise,” Tom says.

Using only the descriptions, some measurements and a few photographs from the Popular Science article, Tom figured out how to build nearly every piece of the vehicle, except for one. He couldn’t get a look at the main bearings on the crankshaft so he visited the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., where the original quadricycle is on display.

One advantage of Ford’s engine design is that nearly every part is visible. Once Tom got a look at the original quadricycle he carved wooden patterns of the bearings, which a foundry in Keokuk used as forms to make the real thing. Tom says that at $160 the bearings were his biggest single expense in the car.

Tom says he believes his replica is the only quadricycle with a working engine based on the original other than the two cars in the Ford museum. He has seen replicas powered by lawn tractor motors, but he didn’t want to take that easy route, he says.

Tom works on a Model T with a custom built body that he modified with a passenger seat which helps his 81-year-old wife, Ida, get in the auto. Tom designed and built a seat which slides on a set of rails out of the Model T and onto the ground. Tom and Ida have traveled around the United States for 30 years participating in Model T shows and tours.

“That simple little engine is the heart and soul of the car,” says Tom.

Nearly 40 years after a magazine article became an obsession, Tom fired up the finished engine and drove off for the first time in the quadricycle. He’s been a regular at fairs and festivals in north Missouri and southeastern Iowa ever since.

Building the quadricycle capped a long career restoring automobiles that began with the Ford Model T. Tom bought his first T in 1951, trading a Wizzer motorized bicycle and $35 for the car. That’s a far cry from his pride and joy, a completely restored bright red 1911 Model T which has cost him considerably more to rebuild, including a set of original 1910 Model T headlights which cost $300.

“They were well worth it, but I still had to think about it for awhile,” says Tom.

Though he claims to be retired, Tom still has a few projects left. Tom’s wife, Ida, 81, a Clark County schoolteacher for 42 years, accompanied her husband to Model T shows and tours across the country until her health began slowing her. Because Ida has lived with arthritis nearly her entire life (she was diagnosed while still in her 20s), Tom invented a passenger seat in one of his Model Ts that slides sideways on rails out of the car and onto the pavement allowing Ida to get into the vehicle comfortably.

Tom added some conveniences to his quadricycle like a starter and brakes. Tom now enjoys taking the vehicle to area fairs.

Tom says his wife has always enjoyed his interest in old cars almost as much as he has and will sometimes sit in the shop in a comfortable chair and watch him work.

And if you ask Tom what tool or gadget he’s made that he’s most proud of, he’ll tell you without hesitation. It’s a walker with a platform to stand on mounted on four wheels that he uses to help his wife move around their home. “That’s the one thing I’ve made that’s done the most good for someone,” he says.

Tom is an encyclopedia of knowledge about Model T parts, variations and history. In the tightknit Model T collector’s community he’s still the person to see for help finding parts or advice on rebuilding the Model T engine. His shop is a part’s museum.

But what is noticeably missing from his shop is anything resembling shop manuals or plans. If shop manuals for Model Ts existed, he still wouldn’t rely on them.

“If I need something, I just make it. You know what they say, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention.’”


Rural Missouri | June 2020 Issue

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