A Model A parked at Arby’s in Tooele could be a signal that Mel Meads is there eating breakfast. Meads, 74, drives at least one of his seven Model A’s every day, and at breakfast time, he drives to Arby’s.
Meads inherited his first Model A in 1959 when he was 15.
“I wanted a car at 15 to be cool. I didn’t have a driver’s license, but I had my own car,” he said.
The Model A was not uncommon in the late ’50s because Henry Ford produced nearly 5 million of them between 1927 and 1931. Experts estimate there are half a million still on the road today. They are the most common antique car in existence.
The family bequeathed Meads his first Model A.
“It was Grandpa’s,” Meads said. “Then my dad had it, my big brother had it, my other brother had it, then I finally got it.”
In 1959 it was popular to turn the Model A into a hotrod by pulling out the engine and replacing it for speed.
“Everybody wanted a hotrod,” Meads said.
Everyone except him. He preferred the original Model A with a four-cylinder engine.
“I want speed, durability, class — zero to 60 in five minutes going downhill,” Meads said. “Zero to 90 if I go off the Kennecott pit. Model A’s were only good for going basically 40 mph. But they didn’t have no roads either back then in the ’30s. It was dirt roads.”
By 1965, Meads owned six Model A’s, but he was also a prime candidate for the Vietnam War draft. He chose to sign up with the Marines before the draft got him.
“I told them [his family] if I died to sell them,” Meads said.
When he returned home in 1969 from Vietnam, his Model A’s were sold even though he was very much alive.
After the Marines, Meads became a weekend warrior with the Army and Air Guard for a combined total of 26 years.
“I spent 30 years in the military,” Meads said. “I’ve never had a bad job in my life. I have been working since I was 10 years old.”
Meads also worked construction for 12 years, then went to Tooele Army Depot where he was a heavy equipment operator before he retired in 2007.
In 1970 he married his wife, Carrie, and had a family. As a family man, he owned only family cars, but when he retired, he had to figure out something to do.
“I go normal if I have something to do,” Meads said.
His normal meant a return to working on Model A’s. The Meads’ bought their first Model A together 12 years ago. Within two years, they found themselves with two Model A’s and space for only one. Therefore, Meads found property to build a shop so that he didn’t have to leave one outdoors.
“My brother has a shop that’s 30 by 40,” Meads said. “But I have to be better than my brother, so I made mine 40 by 60.”
The walls and ceilings of the shop are hung with antiques. However, Meads’ seven Model A’s dominate the paraphernalia. Carrie Meads owns three of the cars and Meads owns three and a half, he said.
“I’ve had probably 25 Model A’s in my lifetime,” he said.
Some of those he fixed up and sold.
“I’ll buy one for maybe $8 to 9,000 and I’ll fix it up a little bit better and I’ll sell it for $10,000,” Meads said.
Meads spends at least one hour at the shop everyday mostly keeping all the Model A’s in driving condition.
“These seven in the shop are probably here to stay,” he said.
Meads finds Model A parts in trade papers, and buys upholstery kits. His hood ornaments include a quail that was Ford’s favorite bird and on many original cars. The aftermarket hood ornaments have thermometers that measure engine temperature. Water taps ornament a couple of Model A hoods in the shop.
“I put the water tap on,” Meads said. “You’ve gotta be different.”
He also has people call him and ask him questions about Model A repairs. Owning one requires knowing how to fix it.
“I’m not a mechanic. Don’t get me wrong, but I know about the Model A and can keep it going,” Meads said.
Meads can give a mechanical riff about the Model A. He points out the four-cylinder engine with four spark plugs and the cone shape of the 1929 headlight compared to the round shape of the 1930.
“This is called the updraft carburetor,” Meads said. “That sucks the gas up from down below. This is the gas tank. The gas runs down gravity fed and pulls it up through the engine.”
Meads drags out a 3-foot by 4-foot board mounted with the antique tools that came with every Model A.
“With this stuff you could actually take the car apart,” Meads said. “It’s hard, but you can do it.”
The tool board includes bailing wire for holding the car together.
“Now it’s super glue and duct tape, but back then it was bailing wire,” Meads said.
Inside the shop, Meads has a Model A Roadster Pickup, which became rare as farmers bought them to farm but left them in the fields in the snow and rain.
“It didn’t get good care so these wiped out pretty fast,” Meads said.
Meads moves over to a green Model A where he stuck bullet-hole decals on the door.
“I say, ‘I let Bonnie and Clyde borrow it to make a bank withdrawal,’” Meads said.
Meads also enjoys driving the Model A’s. He often takes one on the freeway going to Salt Lake.
“If I’m going 45, they don’t bother me,” Meads said.
One time his daughter, who lives in Grantsville, noticed people slowing up and rubbernecking on the freeway. She recognized the situation immediately.
“‘As she drove past the Model A, “She goes, ‘There’s my dad,’” Meads said.
The Meads enjoy driving their collection and are members of the Salty A’s, a Model A enthusiast club. They tour with the club. Club members try to cruise their four-cylinder engine cars on the back roads instead of freeways.
The Meads’ only tour in Utah because Carrie Meads has a bad back.
“She can’t sit in a model A. There’s no real comfort in them,” Meads said.
Many tours involve an auto show that encourages people to become nostalgic.
“Here someone comes by and says, ‘Oh my dad had one just like that. Oh, I had this and my dad had one and my grandpa had one,’” Meads said. “The old folks really like the Model A because that was their era.”
Meads’ collection includes a convertible, and some windowless styles. The Meads drove the convertible to an auto show and dealt with a downpour on the drive home.
“The cars would go by and splash,” Meads said. “When we got home, we opened the doors and water comes spilling out, just like the cartoons.”
“It was kind of fun,” Carrie Meads added.
In retirement, Model A’s made Meads’ life “normal” and gave him an interest to share with Carrie.
“I’ve had a wonderful life,” Meads said. “I wouldn’t change one day of my life. I had the best person for a wife I could ever ask for.”