5 October 2016

Swap to Street 2016: Four degrees of separation from Henry Ford himself (sort of)

We have Henry Ford to thank for the 1931 Model A sedan body that we scored for this year’s “Swap to Street Challenge” at the AACA Hershey (Pa.) Fall Swap Meet. Before you mutter “Thanks, Captain Obvious,” it goes beyond the fact that Ford’s company built the thing in the first place.

If Mr. Ford hadn’t supported Virgil D. White’s snowmobile conversion idea for the Model T, then White wouldn’t have created the Snowmobile Company in West Ossipee, N.H., almost 100 years ago. And if White hadn’t created the Snowmobile Company almost 100 years ago, Brian Moriarty never would have fallen in love with them. And if Moriarty had never fallen in love with them, he never would have become the go-to guy for all things snowmobile. And if Moriarty had never become the go-to guy for all things snowmobile, he wouldn’t have acquired an original snowmobile with a Model A body that didn’t fit it. And if he hadn’t acquired a Model A body that didn’t fit – one that he didn’t need, mind you – he never would have brought it to Hershey hoping “just to get rid of it.” Hello, Brian, and thank you, Mr. Ford.

Whether or not you were able to follow that long-winded chain of events, the bottom line is that timing is everything. It’s as true at the Hershey Swap Meet as it is in life. And location doesn’t hurt either. Moriarty lives in Ashland, N.H., which is only 30 miles from the birthplace of the snowmobile conversion kit. So it’s no wonder that he became interested in White’s invention, which involved adding a second set of rear wheels and caterpillar tracks to a Model T, and replacing the front wheels with wooden runners.

Moriarty really got hooked in 1998 when received a call from a buddy who explained that there was an antique snowmobile available if they “picked it up today.” Moriarty argued he couldn’t possibly do it, but his buddy insisted, so he canceled a meeting and hit the road. “The body was rotted, the firewall was rotted and it was caving in on itself,” Moriarty said. “But it had brand new skis and tracks. I said, ‘I can rebuild that.’ And five months later, we drove it out of the shop.”

Moriarty now reproduces every snowmobile part needed to turn a Model T into a snow machine. In addition to individual parts, he sells a complete conversion kit. He brought an old-school snowmobile replica, fully assembled, to sell at Hershey. “It’s a very small business,” Moriarty said with a smile. “Not many people have a passion for it like I do.”

Henry Ford certainly understood how promoting White’s original snowmobile conversion kit – patented in 1917 – made his cars more versatile and ultimately helped sell more. “He never had anything to do with making the kits, but he supported them and encouraged Ford dealers to stock them,” Moriarty said. “The snowmobile was designed to be used on rolled roads, which were created by horses pulling sleighs. The standard sleigh was 44 inches wide, so, in 1920, Ford narrowed the one-ton Model T’s rear-end to 44 inches."

That, by the way, meant the body of 1931 Ford Model A sedan was too wide to fit the snowmobile. And since making it fit would have taken a lot of work, the previous owner decided to sell the entire project. You know the rest of the story.

If all goes as planned, Moriarty’s Model A body will be installed on the 1930 chassis we brought from Michigan to Hershey for the “Swap to Street Challenge.” And later this week, we’ll drive the car 750 miles back to our home offices in Traverse City. Fortunately, we won’t need snow tires. Yet.

For updates on the team’s progress and for more details on the vehicle, visit www.hagerty.com/swaptostreet. If you’re in Hershey and want to stop by and see us, we’re located on the Chocolate Field near the pedestrian bridge. Those of you who want to watch from home can subscribe to the livestream at www.YouTube.com/Hagerty/live.

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