Seamus Hnat is a humble, hardworking guy. His firm handshake will often impart a dab of grease, usually originating from his century-old car. Not only does Seamus drive a Model T, he logs miles with a dedication that few pre-war vehicle owners can equal. His no-nonsense, straight-to-the-point personality is a fitting reflection of his 1914 Ford touring car.
I was reminded of Seamus’ T adventures via social media, when he started posting photos of the car packed up and ready for a trip. We both graduated from McPherson College with automotive restoration degrees, and when he began working at a large car collection in Michigan, a few hours from me, he and I resolved to stay in touch.
I’d followed his trips over the last two years, including two trips to the annual Hershey fall swap meet, so my interest piqued as to where he might be headed this time. He told me he was headed north from his home in the greater Detroit area for some sightseeing, including a few days in my neck of the woods, Traverse City. This gave me a chance to talk shop with the 25-year-old who has put more than 10,000 miles on his Model T in the last six years.
“I’m trying to catch up with the old timers, so I’m just driving as much as I can,” Seamus said when asked why he is driving his T so much. “I don’t have a formal logbook or anything, but just keeping track of the larger trips it is around that 10,000 mark.”
His car might look like a crusty Model T plucked from a barn somewhere, but Seamus’ Ford hides its upgrades well. All the mechanical bits have been thoroughly investigated and either restored or upgraded for better reliability. Seamus overlooked nothing, but the T’s appearance is what he concerns himself with least.
“I use Seagrave firetruck grease in the water pump. I’ve only got a little of it left, and it was super hard to find, but that water pump hasn’t leaked a drop in the two years since I rebuilt it.”
The aftermarket two-speed Ruckstell rear axle is serious business, a period-correct piece that has been also fitted with high-speed 3:1 gearing. This axle setup effectively gives the car four gears instead the standard two. Ford advertised a cruising speed of about 30 mph for the Model T, but with all the work Seamus has done he can now cover ground much more effectively, topping out in the mid-50-mph range. It’ll cruise happily at 42 mph all day, at least according to the GPS that he powers with a 12 volt jump pack kept in the passenger footwell. He’s programmed the GPS to avoid highways, but occasionally there is only one path to get where he is going. In those situations he has to keep an especially level head.
“I’ve only been flipped off once this trip. It is always a bit weird because I wonder what they expect. I can’t pull over for every car that comes up behind me, I wouldn’t get anywhere if I did that!”
On-the-road maintenance it pretty simple, Seamus says, even when covering over 200 miles per day. He greases the chassis lube points each morning, the steering box weekly, and changes the oil every few days due to the lack of filter in the system. Going for a ride showed me a comfortable—if tall—car that just floated down the road. It went faster than I was comfortable with, admittedly, but Seamus assured me the car’s stopping power, after his upgrades, was sufficient.
He upgraded the engine internals for more power and cruising speed, but his initial plan to balance that by simply increasing his stopping distance quickly came apart. Model T Fords have rear-wheel brakes only, and even after he rebuilt the factory drum brakes there was just not enough braking power to safely rein in the T.
“I added the disc brake kit, and it wasn’t cheap but now I tell everyone I can that they’ve got to get it. I can actually stop now.”
If Seamus does stop though, it isn’t for long. Road tripping his 106-year-old car is just fun for him, something he takes up at every opportunity. When asked what the hardest part about logging all these miles in a vintage car, he responds with “finding the time. I only have so much vacation time.”
That pure love of driving is infections, and it reminded me to take the time to enjoy being behind the wheel a bit more. Maybe we all should. Thanks for the reminder, Seamus, and safe travels.