Smooth ride: Man builds replica of 1903 roadster

He raised a family in the time it took to build a replica of the 1903 Flint Roadster.

Concord resident August Hoeft completed his project late last year, using nothing but a picture in an old catalog as his guide.

Though macular degeneration began robbing him of his eyesight in the early 1990s, Hoeft still wheels his creation around on his son’s property — American ingenuity personified.

“Mr. (Robert) Blumenkemper who lives behind us, came up and drove around with me the day I rolled it out,” Hoeft said. “He said he wanted to congratulate me for my accomplishment be-cause he knew I couldn’t see what I was doing.”

The project began in 1957 with the wheels off a pair of World War I medical gurneys and a broken-down Colonial Bread truck made by Ford in 1941.

Inside the bread truck were three-quarter-inch angels that had been used to slide bread trays along. Hoeft welded them together to make channel iron for his frame.

“From there on, I just kept adding and adding and adding,” Hoeft said. “I read the story on Henry Ford and as he was working on his car he had to change this and change that.”

“He worked on this trial and error,” said Hoeft’s wife, Viola. “He used parts from everything. He had them in gallon buckets.”

He found the lanterns from a 1901 Ford in the loft of a barn. While crawling down a two-by-four ladder from the loft, he noticed some interesting spring parts that he eventually used to hold down the engine hood.

“The fellow said just take ’em along, you can have them” Hoeft recalled. “I cleaned them all up, polished them. They work like the old coal oil lamps. The lens on the lamps are worth more than $1,000 each. They were made back in the 1800s for lighthouses.”

The grill on his hood was cut from an industrial air conditioner that had exactly the type of mesh for which he was looking.

The design changed as the years rolled past.

His original engine had the bearings exposed on the outside and a crank on the top. As he got older the crank made him worry that the backfire might break his wrist.

“So, I put this other one in that is a very good engine,” he said. “I had to work it through a crankshaft so I could have my bolts and drive on the horizontal. I had an old transmission and rear end from a riding tractor and I built that all up with a chain drive to each wheel. I built a differential into it.

With two people sitting in the cab, the springs would sag so much that drive chains lost contact with his first drive shafts. So Hoeft consulted the pictures of Model T’s he had kept from the old Metro Ford dealership that used to be where the Westfield Shoppingtown South County sits today

“On each wheel I put a double-hinged spring,” he said. “I cut it up to make the front like the model T was. Now, the back needed to have increased spring pressure to keep the drive chain engaged, so I had springs from an old buck board that I cut up to make half springs for each side.

“Whatever I came across I figured I could use,” Hoeft recalled. “Trial and error.”

He was going to make the steps for use in climbing to the car seat, but then he found a door frame bracket that worked well once some sandpaper was applied.

“His sister-in-law had a bar she was getting rid of. He took the aluminum brackets off the wall,” Viola said.

“Yeah, they were half-inch by one-inch and it came up and had this bar on them,” August said. “So I used them as the braces for the fenders.”

Hoeft credits everyone in his family for helping in the construction. Every time his sons visited they wound up helping in the machine shop. Viola sewed the upholstery.

August used to operate the L&S Amusement Co. that placed pinball machines and jukeboxes in area recreational venues. He raised cattle on farm in Crockett, Mo.

“It was a hobby farm,” he said.

When the family recently decided to move, their old home at 10208 Concord School Road was discovered to be one of the area’s first log schools. Hoeft kept that place together since 1959.

“When I was over in India for two-and-a-half years and the natives were always standing around looking at what we were doing,” Hoeft said. “They couldn’t believe some of the things we worked on and kept running without replacement parts. They called it American ingenuity.”