Owners Share Antique Autos with History Students
By Jeff Barnes
The students of Scott Wilson’s honors history class at Central High had no idea of what awaited them when their teacher walked in and asked them to follow.
They already knew Wilson had a reputation for bringing the unusual to the study of history, but where could you find a tie-in at school with the Industrial Revolution? It turns out in the Joslyn Museum parking lot next door with eight Ford Model Ts and As, one more than a century old.
For the last ten years, members of the Meadowlark Model A Club and Centennial Model T Club have brought autos to Central to give history students a hands-on experience with American ingenuity and manufacturing. After the club members answer a few questions about the cars, some ask “Want to go for a ride?” That’s when the smiles pop out and the riders hop in.
Barney Deden brought one of his cars for the third year and now organizes the event. “The guys love it because the kids get so involved,” he said. “It’s the first time many of them have even seen one of these cars in person. They’ve seen films and photos of the cars, but there’s nothing like being up close, touching them, and riding in them.”
For the recent visit, the club members brought eight Fords manufactured from 1914 to 1931, including a rare 1931 Model A Sedan, one of only around 300 still in operation.
Students can see how the technology, the design, and even the marketing evolved rapidly during the Industrial Revolution through the cars. They can see how the 20 horsepower of the Model T engine doubled with the Model A. They hear about the advertisements promoting the Model A for women as being easier to drive than the Model T.
Classes had discussed Henry Ford and both cars, talked about how the manufacturing changed in a very short period of time – Model T was manufactured for 20 years before it sold 15 million; Model A sold five million in three years
They even learn about Omaha’s involvement in Ford manufacturing – the city hosted a Ford assembly plant from 1916 to 1931 which still stands, the building and water tower of which are visible from Central High’s location on Capitol Hill.
Deden said his history with the cars goes back to school. He bought his Model A coupe in high school for $5 “and then I ruined it. Then back in the ‘90s I took it apart and put it back together… and if I can, anyone can.” Deden’s grandson was a student at Central seven years ago, making it a personal trip for the car owner; now it’s an annual trip that he and club members look forward to every year.
Wilson said the visit of the cars coincides with his instruction on the post-World War I when industry was just hitting its stride. “This was at the time when America started to develop its car culture,” he said.
Holden Fershee, 14, one of the honors history students, said his class had learned about Henry Ford and how he started his business, why he started it, an why people wanted cars. “We had seen one of the cars in a film, but we didn’t know we’d be seeing one until we got here,” he said.
Fershee said he was impressed at how good of condition the cars were in, considering some of them were built more than a century ago. “And we learned that even as old as they are, they’re not that different from driving a manual car today,” he said.