Joe Schutz inherited a rusted-out mess when he agreed to restore a 1929 Ford fire truck to its original condition for the Marengo Fire Department.
It took Schutz and fellow Model A Ford restorer Ken Ehrenhofer of Woodstock more than five years, but they got the truck back up to firefighting trim, from the kerosene lamps on the side to the water tanks that in those days relied on baking soda to generate water pressure through carbonation. It made its restored debut in the Independence Day parade in Crystal Lake, and again at Settlers’ Days in Marengo.
Senior reporter Kevin Craver visited Schutz’s rural Woodstock home to get a look at the truck and talk about what prompted Schutz and his friends to put it back together. And the green 1930 Model A coupe occupying the other half of the two-car garage, Craver learned, has a story as well.
Craver: What condition was the truck in when you started?
Schutz: The siren was gone, the spotlight was gone, the floorboards were gone, the seats were rotted away down to the metal. The running board in the back was rotted away – firemen used to stand on here, when they’d go to a fire.
Craver: What made you take on the project?
Schutz: Marengo Fire Chief Bob Bradbury begged me, for years: ‘You gotta do it, you gotta do it, you gotta do it.’ I kept saying ‘no, no, no, no, no,’ and finally, I said ‘yes.’
Craver: What changed your mind?
Schutz: Well, I had nothing else to do [laughs].
Craver: How much did it cost?
Schutz: You don’t want to know. Everything is original on the truck, except all the stuff I had to buy, and I made the ladders and had to borrow the hoses. It sat outside for years – everything disappeared.
Craver: How did Mr. Ehrenhofer fit into all this?
Schutz: [Ken] was my inspiration, and he was instrumental. I did all the grunt work, and Ken – who knows Model As inside and out – told me what to do, and he painted it. If it wasn’t for him, it wouldn’t be here.
[Ehrenhofer was at a car show in Pennsylvania at the time of the interview.]
Craver: You drove it in the Settlers’ Days Parade last Sunday with the historical society’s placards on the side.
Schutz: Yeah. This guy, Kurt ...
Craver: ... Begalka, the museum director. He was the best man at my wedding.
Schutz: Super nice guy. We got the work done on June 15. It took us 51⁄2 years. Here’s a picture of it before we started ...
Craver: It was painted bright blue?
Schutz: In a way, it saved the truck, because it was sitting outside for between 10 and 15 years.
Craver: How long have you been involved in restoring Model As?
Schutz: Fifteen years. I never changed a spark plug until I joined the Illinois Region of the Model A Restorers Club.
Craver: And why Model A Fords?
Schutz: In 1993 my wife encouraged me to buy the Model A coupe out there in the garage. I worked on it for three years. She never got to ride in it because she passed away in 1994.
That’s one thing I’ll never get rid of, because that’s her car.
The Schutz lowdown
Who is he? Joe Schutz, Model A Ford enthusiast and restorer
Family? Wife, Rosemary (deceased), three children, four grandchildren, two great-grandchildren
Favorite food? Italian
Favorite car? The Model A Ford (for obvious reasons)