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August  25, 2006

A Look at antique cars

When looking at local history you have to admire the skill and dedication of the people who restore antique cars.  Not only do they have to have a wide range of skills but they also have to be persistent and patient.  I have written about antique cars before and have wanted to write about one special car back in my home town of Port Colborne since I visited there for a funeral last November.  When I visited the Clark House Museum’s History Alive Day on August 12 and saw their antique cars and tractors I decided to write about one of them and the one I saw in Port Colborne. 

Val Kelly’s 1932 Ford V8 Roadster 

The photo shows the beautiful restoration of Powassan’s Val Kelly’s Ford Roadster shown at the Powassan event mentioned above.  His 1928 Model A has been a showpiece for 30 years as has his John Deere bulldozer and his 1949 Mercury half ton. 

Val Kelly with his 1932 Ford Roaster in Powassan-Doug Mackey photo

As a collector Val bought and sold parts for Roadsters for years but about 12 years ago he pulled together three coach bodies and began the monumental task of creating the car we see today.  The hundreds of hours included trips to the antique car parts show in Hershey, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.  Steve Stapley from Sprucedale did the body work.  The colour scheme is based on a magazine photograph Val has kept for 30 years. 

Val Kelly working on the Roadster in his shop a couple of years ago.-Doug Mackey photo

The Roadster was one of about 7,500 made and few remain today.  It had a peppy motor and many were upgraded and raced for years on the Salt Flats in Utah.  A good restoration is worth about 50 thousand dollars and one recently sold for 79 thousand.  Val’s car was finished just this spring and it has been shown five times already with many requests on his list.  He is an active member of the North Bay Antique Car Club. 

The 1901 Neff Steam Buggy 

In a remarkable “coming home” story the Port Colborne Historical and Marine Museum has the century old car shown here.  A hundred page book – “Coming Home” The Epic Journey of Canada’s Century Car the 1901 Neff Steam Buggy by Dan Anger 2004 available at the Museum tells the story in detail.  The car itself is a masterpiece of restoration and is on display in the museum.  Loren Holmwood who owned it willed it to the museum in the town where it was built a century earlier.  Don Anger in the introduction to his book says “who could have predicted that the derelict little steamer that was pulled from a wrecker’s garage would one day be considered in 1976 by some to be ‘the finest antique automobile in North America. ‘” 

The 1901 Neff Steam Buggy in Port Colborne.

In 1901 Benton Neff whose family came to Humbershore – now part of Port Colborne in 1808 began to build steam driven cars.  He was a wood and iron worker producing among other items bicycles and wanted to expand his business.  Benton’s father was a “mechanical genius” and loved steam engines and how they could power machines.  The company equipment was involved in building the CPR and the Welland Canal. 

The book full of photos and stories can only be touched on here.  The cars eventually began to use gasoline but Benton drove his steam buggy around town for years.  The restored car was found in a wrecker’s garage in 1953. 

Loren Holmwood spent 17 years restoring the car and it was a showpiece and award winner across North America including the big event in Hershey Pennsylvania.  As he aged he decided to give it to the Port Colborne Museum and delivered it in person to great fanfare and great appreciation.  Experts believe the car to be “the oldest existing Ontario-made car and also the second (or possibly the third depending on who one argues with) in Canada.  Quite a remarkable and well recorded story for posterity. 

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