Jeff Jardine: Turlock man inherits Ford Model T with long family history

jjardine@modbee.comApril 21, 2014 

From the emails, voice mails and other sources:

OPEN-HEIR CAR – In 1952, Manuel Oliveira of Petaluma bought a 1923 Ford Model T Touring Sedan to tinker with, enjoy on Sunday drives, and enter in parades and competitions. He also used it to tote signs around town advertising for local businesses.

“I can remember riding around in it when I was a little kid with my grandmother and grandfather,” said grandson Greg Oliveira of Turlock. “It seemed a lot bigger then.”

The car remains in the family after Manuel’s death more than a decade ago. It went to his daughter and son-in-law in Petaluma. They overhauled the engine and did some other maintenance and repairs.

“Her husband finally said, ‘I’m tired of working on the Model T,’ ” said Mel Oliveira of Turlock, Manuel’s son and Greg’s father.

Retired after working 33 years at International Paper, Mel got the car in November and has designated his son as next in line to own it. And Greg, an electrician at Hilmar Cheese Co., said it will go to his daughter, 15-year-old Mary, after him. She’ll need great patience. Her dad is 50. The car might be 140 or so years old by the time she inherits it.

For the time being, Mel plans to cruise Turlock on those nice, sunny days. He chauffeurs some of the neighborhood youngsters to school.

“Whenever they hear me start it up, they come out,” Mel said.

They look so simple, these old cars. When you look under the hood, you actually can see the engine – unlike cars built within the past two decades or so. But in some ways, these vehicles are more complex than modern cars with automatic transmissions.

In fact, the floorboard of the Model T looks more like a piano than a car. It has three pedals. The left one sends the car going forward and doubles as a clutch. (A clutch, for you younger readers .... oh, never mind.) The middle pedal sends it in reverse. The right pedal is the brake. The gear shift merely determines the gearing speed. There are two choices: high and low. That, with a four-cylinder, 20-horsepower motor that tops out at about 35 mph, translates to slow and slower.

The tires are 30 inches in diameter with a 31/2-inch tread width, but the ride is relatively smooth.

“It’s not that bad,” Greg said. “Like I told my daughter, it rides like a ’78 GMC four-wheel drive.”

The gas flow is controlled by a small lever behind the steering wheel and the car has only three doors: front and back on the passenger side and a rear passenger door on the driver’s side. Why no driver’s door? Because that is where they put the emergency brake. And because gas goes from the tank to the motor via gravity flow, Mel learned he needs to go uphill in reverse.

“You have to back up if the hill is too steep,” he said.

Last but not least, there is no dipstick to check the engine’s oil level, Mel points out.

“You open a little valve,” he said. “If oil leaks out, you’re OK. If it doesn’t leak, it needs oil.”

All of which is part of the car’s charm, Mel said.

“And built by Henry Ford,” he said.

AUTH-EAR! AUTH-EAR! – Modesto artist Bob Davidson took the art of the autobiography one step further than most first-time authors. After releasing “Live Through a Canvas” last year, he went to a local studio to narrate his story in an eight-CD audio set, plus a pair of DVDs containing interviews of Davidson conducted by radio personality Mike Todd. Davidson is known for his portraits of members of the military, including those killed in action. He also spearheaded an effort to send golf equipment to U.S. troops overseas to give them a stress-relieving activity. The audio version is priced at $35, with a 20 percent discount for those who previously bought the hard copy version. For more information, visit Facebook and search for Bob Davidson Productions.

REQUEST GRANTED – Last month, I wrote about convicted killer Marty Don Spears’ request for an early parole hearing. He was 17 years old in June 1979 when he and three others murdered Phillip and Kathy Ranzo of Modesto and Spears admitted to raping Kathy Ranzo. He beat the Ranzos with their son’s baseball bat before stabbing them repeatedly. At the prison in San Luis Obispo in 2011, parole commissioners denied parole and set Spears’ next eligibility hearing for 2018. He’s now at San Quentin.

His filing for an advanced hearing included a letter from state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who congratulated Spears for completing an anger management course while in prison and offered to help once Spears gets out of jail. Beth O’Hara Owen, the Stanislaus County deputy district attorney handling the parole hearing involving the four convicted killers, later confronted Leno about why he would offer words of praise to a murderer without knowing the details of the crime and the case.

Leno said he was only congratulating Spears for completing the anger management course. He agreed to clarify that to the parole commission, and wrote “... my statement should not in any way be used to advocate for (Spears’) parole.”

Owen learned Monday that the parole board has accepted Spears’ request and has scheduled a hearing for Oct. 7. Owen, Sandy Howell – Phillip Ranzo’s sister – and other family members once again will go to oppose Spears’ release.

“I’m ready to fight to keep this monster locked up where he belongs,” Owen said.

Bee columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or (209) 578-2383. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJardine57.

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