Frank Laumer's wife interrupted his work around 8:30 that Monday morning. • The local police called, she said. The old truck he had parked downtown as an advertisement for her antique shop? It had been hit. • It was damaged pretty badly. The truck had been knocked onto the sidewalk and needed to be towed as soon as possible. • Laumer's Ford Model A truck was 79 years old, about the same vintage as Laumer himself. • "The little car was sitting there defenseless," Laumer, 82, said later that day, April 27. "It was like a little old person." • As Laumer dug out his AAA card, he thought about the randomness of life. • "You set a goal and march steadily toward it. But there are a thousand things that will intrude between here and there," he said. "Just like this accident."
Laumer has owned more than 40 Model As. To him, the "friendly little cars" represent his childhood, which he thinks of as a simpler time, at least in hindsight.
His mother shelled out $400 for her first Model A, a convertible, in 1930. She loaded her son in for a ride around the block. Upon pulling back in to their driveway, her husband came out of the house with a camera.
Laumer, then a blond 3-year-old, was distracted by something outside the passenger window. He can't remember what it was nearly 80 years later, but his head was turned toward the distraction when the shutter clicked.
That sepia photo of his mom and the back of his head became an icon in the Laumer family.
Laumer remembers riding in that car and others as he grew up — heating beans on the engine during long winter road trips, mixing mothballs and kerosene in the tank to stretch his gasoline rations during World War II.
Tinkerers loved the Model A's simple engine. It wasn't a car you needed to hook up to a computer to tell you what was wrong with it. You listened. And you made the necessary repairs with pliers and a screwdriver, which is exactly what Laumer did for several years when he and his family restored Model As in their barn.
He eventually gave that up because people wanted to put the cars on display in their carports, not drive them.
"It's like having children and putting them in a museum," he said.
When he finished college and bought his first Model A Roadster in 1950, he asked his mom to sit with him and replicate the snapshot taken two decades before.
She's smiling in the black and white photo. Laumer's face is turned away.
Fifty-nine years later, Laumer showed the old photos to a reporter as a tow truck headed south toward his crumpled Model A.
Laumer, a historian, had planned to work on a biography that day. But now, his plans had been changed by a stranger behind the wheel of a 1995 Infiniti.
"Our lives are punctuated every few minutes by accidental encounters," he said. "Like putting a rock in the stream, the water has to go around it."
• • •
He and his mother replicated the original 1930 picture for the third and last time in 2000. She died the next year.
By then, Laumer had bought a tan 1930 Model A pickup from the son of a dead Plant City man. It had a yellow cloth interior and basic instrument panel.
Henry Ford thought you needed only to see the gas gauge, amp meter and speedometer to drive his Model As.
Laumer hauled furniture for his wife's antique shop on the wooden planks lining the Model A's bed. The truck was adorned with the store's name, Ivy Cottage, in green capital letters.
That Monday morning, the four-wheeled advertisement was parked outside the store.
At 7:30 a.m., a 32-year-old woman steered her Infiniti north on U.S. 301 through Dade City.
A reporter reached her days later to ask what happened. She didn't want to talk in detail about the accident, but said she was on her way to work at a local nursing home when her car collided with the red-spoked left rear tire of the truck built 46 years before her birth.
The impact crumpled the Model A's fender, cracked the rear axle and got Laumer thinking about mortality.
"You can be going along, more or less in perfect shape, and suddenly — bang!"
A buddy can undo the damage of the Model A's Monday morning "bang!" for about $3,000.
If only we were all so lucky.
"The truck can be put back together," Laumer said. "I can't be put back the way I was."
Helen Anne Travis can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 435-7312.