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The ‘T’ Party

Arizona’s Model T clubs are enjoying new respect as key holders to American ingenuity.

Jimmy Magahern | Jan 4, 2012, 12:10 p.m.

They line both sides of the street, filling the wide sidewalks eight rows deep, in spots, with the smallest kids and moms with strollers spilling out into the bike lanes.

All along the parade route, tiny American flags and red, white and blue balloons wave in the brisk November air as the city’s military heroes, its Police Honor Guard and Buffalo Soldier Motorcycle Club, its high school ROTCs and even a group of vintage military vehicle buffs riding a 42-ton Sherman tank down the main drag, join in the annual East Valley Veterans Parade.

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Ed Stolinski has restored six Model Ts of his own.

As in the best small-town American parades, Mesa’s makes room for a wide variety of non-military participants, too: marching bands, local merchants and groups of just-plain-folks with quirky hobbies. It is, as the French immigrant turned conservative California radio talk show host Jacques Delacroix wrote, that uniquely American spectacle of spontaneous collective identity where “the local community figures out what it is, in its various forms, simply by periodically taking a good look at itself.”

In most years, the dozen or so members of the East Valley Model T Club would fall into what Delacroix calls the “public declarations of self-satisfaction with one’s hobbies” group; a procession of old car buffs parading their obsessively restored Tin Lizzies for the simple amusement and appreciation of the crowd.

But today, capping a year that has celebrated the revitalization of Detroit’s auto industry and a renewed appreciation for the country’s inventors and innovators, the procession of Henry Ford’s revolutionary automobiles, lovingly preserved and, most impressively, still chugging along nicely, draws waves of applause from the spectators. This is American ingenuity and entrepreneurship at its root, the crowd seems to be saying – and the members of the East Valley Model T Club couldn’t agree more.

“Everybody knows about the Model T,” says Joe Fellin, past president of the national Model T Ford Club of America, who drove his rare center-door T Touring car from his home in Apace Junction to ride in the parade. “In 1999, it was named the Car of the Century [by a jury of 126 auto experts from 32 countries called the Global Automotive Elections Foundation, which also named Henry Ford the century’s leading automotive entrepreneur]. It beat out all the other cars in the world.”

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The procession of Model Ts drew applause from spectators.

Fellin, a retired engineer who worked on semiconductors for IBM, says he appreciates the user-friendly simplicity of the Model T’s design, likening Ford’s game-changing innovations to those of the modern day visionary he was most often compared to: Steve Jobs.

“What I’m impressed with is not someone who can make things better or cheaper or faster and smaller,” says Fellin, summing up his own 40 years in the computer chip industry as well as the prevailing focus in automotive engineering. “I’m impressed with the spark of genius that created the original idea.”

He points to the T’s revolutionary flywheel magneto ignition system, an electrical generator, directly connected to the spark plug in the cylinder, that produced the necessary voltage to spark combustion without the use of a battery.

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