16 June, 2009

Nearly a Centenarian

No, I do not speak for myself in this title, but instead I'm speaking of the aforementioned Maxwell. Seeing as how I'd like to have part of this blog dedicated to work on the old girl, I thought I'd begin by telling her story.

The Maxwell brand, first off, was only around for a couple of decades in the early 1900s. Making cars out of Tarrytown, Maxwells soon became the epitome of reliability and durability. Alice Ramsay is a name you may want to Google someday, as her story is definitely noteworthy, dealing with a cross-country trip in a Maxwell not too dissimilar from ours. Anywho, in 1910 the classy brass-clad cars were offered in a few body styles. Ours, however, is a Q3. The Q3 was blessed with a beefy (for the time) 22 horsepower engine. It was a righthand drive car with two front seats and a backseat wide enough to fit three adults comfortably. Remember, though, adults in 1910 were, on average, smaller than today's adults. I suppose if the name were allowed to evolve, our Maxwell may be considered a Q2 or Q1 by today's standards...but I digress.

Pictures of Maxwell Q3s are quite scarce, as is information about how to restore them. I intend to change that with this blog, but only time will tell how quickly that can be accomplised. Nevertheless, the story of my Q3 is quite unique. When my father was young back in the late fifties, his father and uncle---both of whom were quite mechanically inclined---had been in talks with a man a couple of hours away who lived on a remote farm. Negotiations had been successful, so the two brothers loaded my father into their car and drove to this man's farm. Here their task was to remove a battered car from underneath a collapsed barn after a storm had swept through the area earlier that year. My father doesn't remember much about the farmer or the car he was unearthing. All he remembers was "getting to crawl around through an old barn that had collapsed, which was a pretty big thing for a kid," as he said.

It took some working over the period of a few days, but my father still remembers finally getting this damaged car---something his father called a Maxwell---totally free from the barn and loaded onto a trailer to take back home. He doesn't remember how much my grandfather paid for the car, but it wasn't a large amount. Either way, the three men returned to the stone garage out of which my grandfather restored cars and placed the injured Maxwell inside. My grandfather then began the arduous task of removing the engine and completely rebuilding it. This was done in the clean atmosphere of his basement, and when he finished he loaded most of the engine with oil to prevent rust, and he put it back in the car. Furthermore, anticipating a lull in work being done on it, he spray painted parts of the frame and engine to stop them from rusting, and kept all of the brass parts in a box inside his house, thus warding off corrosion.

In retrospect, the anticipated lull came, indeed. It came sometime in the late sixties or early seventies and lasted some 30+ years while the Maxwell sat in the remote corner of our garage covered in dust and random car parts. A few years ago, though, I took great interest in the car and persuaded my father to let my friend and I pull it to the front of the garage where we could start to work on it. Eventually he conceded and we cleaned off the car and moved it to where it was accessible. And so began the gargantuan effort that it will take to restore this car. This task alone cannot be left to a single blog post, so I'll only say that this project has been and will be more complex than anything I've ever worked on, which is perhaps ironic whilst dealing with such a simple machine, if you really think about it.

Nevertheless, the car has already come a long way since that day all those years ago. A great deal of research has been done, but there is still so much more to do. In order to continue, though, I've had to immerse myself in a whole other world of antique, brass era automobiles. In doing so I've begun to see the charms of these machines, but I've also seen the rate at which knowledge is disappearing. I tried calling the owners of every other 1910 Maxwell Q3 on Vern's registry yesterday, and out of the six known owners on the list (myself included), four of the six numbers have been disconnected. That is quite worrisome, especially considering most of the current Maxwell owners I do know are not near the same age as I. Some aspects of working on this car need to be done as soon as I possibly can, but with every day that passes some element of time runs out, so I cannot afford to stall. This immeasurable wealth of information needs to be collected now before it is lost forever not just for the history of automobiles worldwide, but for the countless number of people in the future who may wish to do what I'm trying to do right now. Without the very limited resources I have right now, it would seem impossible to restore a Maxwell found in a barn in the future, and that's actually a very sad prospect.

The car turns 100 next year, and I'd like to make some great headway before then, but at this point I'm still unsure how to do that. Tomorrow I'll give an update about what all I've done to the car since pulling it out of the corner, and I'll also try to outline where I'm going from here. Stick around, friends, this will be a challenge.

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