The Ford in the family

The 1930 Model A has been put-putting along through generations of the family of Deb Dobrogowski–it was even her wedding ride
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

Richard and Deb Dobrogowski of Port Washington didn’t need to book a limousine for their wedding.

They already had a ride.

It wasn’t going to be as quiet, smooth or luxurious, but Deb’s family’s 1930 Ford Model A made for a classic trip.

It just didn’t get there very quickly.

The couple married nearly 20 years ago at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Newburg. Richard drove the car from the church to their home in West Bend before going to the reception at Heidel’s in Jackson.

“I was nervous we might not make it to the reception,” Deb said. “We were quite late.”

“The car only goes so fast,” Richard said.

He has learned its top speed. “I would not go over 50,” he said. “They ride rough. The engine is workin’.”

Richard has worked on enough cars to know. The longtime mechanic and Harley-Davidson employee has an affinity for the machines, but didn’t know his future wife had an antique.

The couple reconnected in 2000, years after losing touch after attending Messmer High School in Milwaukee. Deb is one year younger than Richard.

She lived in a different part of town, but they took driver’s education together at Custer High School, since Messmer didn’t offer it.

The couple actually had one date in high school, but Deb remembers it didn’t go well.

“It was my fault,” Richard said. “What movie did I take her to? ‘The Godfather.’”

Nearly 30 years later, Richard, then divorced, looked up Deb’s old address and called. Her mother remembered him and put the two in touch.

Deb, who had teenage children at the time and whose husband had died, wasn’t interested in the dating scene but figured catching up would be OK.

“I agreed to see him. What’s it going to hurt?” she said.

They tried a movie again, but this time Richard took her to a better date flick, “The Family Man,” a romantic-comedy-drama starring Nicolas Cage.

“That was good,” Deb said.

And that was that. The two married soon thereafter.

But first, Deb remembers telling Richard about the car.

“You’ve got what in your garage?” her astonished future husband asked.

The vehicle has been in Deb’s family as long as anyone can tell, although Deb didn’t think her great-grandparents would have bought a new car.

Hipolit Garcinski, born in 1884, and his wife Frances emigrated to the U.S. from Poland, had five daughters and lived off the land, with a garden and chickens, in Stephenson, a small town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

They used the Model A as their family car, which got plenty of use since their house didn’t have a bathroom. They drove into town to bathe.

Richard said he thinks the car cost around $700 new.

The car was passed down through Deb’s family with stops in Milwaukee, West Bend, Kewaskum and now Port.

It has a four-cylinder engine that produces 40 horsepower and has a place for a manual crank ­— just like the earlier Model T ­­— but the Model A also has an electric starter.

“It’s very easy to work on,” Richard said. “The Model Ts were worse.”

It is not, however, the easiest to start. The process involves pulling levers and giving the car gas at the right times. Richard has it figured out.

“You don’t just get in and drive it,” Deb said.

Once it’s running, the ride isn’t exactly smooth.

“It’s bouncy,” Deb said. “You just bounce, bounce, bounce.”

Richard has replaced the radiator, water pump, belts, hoses and one other part to improve comfort.

“I replaced the shocks hoping that would help, and it wasn’t cheap,” he said.“It didn’t help much.”

The car had some renovations done before Richard made upgrades after buying an owner’s manual for the car. “You can replace just about everything from bumper to bumper,” he said.

If it was fully restored, it would be worth $20,000 to $25,000, Richard estimates.

But, Deb said, they’d like to keep it as original as possible. The upholstery has not been replaced and would be costly. Richard saw an estimate of $6,000 years ago.

The car’s body is made of wood with metal formed over it. It narrows as it goes from back to front and can seat as many as five people.

Richard prefers the rounded versions of the Model A, but Deb said, “he’s stuck with this one because it’s mine.”

This isn’t Deb’s choice, either — she likes the 1960s cars — but this one is special. Her grandmother lived with her growing up, so she heard many stories about her great-grandparents.

“I’ll talk about them like I know them,” she said. “It just means a lot to us.”

Richard also appreciates the history of the car and did some research.

Henry Ford, Richard said, was so frugal that he used wooden supply boxes as running boards.

Ford also doubled his employees’ salaries from $2.50 to $5 per day so they could afford to buy the cars they were making.

As many as six million Model As were made from 1928 to 1931, Richard said.

“Fords were so popular—Henry was pumping these things out,” he said.

They’re not uncommon today, either, although most are only seen at car shows and not on the road.

Richard plans to buck that trend. The car has already been to three weddings, several parades and many car shows.

He hopes to drive it to nursing homes to give residents a little nostalgia.

“They love that stuff. He’ll give rides,” Deb said.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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