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Model M makes Car Run debut today

Todd, left, and Becky Carlson of New London purchased this 1907 Model M Cadillac from her mother in 2006 and plan to run it today in the 24th annual New London to New Brighton Antique Car Run. The car has been in Becky's family for some 80 years, but this is the first time it will be driven on the NLNB run. (Submitted photo)

It was nearly 80 years ago that Sig Wasberg purchased the 1907 Model M Cadillac that rolled into his salvage yard just outside of Big Stone during the Great Depression of the late 1920s and early '30s.

Though the car's crank start engine required more than a few cranks to get going, Wasberg recognized the unique model to be a collector's item and purchased the car for $10. Wasberg brought the car home and tinkered until he had the car's one-cylinder engine putt-putting again.

It is a sound Wasberg's granddaughter Becky Carlson of New London says still gives her goose bumps.

Carlson will revisit that familiar putt-putt today when she and her family cruise the same Model M her grandfather tinkered on nearly 80 years ago through the 24th annual New London to New Brighton Antique Car Run. Today is the car's debut in the NLNB Run, and a longtime dream of Carlson's father, David Wasberg, who passed in 1988.

"He always wanted to enter the car run but was never able to carry it forth," Carlson said of her father. "We wanted to follow through on something he started."

Follow through the Carlsons certainly did: With the help of mechanic Mike Grunewald of Harvard, Ill., Carlson and her husband have resurrected the Model M which has been such a mainstay in Carlson's family since that day years ago in Wasberg's salvage yard.

Carlson remembers the hard work both her grandfather, and later her father, put into the car, despite the fact that the car's faulty crank start was responsible for broken arms and numerous trips to the chiropractor.

"They were excited to have it and proud to drive it," Carlson said of her father and grandfather.

Carlson also remembers the fun her family would have with the car, which was often a focal point at family gatherings and weddings.

"Each generation made the car their own," Carlson said.

After David Wasberg's death in 1988, Carlson said nobody in the family knew quite how to operate the Model M.

"The car intimidating to start," Carlson said. The car was in need of a long laundry list of mechanical fixes: the engine leaked and the crank start often backfired.

The car made one last go-round for a family wedding in Fargo in 1995, but Carlson said that was the last time the car had been run in more than 20 years.

Apart from the five years the car appeared on display at the Mills Auto Center showroom in Willmar, the antique Model M remained dormant in the garage. The car was suddenly the focus of attention again in 2006 when Carlson's mother announced plans to sell the car to an interested buyer.

Carlson and her husband, Todd, made the quick decision to purchase the car, despite the faulty engine and the fact that the family had already been offered a brand new Cadillac in exchange for the Model M.

"We didn't want to see it go out of the family," Carlson said.

With a new car loan and an antique car in need of repair, the Carlsons didn't want their new purchase to sit idle any longer.

"It didn't make sense for us to have this memorable car without being able to make memories with our own kids," Carlson said. She and Todd knew that in order for the car to be operable again, they would need to spend a little money. They also knew with a car as old as theirs, they would need to search beyond Willmar for an auto mechanic who specialized in antique models.

The Carlsons were referred to Grunewald while attending last year's car run in New London. Grunewald had his own car entered in the run, and was able to take Carlson's car home with him to his auto shop in Harvard, Ill.

For the past year, Grunewald has been working on the car. Grunewald said he was able to replicate and extract parts from an existing Model M at his shop, Grunewald Antique Auto and Engine, Inc.

The Carlsons picked up the car from Mike en route to Minnesota after picking up their son from basic training in Georgia earlier this week. The car was back in New London Tuesday evening. Before taking the car home, Grunewald showed the Carlson family how to operate the Cadillac's sophisticated crank system.

"I've never driven it before," Carlson said. "It was quite an experience for me."

According to Grunewald, the car should have no trouble finishing the 120-mile tour as long as the Carlsons adhere to his directions.

"We'll probably be the car everyone is watching to see if we make it or not," Carlson said.

The Carlsons, along with their children -- Isaac, 20; Maria, 18; Nick, 17; and Noah, 13 -- plan to take turns switching in and out of the car along the route on Saturday. The car fits four comfortably, but two is recommended for the car's maiden voyage.

Future plans for the Model M include parades and more car runs. Carlson would also like to bring the car to nursing homes to gives rides to the residents.

"We'd like to see it driven -- that's the whole point is to enjoy," Carlson said.