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Little slice of Americana: Original 'Model A' Ford preserves Clinton County history

Originally bought as a rural mail-car, the old vehicle has spent nearly a century in DeWitt, IA until this fall, when a new owner was captivated by its history.

PREEMPTION, Ill. — Tucked away in rural, western IL, lies a little slice of Americana.

Inside a big red shed, on the outskirts of Preemption, is an old Model A Ford. The nearly-century-old car spent every one of those years in Clinton County, IA. Until now. 

In the fall of 2021, Richard Cregar bought the car and moved it to his home just across state lines. A car lover and history buff, he said he couldn't pass up the opportunity to bring the old vehicle home. 

The car still runs, although it's currently waiting on a part to be replaced before it hits the roads again, and can get up to 45 mph on the highway. Most of the parts inside, including the seats, gauges, engine, headliner and more, are original. 

In fact, the car is in such pristine condition that Cregar said he almost couldn't believe it. 

"It's a very exceptional find," he said. "It's survived all these years without being modified in any way, really, at all!" 

Of course, there are a few additions made over the years, including a turn signal switch, but the lack of wear and tear has Cregar excited to start loaning the car out to museums. 

But it's not only the car's condition that convinced Cregar to buy it. The other half, is history. 

The car's original owner was Harold George, a mail carrier in Clinton County. In 1929, he bought the Model A straight off the showroom floor, to make his route a little easier. Before buying the car, George brought the mail to 192 stops entirely on horseback. 

Eventually, he passed the car down to his family and his daughter, Margaret Arey. 

"We called it the mud car, for the bad roads," laughed Arey. "It was good in the mid, in the snow, got you any place. And back in those days, we didn't have the nice gravel and blacktop roads." 

Arey turned 90 this December, but still remembers learning how to drive in that old Ford car. 

"It was like, 'push in the clutch! Push in the clutch!' And then we'd go, 'which one's the clutch?!' So it was a fun time," she laughed. Arey said she didn't know all the families on her father's mail route, but she knew all the mailboxes. 

When we visited Arey at her home in DeWitt, Cregar stopped by with a photo album filled with old pictures of the car and her father. As the two sat and looked through all the old memories they found pictures of the post office workers, the car riding through many, many local parades, and even George perched on his horse. 

"The history of this car is incredible," Cregar said. "We've already lost too much of our history. We need to save every bit of it that we can." 

It's why both parties decided to move forward with the car's sale. Arey didn't want the vehicle stuck in a garage and Cregar said he couldn't pass up such a pristine opportunity. 

He now has big plans to replace one part and get the old Ford up and running again. Then, after he says he'll take Arey out for a ride, he wants to start loaning the car to museums, to continue sharing its history, and the history of DeWitt and Clinton County.

When we asked what they thought of all the places the car had been, all the development and change it had bore witness to, Cregar said the circumstances were all remarkable, calling it 'providence.' 

But to Arey, the car isn't a historic relic. 

"It was the old Ford," she said, slightly smiling. "It was my dad's. That's all I think about it."