Wichitan restores car bought out of catalog ... in 1911

Tom Ruggles brings Sears Motor Buggy back to life for family.

05/05/2012 5:00 AM

05/05/2012 6:52 AM

Most car lovers know that you actually could buy a car out of the Sears, Roebuck catalog for several years. The one that first springs to mind is the Allstate, a rebadged Henry J, produced from 1952-’53 with a slightly different grille and a fancy jet plane hood emblem.

But Sears was in the automobile game long before that. In fact, a "Sears Motor Buggy" was offered for sale in the 1908 catalog. The catalog retailer continued to produce cars through 1912 and one of its 1911 models was bought by the Heyen family of Stafford, Kan.

Amazingly, the car has remained in the family ever since and is currently undergoing a complete restoration right here in Wichita by Tom Ruggles.

"It’s kind of a unique deal … it was bought new … and spent its whole life in a barn," he said. "It’s a very complete, low mileage car."

Ruggles, who has restored about a dozen cars, mostly Model A Fords, was contacted by Don Heyen, now of Wichita Falls, Texas, about restoring the Sears around Christmas time in 2010.

"It has a wood body and steel fenders. It was powered by a 2-cylinder air-cooled engine producing a screaming 14 horsepower," Ruggles said. "It had a friction drive setup with dual chains to the rear wheels. It was supposed to have a top speed of 25 miles an hour, but I don’t think I would want to try that," he said, noting the car is steered by means of a tiller, not a steering wheel.

"It would be like driving a 4-foot tall go-kart," he chuckled.

The Sears had not been fired up since the mid 1950s, so Ruggles carefully disassembled the power plant so as not to damage it by starting it up and breaking something that might be impossible to replace. He was amazed to find "everything was within 1,000th of an inch … of factory specs."

Ruggles did the necessary body and paint work, along with replacing a missing tail lamp and fabricating a new ignition switch. Tom Richardson was called on to replicate the original upholstery.

"It’s about as original as a car 100 years old can be," said Ruggles. "It was probably the easiest restoration I have ever done."

He plans to deliver the century-old Sears to Don Heyen in Texas in about a week, in running, ready-for-the-road condition.

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