Fixing a 1915 Model T Round Fellow Wheel

The Model T Ford continued to evolve from the day the first Model T was built in the fall of 1908 until the last Model T rolled off the assembly line in 1927. Very few parts were unchanged for the entire production run of the Model T. Not to be classified as a part that went unchanged were the wheels. The first Model T Fords had very frail looking and fairly complex wheels. The wheels used in 1909 model year had a “teardrop” shape for the spokes, with the pointy end of the teardrop facing the hubcap side of the wheel. They were built with non – demountable rims in 30 X 3 size on the front and 30 X 3 1/2 on the rear.

While the size of the wheels was the same in 1915, the wheels had become much more burly in construction, as well as being easier to manufacture. 1915 wheels had  a round profile to the spokes, with neither a front nor a rear side. This simplified manufacture, and made the wheels stronger, albeit somewhat heavier.

Even though 1915 wheels are sturdier than 1909 wheels, they still fail occasionally, especially after 100 + years of use and abuse.  We will take a look at how to fix a common problem with Model T wheels, a broken or loose rivet.

The wheel for our story has been in use for 103 years. The wood is in good shape. The rim is in fairly good shape, with no major pitting and not bent.

The owner noticed that there was sawdust coming out around the fellow in certain areas. He wisely removed the tire to inspect for damage. When he did, he found that one of the rivets securing the wooden fellow to the steel rim had sheared. He was able to punch the remainder of the rivet out. Then he delivered the wheel to us for repair.

This is only one thing that can go wrong with a wooden fellow wheel. There are many other problems that can develop. Sometimes it may be cheaper to restore the whole wheel than to repair one with a limited amount of time remaining until it fails again. Best to evaluate the condition of the wood. If the wood is not in perfect condition it may be time to consider replacing all of it. For a wooden fellow wheel it costs around $180 to replace all the wood plus $1 per bolt and $1 per rivet. Rims cost another $110 each if they are bad. Prices FOB Stutzmann’s Wheel Shop in Baltic, Ohio.

On the rim Ford (or one of Ford’s suppliers) countersunk the hole so that the rivet’s shop head would be flush after installation.

You can buy rivets from such places as Big Flats Rivet Company, but we did not have any. So we used a MS27039 aircraft grade screw to make a rivet.

We ground down the head of the screw until its dimensions matched the other rivets on the wheel.

Our screw was a bit long. We inserted it in the wheel, and marked it about 3/8″ above the surface of the rim. Then we cut it to length.

With the rivet cut to length we continue our repair.

This is a 4X rivet gun, probably made for use during WWII. It is marked “Northrop Property”. We bought it on eBay a few years ago for a very reasonable price. It works like new. The bucking bar is a scrap section of railroad track purchased from the recycled metal yard for $1.  The rivet gun is plugged in, the bucking bar is at hand. We practice placing each of them to ensure we can do it quick enough when the time comes.

We heat the rivet with an oxy – acetylene torch until it is orange.

Quickly we place the bucking bar against the head of the rivet.

The rivet gun is placed on the very hot rivet and we give it a 2 second burst.

The resulting shop head of the rivet is perfectly swaged into the countersunk area of the rim.

If we had a set of wheels to rivet we would figure out the proper length of the rivet and not have to grind every rivet buck tail. In this case we are only doing one rivet. The expedient way to make the rivet proper is to grind off the buck tail until it is acceptable.

Here is our finished rivet after grinding with a 100 grit wheel.

We add a coat of black paint so it won’t rust.

The head of the rivet still shows a bit of the Phillips head screw indention.  A bit of JB weld, some sand paper, and some black paint will make it look like it was never messed with.

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