“It’s what non-car people don’t get. They see all cars as just tons of wires, glass, metal, rubber. That’s all they see. People like you and I know, we have an unshakable belief that cars are living entities. You can develop a relationship with your car. And that’s what non-car people don’t get.”
Jeremy Clarkson, broadcaster and auto enthusiast
Mark Freimiller has found his own, horsepower-driven slice of heaven, right in his own backyard.
For the past 25 years, Freimiller, owner and proprietor of Model T Haven, has turned old piles of banged up, rusted junk of all shapes and sizes into driveable, occasionally pristine, pieces of automotive history.
“I love what I do,” he said. “I love vintage cars.”
His passion started as a youngster, growing up in Pennsylvania. Too broke to buy a car of his own, Freimiller instead would buy parts of broken down cars, assemble them into a working vehicle, then trade it off for something newer.
“I liked playing around like that,” he said.
Fast forward to 1993.
Having moved to Kansas, where Freimiller was plant manager of the old PC Boards plant in Chanute, he soon found himself in search of a job when the plant closed.
“When that job ended, I knew I loved the area and wanted to stay here,” he recalled.
He took a leap of faith, carved out a spot in his garage south of Gas and started working on Model Ts. Model T Haven was born.
“I found a way to make a living,” he said. “I never realized it would grow like this.”
He started out working solely with old Model T or Model A Fords — “I didn’t know there were any other kinds,” he joked — but eventually included all other makes and models of vintage cars, as demand increased. (He estimates the other models take up about 25 percent of his workload.)
His garage was soon expanded, to more than triple its original size, with a vast work area capable of holding three or four cars simultaneously as well as piles of vehicle components, a paint booth and spacious office area. He soon will add a machine shop to the facility, adding a much-needed ability to fabricate hard-to-find parts.
Next door are two large storage buildings, holding the vehicles he has since restored and put on the shopping block.
Out back are acres of pasture filled with rows of vintage vehicles, which provide many of the parts Freimiller uses on his restoration.
Model T Haven started as a one-man operation, and slowly but steadily grew to its current five-man staff.
“The first guy I hired to cut grass, and he ended up working for me full time in here,” Freimiller said. “I didn’t want to rush things, so I grew slowly. First and foremost, I want to take care of my customers.”
FREIMILLER deals with buyers and sellers around the world. This year alone, he’s sent two containers filled with cars and parts to China, one to England and another to the Netherlands. He has another about ready for shipping to Australia.
Meanwhile, Freimiller is on the road almost every week, in search of older, worn-down vehicles, or their components.
For example, he’ll be in Nebraska next week to pick up a Model A Ford truck cab, a Model T coupe body, a 1951 Chevy pickup and two piles of what used to be Chevrolets.
“With the price he gave me, I know I can build up the Model A and get my money back,” Freimiller said, “and then I’ll make money on the others.”
While Freimiller rarely does full, top-to-bottom restorations — the gleaming, freshly painted beauties you see at car shows — he refurbishes each vehicle to the point it will appeal to collectors or car enthusiasts to finish the job.
“If you sell a car that looks like this,” he said, pointing to a rusted vehicle shell, “people will ask, ‘What am I really buying?’ If I can get it to a point it looks like a decent car, then people will see what they’re buying.”
And making his customers happy is his lifeblood.
“Reputation is everything,” Freimiller said. “Most of my customers are thousands of miles away. You want to trust who you’re dealing with.”