Wickham to give council a Model T

06/24/2010 12:00 AM |

Parker Wickham, at his Mattituck home, looks over photos of antique vehicles from his collection that he sold in recent years. He plans to donate a 1926 Model T pickup truck to the Cutchogue-New Suffolk Historical Council.

A 50th anniversary is traditionally celebrated with gifts of gold. But the Cutchogue-New Suffolk Historical Council will instead receive a black 1926 Model T pickup truck from local auto collector Parker Wickham, who celebrates his 90th birthday June 29.

Such a vintage vehicle can’t simply be parked on the Cutchogue Village Green to weather the elements, so the council is going to erect an old-fashioned-looking building to house it. It will be called Fleet’s Garage in honor of the truck’s former owners, the Fleet farming family of Cutchogue, who bought it to transport produce from the fields to the train depot.

The council expects to break ground on the garage this fall. It will be brought to Cutchogue in pieces “like a puzzle,” according to council director Zack Studenroth, and assembled here by a Connecticut company.

At the same time, the council will launch a fundraising drive to pay the estimated $45,000 cost of the building, he said.

Mr. Wickham doesn’t remember just when he acquired the Model T truck from the Fleets, but said he always planned to give it to the council.

“It pleases me that I can give them something they don’t have,” he said.

Contributions of buildings and farm implements by Wickham family members have been a regular occurrence for the Hallockville Museum Farm and the Mattituck Historical Society, as well as the Cutchogue Historical Council, Mr. Wickham said.

He said the Model T “was in relatively good shape” when he bought it. It just needed cleaning up from its days on the farm, he said.

“We have it running,” Mr. Wickham said, explaining that it doesn’t drive or shift like a regular truck. “We’re going to teach these gentlemen [from the council] how to drive it.”

Fleet’s Garage will also house a Willys automobile expected to be donated by another family, Mr. Wickham said. There may also be room for a couple of old bicycles, Mr. Studenroth said.

Mr. Wickham is well known locally and beyond for his extensive collection of old autos. He has slowly been selling some of his collection, but still has 20 antique cars.

“I felt very bad,” he said about the vehicles he sold.

Collecting and working on “all things mechanical” has been a lifelong passion for Mr. Wickham. He’s responsible for the construction of Mattituck Airport, where he keeps his car collection.

The airport, on family farmland, got its start back when he was living in California, where he learned to fly at Curtiss-Wright Technical Institute. When he called home to ask his father if there would be anywhere on the farm he could land and park his airplane, he was told, “Come on home.” The airport is still used today by private aviators.

He started an airplane repair shop at the airport that remains well known across the country today. “Commuting to work, I couldn’t see,” Mr. Wickham said.

He eventually built a round solar-powered house on the western edge of the airport that he intended to occupy with his wife, Edith. But they never moved in because his son took the place and has restructured it into a conventional rectangular building. Mr. and Mrs. Wickham occupy a house on the road entering the airport.

“I, myself, am an active person and I like doing all kinds of things,” Mr. Wickham said. He confesses to trolling through junkyards to pick up spare parts. The front door of his house was one find.

“In the early days, I was taught you never throw anything out,” he said.

He and worker Brian Williams are rebuilding a 1910 Elmore automobile that was found in two pieces in the woods.

“It’s a very unique automobile,” he said, pulling out pictures of the two halves he promises will be reunited and made to run. He jokes about painting it red and running it at the Indianapolis Speedway. But if that doesn’t happen, he vows he will be driving the car around the North Fork by next year.

“Everything I do ends up different,” Mr. Wickham said. “It makes for a very interesting life.”

With that, he launched into a story about marrying his wife in a California cemetery. He’s referring to a church at Forest Lawn Memorial Parks and Mortuaries, where the wedding cost him all of $10.

“And I got a wife and I still have her,” he said with an impish grin.

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