Link to the past

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McGray’s recreation of Ford Model T fish delivery truck is a check off the bucket list

Anna Olson, Times Herald Correspondent

Larry McGray and his rescue dog Crockett stand with the finished recreation of his grandfather’s 1920 Ford Model T fish delivery truck. The finished truck is on display in the showroom of Larry McGray’s Antique Automotive, in Stiles Junction, and will be featured in the Iola Car Show this weekend. (Contributed photo)

Otto Koehn stands beside his Ford Model T delivery truck for his fish delivery business, O.F. Koehn. Koehn delivered to Sheboygan and the surrounding county, including deliveries to Elkhart Lake and Crystal Lake. This is one of two photos that Larry McGray used to recreate his grandfather’s fish delivery truck. (Contributed photo)

With over 60 years of experience in the autobody business, Larry McGray brings family history to the present with the recreation of his grandfather’s Ford Model T fish delivery truck.

In the 1800s, McGray’s grandparents, Otto and Lizzy Koehn, came to the United States from Germany and settled in Sheboygan. While in Germany, Otto worked as a commercial fisherman, a profession he continued in the United States.

During the 1920s, he bought his own Ford Model T delivery truck and began the O.F. Koehn (Otto Frederick) fish delivery business. Otto’s deliveries sent him around Sheboygan and Sheboygan County, including Elkhart Lake and Crystal Lake.

The business was truly a family affair, with Otto making the deliveries and his two daughters, Erma Koehn (McGray) and Florence Koehn (Dillman), maintaining the books.

The years leading up to World War II signaled the end of the O.F. Koehn family business.

“The history part is the most fun for me,” McGray said.

McGray recreated his grandfather’s delivery truck from two family photographs and an old wooden truck body, gifted to him more than 50 years ago by a past customer. The wooden truck body provided the dimensions and the rest was scaled from the two photographs.

McGray began work on the recreation in January 2018, and the entire process took a year and a half.

“It was pretty much a full-time job,” he said.

McGray considers this project a recreation rather than a restoration because the truck was entirely built from the two family photographs. The chassis was the only part of the truck that was restored from an original Model T Ford.

During the recreation process, attention is in the details. The original truck was hand-lettered by his Aunt Florence using stencils. Rather than using decals on the recreated truck, the truck was hand-lettered with a brush.

While considered slow by today’s standards, the truck travels up to 25 mph. This speed was quite fast for a time when there were only gravel roads.

“Nostalgia is driving this … Recreating the past,” McGray said.

In 1957, McGray’s first job out of high school was at Robert Rusch Inc. of Sheboygan, where he learned the trade skills that would serve him later in restoration projects. Then in 1959, he opened his first shop in Millersville (Howards Grove).

“I’ve always been interested in vehicles. We always had something around the house. I was driving a Model A when I was 12 years old,” he explains.

McGray describes the project as a “long row to hoe,” but it is now an item off the bucket list. His only regret is that his mom and aunt could not be here to see his finished work.

Larry can now be found at Larry McGray’s Antique Automotive, located at 5886 Military Road, Stiles Junction, which specializes in complete antique car restoration services as well as automobilia.

This weekend’s Iola Car Show is the next stop for Larry McGray and his Ford Model T delivery truck, which will be featured July 11-13.