?Pekin’s Jeff Martin resurrects historic family car for return to Pekin Parade PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 02 July 2008 00:00

"Leapin' Lena is back!!

   “Leapin Lena”, a phrase not heard in a while.
    For those who remember the 60's and 70's and were fortunate enough to be in attendance at a few of the Pekin Fourth of July parades or even the Washington County Fair Parades, one vehicle from those events sticks out in their minds. “Leapin’ Lena”, an old Model T Ford that did wheelies and spun.
    “Leapin’ Lena” as the car was generally called, was a staple at most every parade throughout the area in the late 50's, the 60's and 70's and early 80's.
    Her owner, Jr. Martin of Pekin, took the fabled rod to parades from Indianapolis to Louisville, to showcase the vehicle’s unusual abilities.
    This year, the car will make its glorious return to the Pekin Fourth of July parade, as Martin’s son, Jeff, recently repurchased and resurrected the vehicle after year’s in a Mitchell junk yard.
    Now understand this isn’t a “run of the mill” Model T. It’s modified and was (and still is) a thrill to watch as it makes its way down the parade route.
    According to Jeff, the vehicle was the brainchild of his father and a few friends in the 50s. With the assistance of P.T. Myers, Dave Mann and Bob McCarty, the four put time and energy into making what for many was a vehicle as much a part of the Pekin Fourth for years as is Uncle Sam. Martin was unsure of exactly who was specifically involved, but remembers those names from information passed on to him. The vehicle took shape in the late 1950's and made it’s debut then.
    The 1927 Model T was before then just a car, but after some modifications and experimentation on the part of the group, the vehicle, as it is today, took shape. The modifications, although simple, included the addition of a 1-ton truck axle to the frame, which was moved forward on the body to almost act as a fulcrum to allow the car to carefully balance on the front end, until weight and a tad of acceleration was added to boost the front of the car into the air. Add to that a bit of brake (on one wheel) and a bit of gas and the car pivots around 360-degrees with it’s front end in the air with little effort, much to the delight of parade-goers.
    The vehicle has been in a variety of parades, including the Kentucky Derby Festival Parade in the mid-60s or 70s. According to Jeff, he was told that his father and a couple of others dressed as clowns for the parade and Louisvillians got a real kick out of the car.
    In the early to mid-80s, Jr. Martin, sold the car and for the past few years its whereabouts were unknown.
    According to Jeff, about seven or eight years he was able finally track down the car at a junk yard in Mitchell, however, the owner of the yard would not let them look at it, “I guess people were trying to steal parts off cars and such so he wasn’t too keen on letting us in,” said Martin.
    So the car sat for a few more years, until last November  when an estate auction of the owner’s belongings came around. Martin got wind that the car was in the auction and he and Buddy Smith of Pekin made a trek to Mitchell to try to locate the vehicle. They did, and informed the auctioneer that they were there, that Martin was from the family that had originally owned the car, and the auctioneer informed the crowd. According to Jeff, “There were a couple of other guys bidding too, but they quit early and I got the car for around $400.” Along with the car was an abundance of old parts, some them for a Model T.
    As he and Smith were digging the car out of the mess of weeds and brush that it sat in he was approached by a gentleman named Bob Smith of Washington, IN. Smith informed him that he had another body for the car, in better shape than the original that had seen years of weather and a fire (when the previous owner had tried to burn the old paint off). Jeff took advantage of the offer from Smith, who is an antique car fan. Smith also informed him he’d be happy to rebuild the old engine of the Model T, which surprisingly still turned over after all the years. Martin took him
up on the offer and breathed new life into the old engine.
    After nearly six months of sweat and toil, the car, sometimes referred to as “Bouncin’ Betty, the “Buckin’ T” , or “Buckin’ Model T’, more famously as “Leapin’ Lena”, made its way back into the sunshine and onto the backroads of Washington County for a test drive.
    According to Martin, “I’m still learning a lot about it. It’s a matter of weight distribution to get the front end up, and I’m still getting the hang of it, but the more I do it the better it’s getting.”
    The finishing touch was the paint job, put on by Martin to resemble the 1976 paint scheme his father had painted on the vehicle for the nation’s 200th birthday. The red, white and blue paint added the finishing touches to an interior redone by Ralph and Mary Pickerill.
    Martin said the car will be escorted by two people on foot during the Pekin Parade to act as spotters for him along the route and he’s asking those in attendance at the parade to please step back from the roadway to allow him to show them what the car can do.
    While not sure if he will be able to show the car’s antics on side streets or in the Pekin Park, he assured fans that the car will do its’ signature wheelie and spin on Highway 60 (again providing the crowds keep back.)
    “It’s been a lot of work and hours, but I think people will get a kick out of it. It’s a part of my childhood,” said the 46-year-old Martin. “I think those that remember it will reminisce.”

Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 July 2008 13:54