Kevin Prus Jr. is the self-employed shop manager at Prus Engine and Machine in Columbiana. At 26 years old, he seems a young man to be making his living rebuilding machinery from so long ago (102 years for the oldest Model T’s, 79 years for the youngest Model A’s). Although he received his bachelor’s degree in biology from the College of Wooster in 2006, his education in old Fords began years before.
Prus’ love for the cars is truly genetic, passed on to him from his father, Kevin Sr., who in turn received it from his father. Kevin Jr. might be seen as the culmination of this enthusiasm, for what began as a hobby for the grandfather and father has become a full-time business for the son.
In fact, Kevin Jr. might even reflect that, were it not for the Model T, he might not be here today. His father and his mother, Dawn Prus, met in 1975 during a Model T meeting in Williamsburg, Va. She had also acquired a love for the “Tin Lizzie” from her parents. Yet despite their shared interest, Dawn and and Kevin Sr., both from Canfield, had never met before at local meets. They did see each other from then on, however, and married a few years later. In addition to Kevin Jr., they had a daughter, Kimberly, who is a year and a half older and resides with her husband, Donald Ursich, in Raleigh, N.C.
A visit to Prus’ small shop finds it crowded with engines, transmissions, some rear axles, and an entire car with its engine pulled. “Work keeps coming in the door quicker than we can get it done,” says Prus. It comes from across the country and as far away as Europe and South America, which is amazing considering that Prus does not advertise; their only promotion is word-of-mouth from satisfied customers.
Kevin Jr. learned the art of rebuilding complete powertrains, right down to pouring new bearings, from his father. Kevin Sr. began working on the cars with his father as a teenager in the 1960s. During the ‘70s, Kevin Sr. was a diesel mechanic and fireman, and worked on the cars evenings and over weekends. He eventually went into the insurance and investment business, but never stopped tinkering in his off hours.
Kevin Sr. learned how to work on the cars from his father, Bill Prus, who was also in the insurance and farm loan business. Bill bought his first Model T in 1951, and on his trips to local farms for loan appraisals, he would find old Model T’s and parts stashed away in barns. On weekends, Bill would take his son along on these trips, and they would inevitably return home with parts for the car.
Bill was a founding member of the Youngstown Model T Ford Club and served as president of Model T Ford Club International in the early 1990s. It was with great pride that Kevin Sr. said that his father and he are the only father and son to have held the office in the national club’s history.
Kevin Jr. and Kimberly have fond childhood memories of cross-country family vacations in the Model T’s, including camping trips out west and treks to Alabama, Washington, Minnesota, Florida, Ontario, and several points in between. Many of the trips were related to the Model T club. “It allowed us to take the kids places we probably never would have gone and see more things than you would see in a lifetime,” said Kevin Sr. “We visited places with a lot of history, and the kids got to be a part of it.”
Their remembrances of 2010 will be bittersweet, however. Bill Prus, the family’s Model T patriarch, passed away on April 23 at the age of 83. A month later, the family happily announced the birth of Kimberly and Donald’s first child, Maxwell, on May 27. But July 4 brought calamity: two weeks to the day before they were to leave on the national Model T club’s annual trip, Dawn died from a massive stroke. She was only 51. Her funeral procession was led by a 1912 T that her father has owned since the 1960s, and that she grew up with.
The sudden and unexpected loss of a wife, mother and new grandmother dealt an awful blow to the family. But their resilience shone through, as Kevin Sr., Kevin Jr. and his wife, Mackenzie, set out on the trip as planned, though now in tribute to Dawn.
The car they took was a 1922 touring car, #12 in the photo above. Also pictured is a 1912 Torpedo runabout, almost entirely original. The two cars in the picture span the early development of the automobile, during which the T evolved from “a buggy with an engine,” as Kevin Sr. puts it, to something more resembling what we today consider a car.
The two men in the photo nicely span the generations as well. The love an automobile, passed down from father to son, endures, in the experiences of a lifetime behind the wheel and in the passenger seat. They go on, just as the Model T’s keep on rolling, now and for years to come.
See more photos of the Prus’ antique Fords at cu.towncrieronline.com/galleries/index.php?id=313709'>cu.towncrieronline.com/galleries/index.php?id=313709>
Photos by Richard Sberna