Members of the Gunnison Valley Fire Department work to extinguish the fire that consumed Dick Townly’s Gunnison garage. They were able to put out the fire before explosive gas containers were ruptured, but Townly’s $100,000 custom, hand-built hot rod was a total loss.

 

Owner sees his $100K vintage

Model T Ford go up in flames

 

By Robert Stevens

Managing editor

Feb. 15, 2018

 

GUNNISON—“Burn-out” and “Smoke show” are two phrases commonly identified with hot rods, but one Gunnison classic auto expert may never think of them the same again after his six-figure hotrod burned to the ground last week.

Dick Townly of Gunnnison says he only stepped away from his garage on Center Street for 15 minutes to run to the auto parts store on Wednesday, Feb. 7, but when he got back he was greeted by plumes of black smoke billowing from the garage interior. He immediately called the Gunnison Valley Fire Department.

“Those moments waiting for the fire department felt like years,” Townly said, although he admits it was probably only a matter of minutes before their arrival. “It was like time slowed down.”

Townly’s exasperation from the smoke wasn’t because he was worried about his garage. He was worried about its contents— his multi-prize-winning 1927 Ford Model T two-door sedan.

Townly had purchased the car in 1993 when it was a dilapidated shell, riddled with 27 bullet holes and covered in cancerous rust. He says he spent four years of painstaking work remaking it from a rotting husk of depression-era steel.

Townly once owned a professional mechanic shop, and he says he has restored many cars over the years, but this was his trophy winner.

“It would take a trophy at just about every car show I entered it into,” Townly says.

Townly says after calling the fire department he rushed to the vehicle with a fire extinguisher as quickly as he could, and began trying to douse the flames, and it appeared to be helping significantly at first—but all of a sudden the fire extinguisher, which Townly says was full and ready to go, failed almost immediately. Without the help of a functioning fire extinguisher, the flames spread quickly.

Townly says his garage had potentially explosive oxy-acetylene torches and tanks nearby. Seeing the futility and danger of the situation, he retreated from the steadily expanding flames, and from the garage altogether.

When the firemen arrived and opened the door to Townly’s burning auto workshop, a backdraft shot out like a spout of flame, Townly says.

“They [firefighters] tried very hard to do the best they could for me,” Townly said, “but the car was a total; Burnt to a crisp.”

Townly says that the fact that the fire department were able to quell the heat before it caused the oxy-acetylene system to go up was a testament to how effective the firemen were once they had arrived at the scene.

The loss of a car hit Townly doubly.

The show car was last appraised of value in 2007, for $80,000, says Townly. He says these cars appreciate, on average, five percent every year, so the flames consumed a vintage classic worth more than $100,000.

Townly says he is taking a big loss in the pocketbook from the fire, but the loss of the vehicle itself was a fouler blow than any financial setback.

“It’s very hard to put a value on something you have put your heart and soul into,” Townly says “Let alone your blood and sweat. It’s your creation.”

The exact cause of the fire is being looked into, but Townly says he is looking to the future and not dwelling on what is behind him. He says he plans on finding a new project car. He isn’t sure what yet, but he’ll know it when he sees it.

“I have to have something to keep me busy,” he says.