Children of longtime Finley resident Everett Moss are searching for their dad's 1914 Model T Ford touring car that went missing about a half-century ago.
The car, believed to have been Kennewick's first taxi, spent 19 years in a chicken coop before Moss rescued it from a pile of manure in 1955.
Fond memories of growing up with the antique cars her father collected have inspired Kristi (Moss) Gravelet-Blondin of Snohomish and her five siblings who live in Montana and California and elsewhere in Washington to search and buy back -- if possible -- the old cars that were sold before their father died in 1988.
The Tri-City Herald published a story and photo in 1961, showing a proud Moss and his refurbished Ford.
The article quoted Moss as saying the car was "in poor shape" when he purchased it. Rats had chewed holes in the upholstery, but otherwise it was nearly complete.
The article also reported that Moss discovered painted lettering on the body that read "Valley Barn Livery," leading him to believe the original owner's claim that the Ford had been used as a taxi for a livery stable in Kennewick prior to ending up in the chicken coop.
Moss and his sons spent five years restoring the Model T, affectionately nicknamed Tin Lizzie, to almost new condition.
In 1961, Moss told Herald reporter Dale Blair he had no intentions of selling the car. But as time passed, the old Ford was sold so Moss could put his restoration efforts into Model A Fords.
Moss died in 1988, long after his Tin Lizzie was gone. His other old cars met similar fate.
Gravelet-Blondin, Moss' daughter, said it was a mistake to sell the cars.
"Our family is really interested in finding Dad's Model T. It should have never left," she wrote in a letter to the Herald asking for help in finding the old Ford.
Moss' children began searching in earnest for their dad's cars about eight years ago.
In 2008, they found one.
Jean Muir, a family friend in Missoula, Mont., who knew the Moss family when they all lived in Finley years earlier, helped connect Gravelet-Blondin and her brother, Darryl Moss of Columbia Falls, Mont., to the man who purchased the roadster.
"We did find my dad's 1929 Model A roadster that was still in Kennewick, and believe me the joy that brought back to our family has been something you just can't explain," Gravelet-Blondin said.
The rumble seat roadster now reposes with Gravelet-Blondin's nieces in Colorado -- Karen Moss of Parker and Cheryl Moss of Castle Rock.
But efforts to locate that Model T have failed. There is no record of who purchased the Ford, or even of its engine number and license registration, so the family has called several of Moss' old car buddies to no avail.
Moss' wife Emma suffered a stroke and couldn't help either.
"I've gone down many roads. This is my last ditch effort," Gravelet-Blondin wrote to the Herald.
Darryl Moss said he remembers his father purchasing the Model T from a man named John Kimberly -- who claimed it was used as a taxi in Kennewick.
"I remember Mr. Kimberly sold it to Dad for $225 in 1955, and it was full of chicken poop," Moss said.
Kimberly operated a turkey and chicken ranch at the east end of Game Farm Road in Finley. The transaction also required Moss to do a tune-up on Kimberly's 1936 Ford pickup, said Darryl Moss, who was 13 at the time.
The old Model T Ford was last driven in 1936 before Kimberly, a reclusive Welsh immigrant, jacked it up in a chicken coop to get the tires off the ground. Chickens roosting in the old car had it half-full of droppings by the time Moss pulled it into daylight almost two decades later.
"I took out at least two wheelbarrows of chicken manure from the upholstery," Darryl Moss remembered.
Kimberly died at age 83, a year after selling the old Ford. A 1956 Tri-City Herald article described him as a hermit who spent a half-century raising birds after moving to Kennewick in 1909. He had no known family and left an estate worth between $25,000 and $30,000, mainly as a stock portfolio with shares of companies such as Anaconda Copper, Ford Motor Co. of Canada and General Motors.
"One of the hermit's last business acts was to sell his farm to Phillips Pacific Chemical Co. (now Agrium USA Inc.) as part of that firm's plant site," the Herald reported in 1956.
Within two months of signing the deal with the chemical company, which gave him the right to live on the land for the rest of his life, Kimberly died.
The game farm then was bulldozed. All that survived was the Welshman's Model T.
"We'd like to know where it is, just to be able to see it again," Moss said. "And if we can buy it back, that would be even better."
Moss said his father sold the car in the mid-1960s for about $1,900, which was three or four times what it cost new -- a fraction of what it could sell for today.
The Model T was all original, with flat-top fenders and an engine number that dated it to late 1913 or early 1914. It was all black and came with a cherry wood firewall, auxiliary coil springs on the front axle, carbide/acetylene gas headlights and kerosene fueled running lights.
The car was missing its original brass bulb horn, but it had an exhaust cutout and a distinctive master switch wood coil box. An aluminum pressure tank was on the left running board, replacing the original brass acetylene tank/generator that disappeared before Moss acquired the car.
Family photos show two Washington state license plates, but neither of them are traceable. One of them may have been with the car when it was sold. They are RBC 824 and the other is RBD 253.
Moss said he hopes the description will help identify the Model T her family grew up with.
Moss can be reached at 406-260-5545, and Gravelet-Blondin's number is 425-319-3695.