Marblehead native creates a community around old cars

Marblehead’s Tom Blackler starts up the 1923 Ford Model T he stored. Photo by Libby O'Neill

The Ford Model T went out of production back in 1927 but today tucked at the very end of an alley in Marblehead sit some of those very cars from so long ago. Those along with the Ford Model A and other old cars are restored by one man, Tom Blackler.

Not only have they been restored, but they most recently made an appearance at the Marblehead Christmas Walk that took place over the weekend.

Blackler has lived in Marblehead all his life and even has family roots dating back to 400 years ago. Previously he worked in construction but now he spends most of his days at the garage fixing up old cars.

“They’re very simple,” Blackler said. “And particularly with these old Fords. All of the cars still have new parts available, they’re not hard to find.”

Fixing up cars has been a hobby of his for years.

“I’ve been doing it since I started doing bodywork in ‘63 when I was a kid,” Blackler said. “We didn’t get paid but we wanted to learn the trade.”

He would hang out at an old body shop in town to watch and help the mechanics with fixing cars. He has taken what he’s learned over the years to now fix up old Model T’s, Model A’s and other old cars for people in Marblehead.

Blackler is also the president of the Marblehead Old Car Club which has been around for 15 years.

“I was a member of the [North Shore Old Car Club] which I still am and the Essex County Cruisers. Then a lot of people wanted me to restore their cars so then I started my own car club,” Blackler said.

Currently the club has 25 to 30 members and they do all kinds of things with their cars. They ride in parades and have fourth of July celebrations at Blacklers garage.

“It’s a nice group of people. It’s a cross section of people from all over town, all walks of life. And they all have a common interest in the cars,” Mike Smith, a Marblehead Old Car Club member, said.

You can usually find Blackler at his garage fixing up cars for other people. On Tuesday, he was working on a Ford Model A for another member of the car club which he said he has been fixing for about a year now. The people that come to him with these old cars invest a lot of money to restore them. Blackler himself has some of his own cars at the garage he’s fixed up which have cost him a lot of time and money.

“I bought this truck here in 1982, I bought that truck for 11,700. I got 17 grand in that right now,” Blackler said.

When these cars first come to him, they look almost unrecognizable to what they are today. He will take them down to the bare frame and restore them completely.

“I sandblast everything and paint them, I take the axles out, everything,” Blackler said.

This is a year round endeavor for him, when it gets too cold in the winter he shuts the garage door and turns space heaters on.

Blacklers garage has become a hang out spot for members of the old car club with many stopping by to hang out throughout the day. He has a patio with a grill and seating as well as his own garden where he grows fresh vegetables.

“We have a big get to doing the Fourth of July, the whole place is nothing but model A’s and T’s,” Blackler said.

What originally started as just some people wanting to go for rides in their old cars has turned into something bigger, he said. One of the walls in the garage is covered in pictures from over the years with memories from old parades to times they dressed up in period clothes.

“I just tell anybody, they got an old time and want to join us, they can,” Blackler said.