By Dave Rogers Staff Writer
---- — NEWBURYPORT — The latest landmark on Merrimac Street is 83 years old, dark green, has four wheels and, much to the delight of imbibers, can deliver liquor to your front door.
Last week, Leary’s Fine Wines and Spirits owner Todd Baltich parked the 1929 Model A Ford truck that he purchased in California outside his store and has periodically used it to drive some of his stock over to his customers.
Baltich said the pick-up truck, which can go about 45 mph on premium gasoline, is an homage to his business that has remained in operation since 1897, even when Prohibition forced the Leary family to brew root beer and soda pop instead of wine and bourbon. In a manner of speaking, the new purchase is a way to pay tribute to current Newburyport resident John Leary, the great-grandson of Leary’s founder, Cornelius Leary, Baltich added.
“Leary’s, it’s a really unique business in Newburyport,” Baltich said.
Baltich, who preferred to keep the purchase price of the truck to himself, said the vehicle was transported across country by a trailer company last week.
The truck underwent an extensive restoration, including the installation of a new engine, six years ago. But much of the vehicle remains true to its origins, like its cramped interior and lack of bells and whistles.
It also takes a lot of patience and precision to merely turn over the engine. Baltich said there are about seven steps involved, starting with turning on the truck’s battery. Other tasks include adjusting the throttle and spark levers on the steering column, releasing a gas switch on the dash, turning the key to the “on” position, stepping on the starter, pulling and releasing the choke and tweaking the throttle and spark levers once the engine revs up.
“You have to be one with the vehicle,” Baltich said.
In terms of deliveries, Baltich said the truck will only be used on special occasions, like birthday gifts, so those hoping to order a cool six-pack as they would a pizza are in for a disappointment.
Inside Leary’s, Baltich showed old photos of the business, including one dating back to the horse-and-carriage era. Another photo shows a fleet of Model T trucks that replaced the horses. The Model T’s were eventually exchanged for Model A’s, according to Baltich.
Asked whether the antique automobile has been a hit with patrons, Baltich said people can’t seem to get enough. Indeed, patrons inside the store last week were drawn to the sharp car as they entered and exited the building. One customer, when hearing about the truck, stopped browsing the store’s selection of red wines and darted outside to get a closer, apparently having missed seeing it on her way in.
Baltich said the truck will remain next to the store until the first snowfall, when it will be placed in storage until springtime. Apparently, salt used to treat Newburyport roads in the winter doesn’t mix well with the Model A, he said.