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To many, an old car sitting in a private Kittitas Valley workshop may look just like any other rusty, broken-down wreck of a sedan headed to the scrap heap, smelling of burned oil and fuel-encrusted dirt.

But volunteers with the nonprofit Seattle Metropolitan Police Museum see the former 1949 Ford sedan Washington State Patrol car differently.

To them it’s a remarkably well-preserved sedan that was once used by troopers in the Ellensburg area. They see it as a unique relic of law enforcement’s bygone era, a machine that will be brought back to life for future generations to view.

Jim Ritter, a former Kittitas County Sheriff’s deputy now working for the Seattle Police Department, said for museum volunteers working to restore the car, “it’s a real time machine” that’s come home to where troopers once used it.

“This year and model were the first cars in the nation manufactured specifically as police package vehicles after World War II,” said Ritter last week at the museum’s 3,500-square-foot workshop. “Before then, police cars were the same models made for civilian use.”

Ritter, museum founder and president of the police museum’s board, said the car is a unique piece of WSP history that will be added to the museum’s fleet of restored police vehicles. A faded maintenance sticker discovered in the car showed it was serviced at a Main Street Ellensburg garage.

“It is incredibly rare to be able to verify the authenticity and work history of any police vehicle from this era,” Ritter said. “The fact that this 1949 WSP car found its way to the police museum is nothing short of remarkable.”

Authentic

The goal is to have the ‘49 sedan, affectionately called the “shoebox” for its rounded, compact profile, completely restored this year if public support and donations continue.

“We may never know the whole story, all the details about this patrol car and the history surrounding its use,” Ritter said. “But it’s in extraordinary good shape for its age. It’s priceless.”

The car will be brought up to running condition by volunteers. It will join five other restored police cars kept at locations in the Puget Sound area. The museum’s maintenance/restoration center in the rural Ellensburg area doesn’t have vehicles on display and is not open to the general public.

The restored models are used for public education at a variety of special community events, including car shows, parades and police-related venues to honor law-enforcement service of yesteryear, Ritter said. They’ve been in the Ellensburg Rodeo Parade.

The museum has 17 other vehicles in various stages of restoration, some close to completion, others waiting in storage. They come from a period starting in the late 1940s (the ‘49 Ford is the oldest) through 2003 and include vehicles from the Seattle Police Department, King County Sheriff’s Office, Bellevue Police Department and the Washington State Patrol.

The goal is to get the vehicles restored to authentic condition. For the museum, it means refurbishing a car that was used in everyday police work and making sure it looks, inside and out, exactly as it did when it was driven for its respective department. This includes paint and insignias.

Ritter said the museum’s vehicle restoration program is privately funded, as is the entire museum operation; no public funds are involved. All cars are donated by agencies or purchased from private parties. The Ellensburg Police Department has donated two 2001 traffic patrol motorcycles to the museum.

Ritter purchased the ‘49 Ford with his own funds and donated it to the museum.

Coming home

The four-door black and white car arrived mid-December disassembled on a flatbed trailer. It was purchased from a Westport-area resident who obtained it several years ago as a possible father-son hot rod project. The Westport family bought it from another area resident who apparently had it in storage and covered for 40 or 50 years.

The museum’s workshop was moved from the Puget Sound area to Ellensburg two years ago. The shop is centrally located, has more space, and the dry Central Washington climate limits rust. Also, costs to maintain the facility are lower here.

The police museum’s fleet is believed to be the largest collection of historically documented vintage police cars in the United States, Ritter said. It relies on support from businesses and individuals around the Pacific Northwest.

Local car restoration buffs, car club members and mechanics in Kittitas County are volunteering their efforts, Ritter said. Some of the local firms helping out include Precision Ag Repair, Dave’s Ellensburg Exhaust, Johnson’s Auto Glass and Upholstery, and others.

Ellensburg High School’s career and technical education program also is helping. Neil Musser, assistant EHS principal and career/tech ed director, said the program’s modern vehicle paint booth will be available for museum volunteers to paint the ‘49 Ford (at the museum’s expense) when it doesn’t conflict with classes or use of the booth by students.

He said teacher Rob Blazina worked out the details, and it’s likely students may get a few educational pointers while watching or assisting in the painting if it occurs during class time.

“This may lead to an ongoing partnership between the museum and the (tech/ed) program, and everyone benefits,” Musser said.

“We could not do this alone,” Ritter said.

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