MOLINE -- Mutual Wheel Co. leaders are expert "spokes-men," but finding a wooden-spoke wheel made at the Moline business more than 95 years ago left their heads spinning a bit.
Branch manager Terry Wangler, who identified his bosses, Dave, Rich and Bob Engstrom, as - all pun intended - "great spokes-people," discovered the antique wheel on the Internet while Googling for historical photos of buildings once in the area.
He saw the wheel on a Model T blog,listed for sale by Ake Osterdahl, president of Sweden's Model T Club.
"We knew Mutual Wheel supplied wheels to Henry Ford for Model A's to Model T's,'' company president Dave Engstrom said, adding that a Mutual Wheel Company sticker on the inside of the rim piqued their interest.
"None of us had seen such a sticker before," Mr. Wangler said, including the Engstrom brothers, and their father and past company president, Donald Engstrom, who was the "knower of all things Mutual Wheel," before he died last September.
The company's collection of memorabilia includes photographs, posters and a set of wheels and axle from an old gun-carrier wagon once used to transport howitzers at the Rock Island Arsenal -- an item that can be seen at the company's Airport Road site in Milan.
But the collection didn't include the sticker or the wheel seen on the blog.
The Engstroms bought the wheel, which now hangs on a wall behind the sales counter at the company's showroom at 2350 4th Ave., Moline, between a couple of wooden wheels manufactured in the 1930s and a wooden carriage wheel hub that dates to the 1800s.
Mutual Wheel is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year, so the Model T wheel addition came at a perfect time, Dave Engstrom said. The company also once made wood-spoked wheels for Velie cars, which also were made in the Quad-Cities.
"Can you imagine, Mutual Wheel once had more than 30 people whose job it was to go out and buy all the hickory they could find" to make wood-spoked wheels, he said.
"Nineteen models of motor vehicles were built in the Quad-Cities prior to 1930, and Mutual Wheel Company made wooden wheels for many of them, such as Velie Motor Co., Stevens, Moon, Midland, R-V Knight, Moline, and White motor companies,'' according to a historical booklet provided by Mr. Engstrom.
It took about a year to finish negotiations and shipping arrangements to get the Model T wheel back to Moline, Mr. Engstrom said.
"We paid $1,500 for the wheel (and $586 to ship it), but what its true value is is hard to say," he said, adding that there's no way to put a price tag on what it means to his family.
Mr. Engstrom said another "interesting and significant coincidence" is that his daughter, Maude Engstrom, lives in Stockholm, so visited Mr. Osterdahl, inspected the wheel and delivered the money for it.
Ms. Engstrom, an Augustana College graduate, completed a master's degree in Scandinavian studies at Linkoping, Sweden University, and moved to Stockholm, where she and her boyfriend work.
Mr. Osterdahl bought the wheel on eBay for a 1917 Model T Coupelet he was renovating, but wrote in an email that he decided it would be a "shame" to put a tire on it.
The wheel made a full circle, Mr. Wangler said because it was in a large box of spare Model T parts Mr. Osterdahl reportedly bought from "somewhere around here. So this wheel made it over to Sweden somehow, and now it got sent back here."
Ms. Engstrom told her father in the email that Mr. Osterdahl had other chances to sell the wheel, but "wanted the wheel to go home."