Edward Towe, 97, a Montana banker, rancher and entrepreneur, died March 13, 2012, at the home of his daughter in Sacramento, Calif.
He was born in Norway, Iowa, on April 20, 1914. He was an entrepreneur beginning from the time he became the town’s only bicycle repairman with a bicycle shop in Paullina, Iowa, when he was 15 years old. Soon after that he started buying old Model T Fords and making them into farm wagons.
Mr. Towe worked his way through engineering school at Iowa State College in Ames. He married Florence Tow near Dysart, Iowa, in 1935.
By then he had made several trips driving new Fords to California to sell at a profit. In 1937 he and a cousin purchased the Ford dealership in Paullina, Iowa, which he ran for a year before moving to California where he bought a gas station.
During the war years, he designed airplane parts for many large aircraft companies. After the war he went back to farming in Iowa. In 1949 he sold his farm near Paullina, then briefly ran a dairy freeze business before buying a small country bank in Dupree, S.D.
In 1954 he purchased The First National Bank of Circle. From there he expanded to Wibaux, Red Lodge, Baker, Fairview, Reserve (later moved to Plentywood), Richey, Roundup, Butte, Superior, Bozeman, Belgrade and Browning in Montana and Modale in Iowa. He and his partners sold 13 of the 14 banks in 1973-74.
He returned to the First National Bank of Wibaux in 1987 after the sale of that bank fell through. Many people remember him as the banker who came to school bond sales and bought the entire bond issues when no one else would bid on them.
Mr. Towe did not like the government telling him how to run his business, and he consequently got in trouble with both the federal banking authorities and the Internal Revenue Service, with whom he did battle for years.
He collected some 300 antique cars, almost all Fords, starting with a 1923 Model T Ford Roadster which he purchased and restored in 1954. Along with master restorer Lewis Rector, Mr. Towe developed the most complete collection of antique Fords in the world. Three times, he drove an antique Ford automobile home from Uruguay and Argentina along the Pan American Highway.
When the collection outgrew the bank basement in Circle, it was moved to Helena where for 10 years it was housed in the Montana Historical Museum. When the lease was not renewed, the cars were moved to the Towe Antique Ford Museum in Deer Lodge in 1979.
After eight years, he was invited by the California Vehicle Foundation to bring the cars to Sacramento, Calif. It was decided to leave the Lincoln collection and several “duplicates” in Deer Lodge so there could be two Ford museums.
When the cars were sold to satisfy the IRS in 1997, it was the largest sale of antique cars from one collection ever. The cars went to Japan, Holland and other places around the world. Many were purchased by local buyers who allowed them to be kept in the museums, and both museums are still in operation today.
Survivors include five children, Thomas E. Towe of Billings, Karen James of Bryan, Texas, Kristin Updegraff of Sacramento, Calif., Sara Horsfall of Arlington, Texas, and Andrew Towe of Waterton, Alberta, Canada; nine grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.
Services will be held at a family gathering in June at Swan Lake and his ashes will be interred at the Norwegian portion of the Norway, Iowa, cemetery.