Three Model Ts and Model A rolled up U.S. Highway 83 to North Platte Tuesday, Aug. 31, rolling back the years by nearly a century.
The simple, early Fords, the first automobiles to be mass produced, traveled down the road at 35-40 miles an hour, or maybe a little slower when climbing the steeper hills between McCook and North Platte.
The owners said they had their toys and they were out playing. They get together for road trips periodically. This time, they drove to North Platte to see Bailey Yard — the world’s biggest rail yard.
When they arrived in North Platte, they met with Dan Troyer, a successful car customizer and builder. Troyer’s vehicles often win awards at car shows.
They were highly impressed with Troyer’s products, which represent a more modern age.
The Model T and Model A owners came from Colorado and Kansas, forming a mini-parade as they traveled. They were in a jovial mood after their travels, even though one Model T broke down near Last Chance, Colo. on U.S. Highway 36. The engine threw a rod, owner C.J. Whitney said.
Whitney didn’t seem overly disappointed. He said his Model T has traveled extensively in several southwestern states, climbing hills, mountains and canyons, as though it had a right to be a little worn out.
Whitney climbed into one of the other cars and continued the journey. He enjoyed sitting back and watching the scenery. He plans to pick up his disabled car and repair it when he returns home to Colorado Springs in a couple more days.
Whitney, who is 90-years-young, said his car is built from parts, and he deliberately left it rusty. At car shows, people seem to like it because it’s authentic, he said.
“It always draws a crowd,” he said.
“We just have fun — driving the way it used to be,” he said.
It has been said that a Model T could climb a tree if the bark didn’t slip off the trunk. The owners say that doesn’t stretch the truth all that much. Their 100-year-old cars have been atop mountains and on roads posted for four-wheel-drive vehicles only.
A Model T only has two-wheel drive, but the lightweight, short bodies have high clearance and tall tires that can go just about anywhere.
Randy Dubbert of Downs, Kan. drove a 1927 Model T Roadster pickup.
The first Model Ts were made in 1908. Ford added the Model T pickups in1924-27. They were the first vehicle to be called a pickup, thus launching the name into the modern vocabulary.
Dubbert’s car was a “pile of rusty junk” when he bought it. He spent two years putting it together. He’s added one modern feature, a cell-phone charger and holder mounted at the bottom of the dashboard. Otherwise, it’s true to history, with the lever throttle on the steering column and pedals on the floor to shift gears. There is an ignition key, light switch and amperage meter on the dash.
The original motor has been rebuilt.
“They were just basic cars,” Dubbert said. “Basic and affordable.”
He said the original owner found the chassis and body sitting in a pasture. He built the hood and other body parts after-hours at a manufacturing plant where he was employed.
The cars had good steel, but there was a lot of rust, so new metal had to be “pieced” into the body, he said.
It sounded like a somewhat tedious but not overwhelming job.
“It is a simple car, easy to work on,” he said amiably. “We drive ’em and if they break down, we fix ’em.”
The original transmissions had two forward gears and one reverse, but Dubbert has added a Warford transmission that gives the car six forward speeds and three reverse speeds.
Al Foster of Manitou Springs, Colo. took a few minutes at Troyer’s to clean the cap on his commutator – part of the charging system. It was a relatively simple job.
His car has no top. He carries a raincoat and hat in the trunk, along with a crescent wrench, a can of WD-40 and a few other tools.
The car is painted bright red and formerly belonged to Hal Wilson, who is something of a legend among Model T owners. Wilson, a World War II pilot who is said to have also also flown in Korea and Vietnam, once drove the car across Canada and back after he retired.
Wilson has passed away, but he left some folklore behind.
The story is told that Wilson broke an axle one time on a trip. He found a replacement, but it was a little too big in diameter, so he spent three days filing it down by hand, then installed it and hit the road again.
Hal had a tin cup tied to the radiator cap. It is still there, even though it has scuffed the paint a little.
“Hal liked to tell people that he would have a cup of tea now and then (from hot water in the radiator,)” Foster said. “I like to keep it that way in his memory.”
Nick Nicholas, 79, has a 1922 Model T coupe, a relatively luxurious model with glass windows. The car is in excellent condition, complete with the original interior and seat. Only the top has been replaced.
It has a rebuilt motor. Even the wheel spokes are the original hickory.
“It’s called a ‘survivor,’ because it’s original,” Nicholas said. “Everyone wants a survivor now.”
The bottom of the front window opens and tilts into the driving compartment. The rear side windows open to let the air out, creating a nice flow.
He and his wife have traveled all over the United States in it, on trips as long as 3,000 miles.
He said the suspension is simple – a set of leaf springs on each axle – and he’s driven over high mountain passes with no trouble.
“It’s an amazing vehicle,” he said.
At one time he wanted to sell it, but his wife nixed the deal. She likes the windows.
The other car in the entourage is a 1929 Model A, owned by Jim Hawkins of Colorado Springs. The spare tire on back of the Model A has a patch that straps around the rim, enough to get the car a few more miles down the road if the tire casing starts to unravel.
The rear license plate has a simple message for motorists who are behind. It asks them to, “Honk if parts fall off.”
(This report was first published in the Bulletin’s Sept. 1 print edition.)
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