Riding in a Model T

The view from the front passenger seat of a 1925 Model T Ford Touring car. 

Sometimes we’re handed an opportunity that we never imagined would come our way. Such was the case when covering the 203 Model T Fords that made a stop in Foxburg, Clarion County, a few weeks ago.

As a child born in the 1960s, Model T Fords were no longer a common sight on the area’s roads during my growing up years. Instead I saw the vehicles at the movies and on television. Reruns of short films of the Keystone Cops as well as Laurel and Hardy used Model Ts as did the Walt Disney movie The Absent-Minded Professor with Fred McMurray as the professor. Thinking about those old shows had me searching out what other movies might have included Model T Fords. Of course gangster movies set in the 1920s would have them such as Dillinger (1973), Machine-Gun Kelly (1958) or really any movie based in that time frame such as The Great Gatsby (2013) or The Waltons (1972-81). They appear in movies such as Annie (1982), Wonder Woman (2017), Christmas Homecoming (2017), Timecop (1994) and in television series such as the aforementioned Waltons and Downtown Abbey (2010-). There is actually a database at IMCDB (Internet Movie Cars Database) at https://www.imcdb.org.

So yes I have seen Model Ts on television throughout the years but I never really expected to be able to actually touch one. For some reason I figured such cars, which were manufactured from 1908 or 1909 to 1927, would be almost nonexistent nowadays. In that view I would be completely wrong. A fact I found out upon talking with Bill Ramsey of Bruceton Mills, W. Va., a Model T Ford owner himself. He noted that there were 15 million of these vehicles sold, which stands to reason that there would be many still around today.

Two clubs – The Model T Ford Club of America and The Model T Ford Club International – are where those wanting to own their own Model T can seek out information. Both are located on the Internet and there are local clubs in most every state as well as Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Holland and New Zealand. A search of both websites provide connections to all the various chapters as well as a list of upcoming events and even a place to find your very own Model T Ford – either already restored or as an unrestored original ready for that buyer who wants the fun of restoring it back to showroom shape.

While just seeing the amazing variety of Model T Fords that visited Foxburg would have been satisfying enough, Bill offered the chance of a lifetime – a ride in a Model T. He jokingly asked if I wanted to drive the car but with its three pedal system – a clutch, the pedal to make the car go backwards and the brake – which was completely foreign to me, he was assured that I’d not take him up on that offer. No a ride was perfect.

Getting into the vehicle took some doing as you have to step up onto the running board to enter the car but the 1925 Model T Ford Touring car is much narrower than the vehicles of today. Bill entered the car from the passenger’s side. I stepped in behind him, looking for space to place my tote holding camera and notebook. There was a narrow back seat but I soon learned there isn’t much storage in a Model T. As I sat down on the passenger seat, I reached out to try to close the door. The top of the door came as high as the seat I was sitting on, leaving open space in the area from about the waist area up. There was a fabric roof top on the vehicle which I’m sure could likely be folded down if so desired. I closed the door and it immediately swung back open. It seems there is a hook lock that needs to be set to keep the door in place.

We didn’t go far – across the bridge that spans the Allegheny River and down the backroad for a mile and then slowing down to pull off the road and turnaround for the trip back. We clipped along at 35 mph. with the wind providing a nice breeze on the warm, sunny day.

As we drove Bill continued to tell me about the car, noting the hood and the gauge located there to tell the driver if the engine was overheating. Not all Model Ts, he said, came with the gauge. He pointed out the three pedals and the two levers on the steering wheel. There was no gas pedal so the levers controlled the speed of the vehicle.

While I may not wish to travel this way for a long trip or if I had to get somewhere quickly, I can see the pull to travel along country roads in a Model T. Motoring along at 35 mph gives you the time, especially as a passenger, to see the countryside. While that speed might seem awfully slow in today’s vehicles, touring along in a Model T with the breeze streaming through the car makes it seem like you’re traveling faster than that.

I would encourage anyone who had the opportunity to ride in a Model T down a country road, even if just for a short ride, to take the driver up on the offer. The experience is like stepping back into the time of grandparents or great-grandparents or even great-great grandparents. For me, this was definitely a wonderful change from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

The unexpected experiences that come our way are sometimes the best ones.

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