Epilogue, Of Sorts

Many Americans woke up this morning to the news of our triumphant, albeit short-handed, return home to Virginia but in our normal fashion we thought it worthy to comment about yesterday’s travels on our last leg home.

You may recall we departed Bridgeport, WV and headed east on Route 50 through the mountains, but needing to eventually work our way a little bit further south than what Route 50 had to offer.  However, Route 48, also known as Corridor H, is not a friend to Model T touring as it’s meant to be a high-speed throughway so we needed an alternate route through the mountains east of Mt. Storm.

Fortunately, we could pick up Old West Virginia 55 in Moorefield and follow along the general path of 48, but with much less traffic with the bonus of having plenty to see along the way.

How travelers see West Virginia from Route 48 / Corridor H.
How we saw Route 48 / Corridor H from West Virginia.

West Virginia has plenty to offer in terms of scenic roads and vistas, but even though the we peaked at an elevation of about 3,095′ we did find ourselves passing several, if not many, 10% grade road signs.  The Ruckstell made easy work of them going up, and the Rocky Mountain brakes gave comfort to us coming back down and we would certainly recommend those brakes on any car doing West Virginia mountain touring.

10% grades, uphill and downhill, plus lots of turns.
A farmstead near Maysville, WV.

Even on the highways there are nice overlooks, but not like the ones you may stumble upon on the back roads.  And in the northern section of West Virginia you can look across a single vista and see the mountains in West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

High mountain vistas near Backbone Mountain.
Crossing the Cheat River, still one of the most undeveloped rivers in the country.

Once we made it to Wardensville, WV, it was safe to rejoin Route 48, where it necked back down to a single-lane road in both directions (although there is still a lot of traffic) and we climbed the final ridge where the Tuscarora hiking trailhead marks the boundary between West Virginia and Virginia.  Then we gradually descended down into Virginia, working our way through the increasingly built up areas until we were finally back in the heart of Northern Virginia sprawl, a bittersweet ending to our cross country trip.

But before we finished the journey, we had one more appointment…to meet and pick up two of our original travelers who had to depart early after the ’11’s sudden onset of metal fatigue.  There were smiles all around as we drove the final 10 miles home together, and, with that, it’s back to rat race.

Picking up the rest of the crew for the final miles home.

But we’re not done yet.  The ’11 is due back home this week, along with a “new” engine that will be installed after the broken one is removed.  We have lots of post-maintenance work to be done on both cars but without a doubt they’ll be on the road again before long.  Plus, there’s already discussion among the youngest of our group which year Model Ts they’d like to own one day.

Thank you to everyone who followed along and encouraged us to continue, and especially to all of you who made it possible to continue.  We cannot call out everyone by name as we’ll be sure to forget someone, but a special shout-out belongs to Scott Conger who allowed us to add another 700 miles together before the 11’s crankshaft failed, and, of course, to all our families who allowed us to go outside and play for awhile.

Until then, we’ll see you all on the road again soon!

Don, Jon, Matt, Nico and Jonathan

The Home Stretch

We’ve decided that we should at least make the effort to get home this evening rather than pulling up 30-60 miles short, but acknowledge that decision will be made for us based on what time we exit the West Virginia mountains and start working our way across the upper plains of Virginia. To be sure, Virginia is also mountainous in the west, but in the north they become more like big hills than mountains and the area along the I-66 corridor isn’t too bad. Also to be sure, we don’t plan on taking I-66 or even being too close to it, as there are better things to see in Virginia than its highways.

We’ll set out from Bridgeport on the dreaded route 50, but we discovered last night, looking at the map, that route 50 necks down to a single-lane, more country-style road right here in Bridgeport after crossing I-79. But we’re also going to navigate ourselves around route 48 later on, which is also listed as Corridor H and looks remarkably like the part of route 50 we didn’t like. One thing we’ve noticed in the past, and recently, is that there are many nice, wide, open double-lane highways running through West Virginia, many honoring a guy named Robert Byrd, but never really going anywhere in particular. We understand the desire and intent of the roads, but we’ve yet to see the growth along them they were designed to bring.

Otherwise, we think we’ve found a nice, quiet route through the mountains and will let you know how that goes.

So we’re off, after changing our oil one more time and will keep you all posted on our progress.

Bridgeport, WV

Earlier today we suggested we’d be spending the night, tonight, in Clarksburg, WV. Instead, we’ll be in Bridgeport, which is about 4 miles closer to home than Clarksburg.

The ride today was pleasant enough through Ohio and western West Virginia but to get to the Clarksburg-Bridgeport area from Athens, OH, required us to spend many of the 100+ miles driving along highway 50, the same highway 50 we drove a bit on in Nevada although in West Virginia, if you can believe it, highway 50 is nowhere near as lonely as in Nevada. In fact, our necks are sore from frequently looking behind us to make sure a distracted driver didn’t close the distance between us too quickly as they approached with a 35-40 mph closure rate.

Circleville, OH. We’ve watched enough Road Runner cartoons not to fall for this trap.

Circleville, OH is an interesting place as the Pickaway County court house, located in Circleville, was, in 1810, placed in the exact center of an 1,100 foot diameter earthwork circle created by Native Americans more than 1,500 years ago, while the rest of the town was laid out within the circle, thus giving the ville its name. But residents there quickly got tired of running around in circles and by the 1850’s had changed the city’s layout to a grid and today there are no remaining traces of the original circle.

And once again we crossed a river boundary, with the Ohio River marking the boundary between Ohio and West Virginia, which causes us to reflect that the Missouri River is the entire eastern border of Nebraska and the Illinois River isn’t a boundary at all.

The Ohio River, with West Virginia on the right.

In Clarksburg we passed a marker celebrating their native son, Tom Jackson, who died in Chancellorsville, VA after being shot by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, which was unfortunate for Tom since he had been such a stalwart advocate of the Confederate cause people had started calling him “Stonewall”.

We also spent some of our day today trying to get over the loss of the ’11’s crankshaft by locating and purchasing a new old engine for it, but the stories that engine has to tell, and one day will have to tell, must wait until we can put it in the ’11.

And now we’re having dinner (an excellent steak and an excellent brisket sandwich), discussing our plans for tomorrow, or at least intending to discuss them while we determine how well West Virginian brewers could compete against Iowan brewers if there were a competition, and our thoughts are “very well”. Our big decision is whether we try to knock out the last 213 or so miles home in one day, through the mountains, or whether we savor our last day(s) on the road with the ’10 and arrive Saturday mid-day. We suppose it depends on our mood in the morning and whether there’s a chance the two youngest of our group, who had to depart in South Dakota, could come join us again for the last few miles home.

Almost Kanawha, West Virginia

We’re off from Springfield, OH, headed towards the Ohio River and West Virginia beyond.

Springfield, OH

We’ve visited West Virginia many times in the past, so we’re really starting to feel like we’re getting close to our goal, plus just having the word “Virginia” in its name probably has something to do with it. Incidentally, the original name selected for West Virginia was Kanawha, named after the river and then county in the area which was, until then, part of Virginia itself but there was concern it would be confusing to have a county and a state called Kanawha, plus the western Virginians who were seceding from Virginia during the Civil War still wanted a name to reflect their Virginian heritage, so here we are.

London, OH

We’ll make plans to pass through Athens, OH, and cross the Ohio River into West Virginia at Parkersburg, where once the longest railroad bridge in the world was built, before pressing on towards Clarksburg, WV if we are making okay time. Our last few days will be back in the mountains, albeit the eastern kind, but they can still make for slow going.

Richmond and Springfield

For those of you keeping score at home, you know we’re on a quest to make it to Virginia. We’re happy to report that today we arrived in Richmond and then completed the drive to Springfield, passing the 3,000 mile mark for the trip since we left Bakersfield.

Richmond, Indiana is home to the Model T Ford Club of America and their Model T Museum. Springfield, Ohio is where we’ll be spending the night tonight before continuing on through Ohio tomorrow.

At the Model T Museum.

We had always planned on visiting the Model T Museum, but we couldn’t commit to a particular date. As it turns out, this week is the MTFCA National Tour in Richmond so there were literally a hundred other Model Ts flitting around the city, although we didn’t cross paths with them all.

Who we did cross paths with were Dianna Pappin, Susan Yeager and Justin Mitchell, who all welcomed us to the museum before Justin took the time to give us a personal tour of the museum and the annex across the street.

Justin explains how to install our new set of Staude wheels designed for the Model T.

Admittedly, we can only scratch the surface answering questions from everyone who writes in, so for those of you that still have questions about Model Ts of any year, contact Justin; he’s a walking Ford encyclopedia who’s taking his girlfriend on vacation to Florida…to see the Edison and Ford Winter Estates.

We were sorry we couldn’t stay for this evening’s parade but with several hours of daylight left hanging in the sky we really needed to be moving on, which we did to Springfield, OH.

Same story, different city. This time being chased out of Richmond, IN.

Tomorrow we’ll plan on heading on across Ohio but first we have to do our research on which route we want to take based on the hills/mountains in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. We’ll keep everyone posted on what we decide.

Illinois and Indiana

Yesterday we set off from Burlington, IA with an arbitrary goal to make it across Illinois mostly without stopping, which we pretty much did except to purchase 3.4 gallons of gas in Farmington just in case our fuel consumption calculations were off, which they weren’t and we could have made it across with the gas we had.

A barn is unimpressed with our passing.

Our goal was Lafayette, IN, figuring it’s a good size town, Purdue University is out for the summer so there would be plenty of hotel rooms available for us to pick from, and there would probably be a good selection of local beers to report back on.

We didn’t know about the 2018 Compressor Engineering/Refrigeration and Air Conditioning/High Performance Buildings Conference, a biennial event drawing world-wide attendance.

An engineer from Peru, and his Purdue host, check out the ‘10.

It seems a lot of people take this kind of stuff seriously, although not seriously enough to have developed automobile air conditioning by 1910, and finding a room actually became a bit of a challenge. But we succeeded with the very nice little Campus Inn mixed in with all the higher priced hotels at the foot of the campus hill at almost half the rate, plus it was an easy walk to the Black Sparrow which advertised “No crap on tap!” and they win an award for truth in advertising. Indiana is producing some very good beers and the Black Sparrow’s food was also very good.

To get to Indiana required us to pretty-much set a course of due east and not deviate from it much except to skirt south of Peoria and then continue east again. And again, lots of corn, but taller still, and just as much soy bean production.

But along with the production of corn and soy beans it seems Illinois is producing a lot of energy. There was lots of barge traffic on the Illinois River, and from what we saw it was lined up for the power plants lining the river.

Barge traffic on the Illinois River

We also passed by the Twin Groves Wind Farm which consists of 240 wind turbines spread out over 22,000 acres, almost every one of them turning, and the Pioneer Trail Wind Farm with another 140 or so turbines, with almost all of them stationary. Best we can figure is all politics are local and the Pioneer Trail mills had a moratorium on them until the local residents can figure out why they can no longer receive the 50 or so broadcast television stations they used to receive.

Some the Twin Groves windmills.
A Twin Groves blade passes its tower.

In the good news column, we think we finally tracked down our sudden case of spurious misfiring to a batch of bad fuel. Lots of analysis on the four ignition coils, always the first and easiest things to be checked, plus checking and cleaning the timer, playing with fuel mixture and cleaning the carburetor, and even checking and replacing all four spark plugs didn’t solve the problem, but filling up with name-brand fuel did. We’re happy that’s all it seems to have been.

We also seemed to have missed some pretty good weather. We noted the possibility, and telltale appearance of afternoon thunderstorms but we didn’t encounter any at all. The closest we came was the smell of rain that had fallen not too long ago, but the roads were dry. However, a look at the radar (not original T equipment) shows what we just missed: a line of storms crossing from north to south as we drove west to east.

A line of storms passed in front of us.

Finally, our late starts are paying off!

We’re now on the road to Richmond, IN, and the Model T Museum and MTFCA National Tour. We’ll just stop to say “hi”, maybe pick up a few parts as spares (wonder if anyone has a crankshaft?) and be on our way as we’re still racing the clock to get back to the “real world” next week.

Jumping Ahead

Yesterday we announced our arrival at the banks of the Mississippi River without much discussion of the day’s travel, which we will address presently.

The Mississippi has always been a line of demarcation for travelers, as you’ll often hear about the “highest” or “lowest” or “biggest” something west or east of the Mississippi. And with the introduction of car radios, which our Model T missed, travelers would, for the most part, hear a “W” or a “K” at the start of radio call signs depending on whether they were east or west of the river.

So it was with understated excitement and a sense of accomplishment that we pulled into Burlington last night, with the primary goal to do laundry and then have dinner but having only completed one of those tasks before going to bed with clean underwear.

But yesterday we also had the opportunity to travel along parts of US route 30, also known as the Lincoln Highway, which was the first transcontinental road although in Iowa much of the original now consists of gravel road sections crisscrossing the new route 30.

We also stumbled upon the Ding Darling Highway which seems important to celebrate. Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling was a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist and conservationist who also initiated the Federal Duck Stamp Program, but in 2013 the Executive Director of Keep Iowa Beautiful was touring the roads leading to Lake Darling with members of the Red Flag Horseless Carriage Tour when the seed was planted to rename the modest highways leading to Lake Darling.

For those interested in commodities trading, here’s a sneak peek at corn futures:

Place your bets on corn futures.

But we’re also picking up lots of drop-in visitors as we drive along the crop fields, and, in fact, we’re seeing entire squadrons of them forming up in front of us as we plow through them all. It’s the worst hail storm we’ve run into this trip and we had to put the windscreen up. On that note, the only precipitation we’ve had all trip was half the day in Yellowstone. Every other day has been clear and sunny.

Drop-in guests on the floor mat.

Something interesting we also noted yesterday about the corn: each field is remarkably universally consistent in it’s height. Looking across the tops of the fields we would be lucky to drive a mile before seeing one random stalk standing 8-10 inches taller than its surrounding fellows. We suppose that’s because the corn being planted today has been scientifically engineered to produce consistent, quality yields and, in fact, we noted that the sweet corn you have for dinner or put in your fuel tank is probably less “Grandma’s Heirloom Select” and more likely P1197AM or W7456RIB. Same goes for your soy burgers and lattes: P31T11R or P36A13X, among others.

As we write this we’re putt-putting through the Illinois corn fields, which look a lot like some of the other corn fields we’ve seen recently except taller. We’ve actually been noting the corn has been getting taller the further east we get, with it being, in the old days, “knee high by the Forth of July” and in modern times “waist high”. We thought maybe it was because summers are longer a little bit to the east, or better soil closer to the river basins, but as David Rising pointed out it’s all the same, it’s just been growing up as fast as we’ve been able to move across the country.

We did take some time this morning to see if we couldn’t track down a spurious misfire we hear once in awhile, and checked and cleaned our ignition timer before leaving the hotel. That really didn’t seem to do the trick so we found some shade and replaced all the spark plugs.

Real-life shade-tree mechanics.

We’re confident we haven’t licked the problem yet but its more of a nuisance than anything else right now so we’ll continue to press on and maybe swap out our timer tonight. Our goal will be to make it to Lafayette, IN and see if any the wicked smart engineers there can help us, but as always we’ll play it by ear.

See you on the road…..

Hello, Burlington Birds!

We’re here safe and sound in Burlington, IA, and today’s trip can be summed up as one for the birds.

Attacking the corn pests.
A lazy flyby this afternoon.
A visitor while pumping gas.

Tomorrow we’ll cross the Mississippi River and make a run for Indiana. We figure we have about 900 miles to go, which means two more oil changes and, hopefully, tonight will be our last night of laundry!

As always, more to follow…

The Big Picture

We woke up this morning in Carroll, IA after making it to the Carroll Brewing Company last night before it closed at 7:00. There was no one else there except for Martha, the bartender and Andrew, a friend of Martha’s. A few minutes later Jen, the tap room manager at CBC, showed up with what appeared to be a week’s worth of bar pretzels.

Before long it was closing time but Jen wasn’t interested in kicking us out and instead we sampled more of their products and talked about Iowa. Jen told us about Snake Alley, the crookedest street in the world, which with 1,100 degrees of turning beats Lombard Street’s mere 1,000 degrees, even though Lombard Street is longer. And we learned, or confirmed, that Iowa produces more corn than any other state, including the Corn Husker State, which ranks third behind Illinois.

When we finally said goodnight we thought it appropriate to teach Jen a bit about the T in return and gave her a ride around the block.

Learning about the Model T at Carroll Brewing.

Checking into the Super 8 hotel (not the one on the hill) we met manager grandmother Joni, who’s real name is Jon after her grandfather who lived to 104 years old but thought it better to add the “i” and who’s been contently living at the Super 8 for 23 years. A very nice woman indeed and we imagine, in the interest of space, most Christmases her 16 grandchildren come visit her rather than the other way around.

Since it was getting late, and we didn’t really feel like driving anywhere for dinner, we walked next door to the unassuming Bloomers bar and restaurant where we had a very good ribeye steak and an exceptional boneless pork chop.

This morning we’ve set off towards Burlington, IA which lies on the banks of the Mississippi River, certainly a lofty but worthy milestone to pursue. We’ve already crossed the flooded Des Moines River and will skirt north of Des Moines itself, although the number of 2,000′ antennas and 500′ windmills we’re starting to see growing in the corn and soy bean fields tells us we’re getting close.

The Des Moines River at flood stage.
Near Slater, IA

Looking at the map of where we are and where we still need to go can at times be disheartening unless one looks at the bigger picture or recalls certain sayings about a bad day of fishing. For example:

  • Distance to the Moon: 239,000 mi
  • Circumference of the earth: 24,901 mi
  • Approximate distance to go: 1,150 mi

So it seems we’re doing okay and, in fact, if the ’10 continues performing as she has been we may even get to the Model T Ford Club of America’s National Tour at Richmond, IN by Wednesday evening just to say hi.

We’ll keep everyone posted on our progress.

Eastward, Ho!

As we write this, the Missouri River to which the Yellowstone River is the largest tributary by volume, lies behind us to the West.

We crossed, as promised, at Decatur, NE and are now rolling along the Loess Scenic Highway in Iowa, made possible by a generous donation of ground dust from the last glacial maxima about 22,000 years ago.

Our plan will be to continue on towards either Carroll or slightly farther to Jefferson, depending on whether we can make it to the Carroll Brewing Company before it closes. If you don’t hear from us this evening, we’re in Carroll.

The drive in Nebraska took us through the quiet towns of Pilger, Wisner, Beemer, Bancroft and Lyons.

Pilger, NE
Wisner, NE
Beemer, NE
Bancroft, NE
Lyons, NE

Interestingly, Bancroft is home to the eponymous John G. Neihardt State Historic Site, recognizing Nebraska’s Poet Laureate in Perpetuity, although we must admit we did not stop to visit as the Missouri River was calling.

In Decatur, while getting gas before The Crossing, photographer Elmer Smith found interest in the ’10 and broke out his Mamiya 220 to snap some pictures.

Local photographer Elmer Smith captures the ‘10 on film.

Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge all the friendly drivers in Nebraska who have been giving us the finger all day. This apparently customary wave between two oncoming cars consists of raising the index finger of whichever hand happens to be at the top off the steering wheel when passing, thus acknowledging their approval of the ’10. A fine custom indeed!

Stop Us If You’ve Heard This One Before

We aimed for another early start today, and at 10:30 we finally got underway. We’re confident we’ll crack this nut but may need a few more days to figure it out. The good news is we changed our oil and got ourselves a tire pump.

As previously discussed, we drove into O’Neill, Nebraska last night just before the end of nautical twilight. Having the headlights and taillights on the car gives us comfort, but we’re more concerned about traffic coming up behind us than oncoming traffic.

Scene outside O’Neill, NE, several minutes before our arrival.

Our first planned event today is to drive by 306 S. 13th Street in Norfolk, NE. After that we’ll continue south (but really east) on US route 275, which we joined at its northern terminus in O’Neill, until Wisner, NE, and then head straight to Decatur, NE, where we’ll finally cross the longest river in North America, which we promised to do several days ago before metallurgical considerations changed our plans.

If you happen to be in the area feel free to drive along side but please don’t honk….we’re a little jumpy about sudden, loud noises.

Get On The Move-itis

Those of you familiar with aviation may have heard of “get home-itis”. Usually it’s associated with poor decision-making in an attempt to get home when normally that attempt would not be made if you weren’t trying to get home. Something is overlooked or normal procedures are rushed and before you know it, something unplanned happens. But by being aware of “get home-itis”, it’s highly preventable and keeps you out of trouble.

We have a flat tire and our air pump is in the other car.

Purring right along when the rear tire rolled off the rim.

Fortunately, we’re only 3 miles outside Bonesteel, SD and we’ve had threefour five different people stop by to ask if they could assist, including Deputy Renken of the Gregory County Sheriff’s Department. But Tim, the first person to stop was headed into Bonesteel to surprise his wife, Julie, for dinner and took the time to run one of us into town with the entire wheel, where a new tube and tire was installed and inflated before running us back out to the car. In the meantime, the other of us inspected the other tires, looked over other fluids and components of the car, and listened to the wind and birds and occasional car drive by.

The first lesson is we didn’t clearly communicate with each other which essential tools and supplies we should have taken from the other car. We grabbed a lot of stuff, including extra tire tubes, blocks of wood and tire irons to change tires with, but the air pump got left behind. We felt a little hurried as we didn’t want to hold up our hosts whose garage we’re keeping the ’11 in so we hurriedly grabbed stuff and transferred it over to the ’10.

The second lesson is that people like Tim and Julie, who own Peppel Farm and Seed in St. Charles, have shown us once more how incredibly helpful, caring, kind and unselfish Americans are in the heartland. Tim and Julie missed their dinner because of us (the grill closed by the time we were done) and instead of being upset they gave us both a nice set of leather work gloves to remember them by. Truly remarkable people.

We’ve still got daylight to make it to O’Neill, NE where we had just called a hotel to make reservations before the flat occurred, but once again we expect to be rolling in at dusk.

After fixing the flat, we finally made it to Nebraska.

En Route Update

We’re making decent time heading south east today in the ’10, although it’s pretty warm and we’re fighting a southern wind blowing at 20 mph, gusting to 30. The bad news is we’re skirting along the northern edges of all the freshly manured fields. We also spent some time getting to know each other and it turns out we both grew up in the same town.

Outside Murdo, SD
Don’t let the bend in the road fool you. Where we’re going is straight ahead.

Our route had us taking a few more dirt roads, this time passing through Ideal, SD.

The Ideal Presbyterian church and post office.

Finally, as we just passed through Colome, we thought we should stop and get some culture at the local museum.

No caption necessary.

On the Road Again

At approximately 12:34 Saturday we departed Murdo, SD in the direction of O’Neill, NE.

Murdo behind us.

It’s more lonely than ever out here now that the most senior and most junior of the travelers are no longer with us, but man, these wide open spaces make you want to stay out here forever. We’re on an access road next to I-90 before peeling off back into the country and having just driven the four-hour round trip to the Rapid City Airport this morning in a modern car (where we experienced our third flat of the trip) we can tell you the traffic on I-90 is missing the best part of the country only a few miles away.

Getting To Millinocket

We’ve spent the last 36 hours or so in the wonderfully small and wonderfully nice town of Murdo, SD and if there’s anyplace else on earth it reminds us of, it’s Millinocket, ME.

Granted, Millinocket is approximately 29 times larger in area than Murdo, and has about 10 times the number of people, but that’s only because the 482 residents of Murdo are bounded by just more than half a square mile.  But what the two towns have in common is that you can’t get there from here.

Murdo, Head of the Northwest Cattle Trail.
Long-time readers of ours may recall that yesterday we broke a crankshaft on the ’11 T.  While not a normal event, and certainly not one to be wished upon anyone traveling through the more remote roads of America’s heartland, we were fortunate that this event occurred only 19 miles from Interstate 90 and all of the accoutrements associated with modern, high-speed travel.  Had this happened in the more remote regions of, say, the Nevada desert where even we weren’t sure where we were, the younger, more veal-like travelers among us would certainly have had cause to be nervous.

After having a chance to regroup here in Murdo and evaluate the situation, we came up with the following options:

  • Find a new engine and transmission assembly to swap out with the old one.  This would be the most simple repair.
  • Find a new engine and replace just the broken engine.  This actually requires a little more work than the first option above.
  • Find a new crankshaft.  This would require us to match the old engine bearings to the new crankshaft, which isn’t easy.  It also assumes there was no bearing damage when the crank let go.
  • Ship both the ’10 and ’11 home and continue the tour at a later date.
  • Ship just the ’11 home, and continue the tour with the ’10 but with only two people.

With those options in mind, we started making phone calls.  Per usual, the Model T community responded with vigor and generosity, with one kind soul offering up a 1927 engine and transmission assembly, delivered.  After some additional discussion and research, we decided that the ’27 engine, the last year of production of the Model T, required just enough modifications to the engine and chassis in order to fit into the ’11 that it wouldn’t make sense to pursue.  Any engine prior to 1926 should have dropped in just fine, but the ’26 and ’27 had some relatively major design changes that would make it more difficult to fit.

So, with time running out we opted to plan on shipping the ’11 home but to continue the tour with the ’10.  The only question was which of the travelers would continue on, and which would go home.  Had one of the younger travelers really wanted to stay on, we would have considered it but ultimately we decided two of the more seasoned travelers should press on.  Now we had a plan…three people and a car go home, two continue on.

It may be useful to know that in smaller towns, and possibly in larger towns, car dealerships will sometimes rent a car to people for local use.  This was important to us since we weren’t sure how long we’d be in town and what we’d need, plus the next closest national-brand rental car agency was 58 miles away in the capital of South Dakota, Pierre, which we learned is pronounced like “peer” rather than a Frenchman.

Now, having decided that three people were going to go home, it made sense that the easiest way was to fly and that we could do that out of Pierre, except there aren’t very many flights out of that city each week.

The next closest airport is two hours away in Rapid City, back towards Mount Rushmore.  But what we quickly learned was that the asking price for a one-way ticket to the east coast is about $700 each, undoubtedly due to the exorbitant price professional airline pilots command while “working”.

Now less interested in flying home than just renting a car and driving home, we felt it made sense to use our local-only rental car as a springboard to get a national-brand rental car.  However, apparently in south central South Dakota it has been decided that there is no sound business case for renting cars one-way.  We’ve been told the locals adapt to the -30°F winters so that’s not why, but whatever the reason the national brand rental car headquarters have not been made aware of this decision.  This becomes relevant when, say, one makes travel arrangements using an online reservation system but the clerk at the rental car agency is not interested in renting you a one-way car despite having been presented a copy of the confirmation number.  This would have undoubtedly stung more had we been charged the advertised online price of $350 to rent a car to Virginia, but the additional drop-off fee of $900 allowed us to walk away feeling like we had avoided a fleecing.

Just as we were giving up hope of departing Murdo any time soon, the initial estimates for the cost to ship the ’11 home started coming in and we redoubled our efforts, this time thinking about bringing the ’11 with us.  That is when we had a “Eureka!” moment and started calling U-Haul.

A March of 2018 Associated Press report noted that South Dakota gained about 8,000 residents in 2017.  At about the same time, a July of 2018 phone survey found that U-Haul had nothing to do with their arrivals since not a single available car trailer could be found within 200 miles of the survey point.  The one trailer which was found 200 miles away did not have a tow vehicle available with which to pull it.

Grasping for straws we started scanning license plates in our hotel parking lot, looking for states close to Virginia but most people seemed more intent on enjoying their summer vacation than giving us a ride home.  It was at the local gas station when we were filling up our local-only rental when it appeared our luck would change.  With a keen eye, we spotted a pickup truck with a trailer attached, and the trailer had all the markings of being empty (we just know these things).  Approaching the driver, who we noted kept one hand under his shirt behind his back, he confirmed for us his trailer was empty but that he was headed westbound.

The ’11 in its temporary storage spot.
So, out of luck and running out of time, we’ll be headed to Rapid City early Saturday morning to drop off three of our fellow travelers with no other expectations than the airplane will take-off, and land, on time.  The other two will then return the local-only rental car and start off in the ’10 again, with sights still set on Virginia.  The ’11 should be getting picked up in about a week, and may possibly beat the ’10 home.

More to follow…..


Just Another Day

For those of you who have been riding along with us these past few weeks, you are undoubtedly aware of the loud, sudden knocking the crew of the ’11 heard coming from their engine compartment earlier this afternoon.  There was no preface, no unusual requests being made of the engine, just a long, straight, paved road with slight rolling hills on which we were humming along when it let go.

Finishing up Badlands this morning.
But we can’t say this was unexpected.  All antique automobile hobbyists learn to expect what’s possible, no matter the provenance of the mechanical device in question.  We’ve all heard about failures that others have experienced but which we hope never happen to us.  But to ensure it never happens to us means to never drive our cars, instead consigning them to a life of car shows, garages and car covers.  We think we, and the general public, are better served by keeping this rolling history alive and, to be quite frank, it’s a blast to do so.

Are we disappointed?  Of course.  But the unspoken truth is that we knew back in Bakersfield that there was a real possibility that something, anything, could have ended our journey just miles out of the starting gate.  Things always go wrong, but then again, and more frequently, things always go right.

So what’s next?  The simplest solution would be to have an engine and transmission assembly on-hand and just pull the old one out and put the new one in. Done in a day.  It’s actually a little more work to swap out just the engine, keeping the original transmission in place.  And, of course, if we had a new crankshaft on-hand we could swap that out, but there’s no telling what other damage may be lurking in the engine despite our initial evaluation that we were lucky the engine appears to have preserved it’s functional space instead of trying to put a section of the crankshaft in the same space as a connecting rod at the same time.

But reality is settling back down on some of us, in that we think we still have jobs we’re supposed to get back to before the middle of July.  (We’re not sure, though, as we haven’t been checking in much.  If any of our co-workers are reading this we’d appreciate if you could discreetly ask around).  So we figure the best path forward is to ship the ’11 back home where it can get the proper care and attention it needs.  That in itself will require a couple days to coordinate, but the friendly people of All-Pro Towing in Murdo, SD have generously offered us a spot in their garage in the meantime.

And, of course, there’s the question of the ’10.  Do we continue on with just one car?  It’s running fine, why not?  Or is there safety in numbers?  We haven’t answered that question yet, but will do so in the morning.

The tow truck coming for the ’11, while the ’10 strikes out for Murdo on it’s own.

We’ve been asked by more than a few people how much it will cost to repair the ’11’s engine, and the answer is it doesn’t matter.  In fact, we think it’s reasonable to believe many people would gladly exchange a broken crankshaft for the opportunity to spend two weeks together with with a parent, brothers, grandparent, sons and grandsons.  We visited Yosemite, Mono Lake, the Nevada desert, the border of the Great Salt Lake, mountains, lakes, Yellowstone, Devils Tower, Mount Rushmore, the Badlands and even bull riding.  We made new friends, saw the things that make America such an amazing place, watched the tractors tending fields, yelled “moo!” to more cows than we can count, learned to play the harmonica and use a Yo-Yo, and even learned how to drive, sort of.

And after everything that happened today, with all the emotional highs and lows, it’s really just another day.  Venus was just as beautiful this evening shining in the twilight as it was last night and last year.  We still had laundry to do.  And we still look forward to the next day we’re on the road with our T again.

Happy Independence Day!

It’s the one day of the year when we actually reflect upon the blessings of liberty that were bestowed on us by an unlikely group of young Englishmen 242 years ago. But so long as we set aside even just one day there’s hope that endless generations to come will also receive this gift.

Today, we observed countless examples that this will hold true. Cars and trucks were flying flags, people were dressed in reds and whites and blues, and people admiring the cars asked us if we’d be participating in “the parade”.

Celebrating the Fourth with reds and whites and blues.
Two of the men who made it possible..

Leaving Deadwood this morning, we opted for a more leisurely climb to Mount Rushmore via Hill City rather than going to, and climbing out of Keystone, but that also left us with the unenviable task of descending from the monument down to Keystone, a grade advertised by one road sign as 10%, the steepest we’ve seen all tour.

The ‘11 making its way towards Mount Rushmore.

Once safely out of Keystone our next obvious destination was the Badlands, about 65 miles away. Because of our aversion to traffic, we worked our way to route 44 to Scenic, passing the Creston Dinosaur along the way, where we then picked up a 25-mile dirt road into the Badlands park.

A rare sighting of the Creston Dinosaur.

While we had much of the road to ourselves, we did pass several modern cars along the way who didn’t seem to have a problem meeting the posted speed limit along the dirt road. We, on the other hand, had much to learn. Not that this was our first time on a dirt road, as you’ve been told, but rather we learned something counterintuitive that may or may not have been useful to us in the past.

We had much of the road to ourselves.

Dirt roads often develop what is called “washboarding”, a phenomenon named after the familiar laundry implements of the past and which are now used by zydeco bands. Anyone who’s driven on a road with washboarding knows it can rattle your bones, even in cars with good suspensions. The Model T has what can be described as a rugged suspension system but not a good one.

Whenever we encounter washboarding on a dirt road, even at slow speeds the rear end of the Model T begins to believe it might feel more comfortable at the front end so begins to wander in that direction. The front end, on the other hand, isn’t sure where it might feel more comfortable so begins to look around just about anywhere. The driver’s intuitive reaction is to slow down, but with all the slipping, sliding and bouncing going on, using the brakes just adds another dynamic component which may lead to slipping a tube inside the tire or rolling a tire bead off the wheel rim, either of which would result in a flat tire. Just letting up on the throttle works, but maybe not fast enough, so ultimately he must drive down the road very slowly with eyes peeled for washboarding.

Along the Sagecreek Rim Road in the Badlands.

The lesson learned in counterintuitiveness is to drive faster. It appears there’s a certain speed at which the Model T actually handles quite well over the washboarded but otherwise smooth road (don’t try this on roads with erosion or ruts). Like early pioneers in aviation trying to break the sound barrier, it seemed impossible or at least foolish to accelerate above a certain speed, but once we hit that speed everything became smooth, including the handling. The residual problem, however, is that the value of “smooth” speed is unknown and as one accelerates towards it one is hoping he reaches it soon. On top of that, there’s the problem of decelerating back into the “bumpy” speed when one is ready to stop. One troubling scenario that comes to mind is when approaching oncoming traffic. It would certainly do no good to slow down and accidentally drift into the other lane, but to keep one’s speed up during the pass is also questionable. These are considerations which we will leave to the reader, but we felt it worthy to at least bring this concept to light for others to use as they see fit.

As we say goodnight here in Wall, after having visited the drug store, we’ve finished our planning for tomorrow. We’ll retrace our last 8 miles to get back into the Badlands and complete our end-to-end tour of the park, exiting at Interior, SD and bid a final farewell to the western hills and mountains that challenged us so. Now we’ll be firmly in the Plains, and expect we can make slightly more distance each day as we roll on through our agenda, collecting magnets as we go. So much distance, in fact, that we hope to have crossed the longest river in North America by nightfall.

Our growing magnet collection.


Many of you wrote to us regarding today’s local news story of our celebrated arrival into Deadwood, SD, this evening.

We can affirm it is true.

Our route today took us through three states; Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota. Given the size of those states, it’s fair to say we made good time, but much of today’s success is also due to our early departure from Broadus, which we estimated to be 9:03 am, much better than our recent average.

We continued traveling down MT 212 (the section referred to as The Warrior Trail Highway) and had we followed it to its eastern terminus we’d be in Edina, MN but instead we exited at Alzeda, MT southbound towards Hulett and Devils Tower.

A word that comes to mind regarding the drive between Alzeda and Devils Tower is a synonym for fantastic. Not only was it incredibly scenic but it was as if a meandering, rolling parkway had been placed on top of a plateau with meadows and valleys and other geographical pleasantries which could involve rainbows. And the reward at the end is another geographical feature many people became aware of from a 1977 movie but in reality had been known by Native American tribes well before then and the first documented “discovery” by Caucasians was in 1859.  The road is also a suitable place for additional future-Model T-driver training, were people to be so inclined.

Posing in front of Devils Tower.


What it probably used to look like, we think.

After departing Devils Tower we continued south to Old Route 14 which runs through Sundance and Beulah (pop. 33) and provides a few early vistas before becoming the frontage road for I-90.

Climbing away from Devils Tower.
Overlooking Sundance from Rt 14.

After passing through Spearfish, we headed south again into the Black Hills National Forest via the CanAm highway and climbed over the initial pass leading to Deadwood.  It’s common knowledge that Deadwood is where James Butler Hickok was murdered while holding “aces and eights”, but what’s not widely known is that Wild Bill was killed only 37 days after George Custer and his brothers were killed at Little Big Horn.  Martha Jane Canary also lived there, but you probably know her as Calamity Jane.

Finally, as an aside, what might commonly occur every day during vacation travel involving five males happened only for the first time for us this evening.  While wandering aimlessly among the shops, bars and casinos, continuing the summer education series for the younger ones in our group, we found ourselves for the first time during the journey to be unable to decide what we wanted to eat for dinner.  Ice cream satiated several of the group, while others were holding out for pizza which, it turned out, was no longer being offered by the slice.  A conundrum, indeed, but which was quickly resolved by some retiring to the room while others retired to the bar, where  tomorrow’s voyage is being planned albeit among the many houseflies which outnumber the patrons.  We’ll soon have more to report, specifically about our trip to Mount Rushmore and the Badlands, plus possibly a stop at Wall Drug but only because there is lodging nearby.  In the meantime we hope everyone has a wonderful and happy Fourth of July, celebrating everything that makes this country great.  We know we will.




Off Broadus


This morning we departed Billings with a typically early start, which means about 10:45 am. Not that it was our fault again. Sure, we had to pack and eat and get a new battery and, oh, while we’re here would you mind if we change our oil and use your waste-oil disposal tank, but also everyone keeps asking us questions about the cars.

We met Steve, the owner of the Best Western hotel we stayed at and who refused to let us leave without complementary cinnamon rolls fresh-baked from Stella’s restaurant. We chatted with the exceptionally polite Troy and Eric at Edam’s Tire Automotive, where we bought our battery and changed our oil. And, of course, there were plenty of other passersby who were interested in the cars.

But when we finally got the cars fired up and on the way to Broadus, MT, we had nothing but beautiful blue skies in the Big Sky Country to occupy our time.  The leisurely climb out of Billings was very pretty, with a commanding view over the city once we were at the top before settling back down into the valleys and plains to the east.

A family farm in the Big Sky Country.

Along the way, just outside of Crow Agency, we passed by the Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument, also known as Custer’s Last Stand or, for the Lakota and other Plains Indians, the Battle of Greasy Grass. On June 25-26, 1876, during the Great Sioux War, 263 7th Calvary soldiers, under the command of LtCol George Custer and Major Marcus Reno, lost their lives to the combined forces of the Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes which, under the vision of Sitting Bull, were being commanded by, among others, Crazy Horse. The Lakota and Cheyenne tribes are estimated to have had 40-100 casualties.

Headstones mark where soldiers fell, including two of Custer’s brothers.
Even the horses which were killed, many intentionally shot to be used as breastworks at the bitter end, are remembered.
Now their descendants roam free on the battlefield.
Teaching the tourists about the Model T and the trip across the country.

It’s a very well laid out memorial and should be visited if you ever find yourself in the area.

After departing the battlefield we made a beeline for Broadus down route 212. It’s a wide-open Road with a lot of traffic on the Montana scale, but it has very interesting scenery, alternating between hills and plains.  Broadus itself is a very little, very sleepy town with wide streets and only a handful of establishments open for business in the evening, but the Big Sky Bar seemed to be the place to go for dinner.

We’ll depart here in the morning headed back to friendly Wyoming, this time for a tour of Bear Lodge Butte (also known as Devils Tower) before heading on to South Dakota and the Tin Lizzie Gaming Resort, located in Deadwood.  We figured we’ve gambled enough on this trip, so we’ll simply be staying a the Hampton Inn there, but with a name like Tin Lizzie we just had to check it out.


On the Road Again

We’re pleased to report we’re spending the night in Billings, MT after wrapping up the engine work on the ’11 this morning.

Of course, we took our time making sure we got it right, but from the time the engine was cool enough to work on to the time it was hot again was right at 24 hours, and, as you may recall, that included some bull riding and sleep. Granted, Scott did all the hard work, and we think he was pleased when we finally left him alone to work while we went bull riding. (Okay, we didn’t really go bull riding but we know a lot about bull so watching the professional riders, including a young man who graduated high school just last year, pretty much makes us competitive in the sport.)

Scott and Althea chasing us out of town in the ’19 T Runabout.

With engine repairs completed, it was time for one of our batteries to die, which it did this morning. In and of itself, not having a battery to start the car is not a major issue unless you happen to not be parked on a hill. It’s pretty straight forward to jump-start a T when you’re on a hill: hold the brake, throw it into high gear, switch the magneto to the “on” position, release the brake while holding neutral with the low-speed clutch pedal, and release the pedal when you’re coasting fast enough to turn the engine over a few times via the driveshaft that’s now turning with the wheels. (Don’t forget to put the low speed clutch back to the neutral position once the engine starts or you’ll need more hill.) We’ll see about replacing the battery tomorrow, maybe, but it’s under the rear seat which is under all our luggage and spare parts so when we do change the battery it will be in the morning before we pack up or in the evening when we unpack.

Overall, we have to say our time spent in Wyoming was exceptional. The scenery is beautiful, the weather (this time of year) is pleasant, and everyone we met was friendly and welcoming. If you ever find yourself in this neck of America we’re sure you won’t regret it. We didn’t.

Hanging out in Billings.

But we’ve moved on to Montana for a spell and we’ll bed down tonight here in Billings near the Yellowstone River, just a few miles north of where the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River ties in before they both flow on to the the Missouri. We’re going to try to get an early start in the morning to chip away at the distance standing between us and Mount Rushmore, but based on a cursory scan for lodging options it’ll either be a short day or a very long day. Regardless how it turns out, we’ll have Scott and Althea Conger to thank for getting us back on the way.

The Great Reveal


In our last post we promised we’d have decided which route we’d be taking through or around the Bighorn mountains by the next day’s deadline, and we did. We’re ready to reveal that route to our readers now, but we think it deserves a little discussion on our rationalization.

Since our trip began 11 days and over 1,100 miles ago, you may have noticed we’ve been spending quite a few days in the mountains and that was by design. Were we adverse to mountain touring we would have opted for a more southerly route but then we’d be baking in this heatwave everyone’s going on about.

During our tour in Yellowstone it became apparent the ’11 wasn’t pulling it’s weight and the ’10 started complaining. It wasn’t obvious at first, just a few little annoying things that any car going through midlife crisis might do, but soon it became more apparent that the ’11 was no longer interested in chasing the ’10 up the hills like it used to and instead would happily drag itself up the hills in low gear but sulk and complain high gear was too hard.

In the ’11s defense, it can only choose between high and low gears to climb, whereas the ’10 has an aftermarket, but original for the time, Ruckstell two-speed rear end which gives it the advantage of having two additional gears: Ruckstell high, which is the same ratio as Ford high, and Ruckstell low, which is between Ford high and Ford Low. In other words, the Ruckstell rear end has an intermediate gear, which allows the ’10 to climb with more speed. Ford low and Ruckstell low allows it to climb buildings…

The ’11 had the usual excuses: very low (85) octane gas at high altitude, a misfiring electrical connection to the #3 cylinder, or the added weight of luggage slowing the car down. But none of those excuses held water when examined closely, and besides, the car seemed to have the same top speed as always, would climb okay in low gear and only complained when in high gear, bogging down on the hills.

So Saturday morning, after some late night/early morning rain had passed through, we started looking closer at the ’11’s engine with Scott and Althea Conger, local Wyomingites whom we had met for breakfast.

Scott and Althea live about 30 miles north of Cody on the banks of the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River, where Scott keeps his collection of Model Ts and had offered (via our blog) advice about roads through Wyoming suitable for the Ts as well as any assistance we might need while passing through.

Having unwittingly committed himself in such fashion, we called Scott asking whether he might have a few spare inner tubes we could travel with since we wanted to restock our inventory, (Due to certain circumstances, including our new-found lack of interest in holding to a schedule plus our typically late arrivals each evening at our next destinations, we found it difficult to commit to any particular mail-drop that our parts vendor could send them to. Plus, we weren’t in any real hurry since we weren’t yet foolishly low in supply).

Scott said no but we invited him to breakfast anyway since he had also mentioned he’d like to see the cars when we drove through, and there was a chance we’d get a free breakfast in return of our offer.

By now we had put together a pretty clear picture of what wasn’t ailing the ’11, leaving us to consider this was a bit more serious than a quick fix in a motel parking lot. Scott was drawing the same conclusion after we described the symptoms and remedies we had tried, but probably mostly after watching our efforts trying to start the car for an hour after it had been soaked by the previous night’s rain (we had left it uncovered). Also, using a compression tester he brought with him it appeared we had no compression in the #3 cylinder.

For those of you unaware, an internal combustion engine generally* operates by rapidly building up pressure inside each of the cylinders in turn, and then using that pressure to rotate the crankshaft which is attached to the drive shaft and wheels. Since one of our cylinders appeared to be unable to do that we were effectively driving a 3-cylinder car instead of the original 4 installed by Henry Ford, although fortunately for us everything else associated with that cylinder (valves and lifters and springs) all seemed to be in order.

*There is significantly more going on than what’s being describe here, but in the end you just need to know we want the engine to move the wheels.

At any rate, we got the car started and drove the 30 miles to Scott and Althea’s garage where we tore into the engine after we had lunch and let the engine cool. Within about 40 minutes we had the cylinder head off the car and the engine block (with pistons and valves) exposed to reveal what was going on inside the ’11’s engine that was preventing it from climbing as it should.  The #3 exhaust valve had been so eroded by the extreme environment it operates in (heat and pressure) that it couldn’t seal the exhaust port well enough to hold pressure inside the cylinder each time we were trying to explode some gasoline in there to raise the pressure really high. We also found that we had another exhaust valve that didn’t look too happy about it’s working environment, either, although so far it was still faithfully doing it’s job but may have wanted to quit any day now.

The ’11 in Scott’s garage.
To make a long story short, Scott, it turns out, had some spare valves on hand without which we’d be spending several days in Cody awaiting delivery of new valves from our parts vendor. He also had the machine shop and tools needed to do this ‘valve job’ correctly and by last night we had the new valves installed and taken in a live rodeo, although Scott didn’t attend the rodeo with us because he had tickets to go to the next day’s event plus he was busy installing the second valve for us while we were at the rodeo.

The younger ones learning about Model T engine repairs, as well as documenting it for his own blog.
So this morning we’ll button everything  back up, reunite the two Ts and set off for our next destination, which we will now also reveal to you: someplace around Billings, MT, probably, but maybe a little further depending on what time we actually depart later this morning.

Digging into the engine.
We can’t express enough our sincere thanks and appreciation to Scott and Althea, and we plan on writing another post describing in more detail the repair work that was done.  The methodology Scott uses is worthy of documenting for others who never thought they could do such a critical repair by themselves, although certain tools and fixtures are required.  Regardless, with Scott’s approval we’ll capture that for others to use.

At the rodeo.
That’s the news for now, and we’ll keep everyone posted on our progress today when able.

(NB.  Our “parts vendor” remains anonymous only because there are several potential vendors and we have no loyalty, plus they have reputations to uphold.)

Heat Wave

It’s come to our attention there’s a heat wave smothering much of the country these days, but you’ll forgive us if we are unimpressed. Something we forgot to mention earlier today is that it was 48 degrees or so on top of Sylvan Pass as we drove through in the rain. And that’s when the rain wasn’t in the shape of hail, coming at us sideways from the wind.

Here comes the rain across Yellowstone Lake.

We are not bringing this up because we are braggarts, but instead because of an observation we made: the oldest of the crew were cold and determined, while the youngest of the group were cold and uncomplaining. Which is a wonderful thing to experience first hand when all we hear about these days is how “soft” we’re growing as a country. Like most everything else we’re presented with, you have to read beyond the headline to find the buried lede.

We remember our first cross-country road trip just over 40 years ago. Of course things were different then, like route planning with Triple-A Trip-Tiks and looking out the back window of a blue Mercury Marquis station wagon wondering what was on the other side of all the signs we were passing.

But two things remain the same: a question of what’s over the next hill, and the memories of what you found there. Those are the things that never get old and certain people in every generation can’t shake that sense of adventure and reward.

This trip is, of course, not a run-of-the-mill cross-country and with that comes additional rewards. The younger ones among us are learning about the cars, fighting to be the one who crank-starts the engines. And the older ones are reminding the younger ones that the engine can bite them if the spark lever isn’t retarded and their thumb isn’t under the crank handle along with the rest of their fingers. The antique auto hobby is being passed down to the next generation and willingly accepted.

Each cranks the car they’re assigned to for the day.

The younger ones are also learning that a certain responsibility comes with driving these cars on public roads. Everyone’s in a hurry, even when sightseeing, but we can’t be even if we wanted to be. So we pull over every so often to let others pass and based on the number of cars taking pictures of us as they go by we’re not annoying them too much.

Which is good, because we had originally planned on taking the dirt Stagecoach Trail from Wapiti to Cody but instead took what Teddy Roosevelt called “the 50 most scenic miles in America” and is now called the Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway. Sure, there were more cars than we’d prefer, but Teddy couldn’t have been more right.

Buffalo Bill Cody Scenic Byway

As we sit down to write this over a steak dinner (because the Cody Cattlewomen proclaim Wyoming to be Beef Country and we couldn’t find an argument otherwise) we have yet to to settle on our route for tomorrow. There’s the standard, well-traveled route over the Bighorn mountains, a more remote route at slightly lower elevation through Ten Sleep, or a flatter route through Montana. There are reasons for considering each one but we’ll figure it out before tomorrow morning’s deadline. In the meantime we’ll continue talking about today’s adventure and discuss whether what we tinkered on earlier this afternoon was the cure or just the bandaid. Regardless, it’ll be another day of touring, sightseeing and adventure.

Shade tree mechanics at A Western Rose Motel in Cody, WY

P. S. We are spending the night at A Western Rose Motel in Cody, WY. Our hosts, Brenda and Mark, have been incredibly gracious, helpful and patient with us as we work on the cars and drip oil in their driveway. It may seem we plug everywhere we go in exchange for accommodations but we assure you we’re going broke while meeting some of the nicest people in the country, and it’s worth every penny.

Car Wash

We couldn’t get a note off to everyone this morning but we’ve stopped for lunch and wanted to update everyone on our progress.

Yesterday we had a nice tour of a portion of the lower loop of Yellowstone, including (of course) Old Faithful. We departed there this morning, waking up to the coolest morning we’ve had so far and we dressed in layers based on the forecast. We also had our rain gear standing by since the forecast called for scattered showers.

The showers did turn out to be scattered but we were able to find them all so we’ll chalk that up to washing the cars for the first time of the tour.

The climb out from Yellowstone through Sylvan Pass (el. 8,530′) was beautiful and the cars behaved well. We’re now enjoying lunch outside the east entrance of Yellowstone at a great little place called Pahaska Tepee Resort. Certainly worth the stop for the bison burger and friendly staff.

Sylvan Pass
Bison burger at Pahaska Tepee Resort

We’ll depart here to hopefully meet up with an old friend we’ve just met, Scott Conger, who’s been extremely helpful with our route planning and Model T field service.

More this evening.

Colter’s Hell

Today, we’re off to visit Colter’s Hell, once thought to be a mythical place of fire and brimstone.

Today we call it Yellowstone, and although Paleo-Indians were familiar with the area more than 10,000 years ago, incredibly the first detailed survey of what is now the Park wasn’t conducted until 1869 by three privately funded explorers.

There are five of us, and we don’t have squat for funding, but we’ll also be exploring the area today and tomorrow. We are astutely aware that the area is also known in popular culture as a “supervolcano” with three previously-known eruptions occurring roughly 600,000-800,000 years apart. The most recent of these occurred about 640,000 years ago and it may be due to blow again soon, but most scientists agree it won’t be until next Monday at the earliest so we should be well clear by then.

The weather forecast for today is sunny in the mid-70s, but tomorrow may bring showers with a high in the low-50s! We expect to work our way towards Cody, WY on Friday where, if the timing works out, we’ll take in a rodeo and try to win a belt buckle.

The Hard Truth About Life on the Road

Cruising in Idaho through a canola field.

Every year we get hundreds of emails from our readers asking how they, too, can live a romantic life on the road without really knowing what they’re doing.  But the unfortunate hard truth we’re required to respond with is that it is neither romantic nor for the faint at heart.  In fact, it’s actually hard work.

This morning, after leaving our camp ground cleaner than we found it, we began to navigate through the southeast corner of Idaho from Holbrook, near the Utah border up to Ashton, near the Wyoming border.  On the face of it, that’s pretty easy to do and many people actually do that every year.  But unless you’re a cartographer and a topographer, to do that same trip in an old car can be quite challenging, with only the appearance of  being easy.  Wrong turns or steep hills can spell disaster for an antique car tourist, and quite frankly the novelty of rolling into our destination just as the sun is setting and the restaurants are closing is wearing off.

Once again we were racing daylight.

Another useful skill set is the ability to understand music.  Just like an experienced harmonica player who has to study the notes he’s playing, we drivers, too, must listen and study the notes that our cars are making.  The engine sings a song of hopefully only a few, constant notes, but which can vary in pitch or tempo depending on the mood of the driver.  It’s actually quite a simple but lovely song,  But when other, unexpected engine notes start playing, the driver must carefully study those notes and instantly identify and ponder every possible catastrophic meaning of these new notes.  Even when the correct remedy has been identified and the unwanted notes have been removed, it is the driver’s responsibility to continue thinking about the interruption and consider that perhaps there was more to the music than was originally thought and the next time he hears those notes again it might be at a traffic light with a line of cars behind him, or in the middle of a remote valley with nary a soul around.

The Goldilocks sweet spot for cruising in the T.

Finally, there are the annoyances of nature.  Modern-day drivers can isolate themselves from nature simply by rolling up the windows (which aren’t really “rolled up” anymore) and hanging a little tree on the rear-view mirror.  But it is not unheard of for an antique car motorist to be, say, stung by an angry bee which couldn’t see fit to avoid bouncing off the driver’s seat and then flying up the back of his shirt as if the driver meant to hit the bee in the first place.  Or to witness other animals extend their authority beyond their assigned habitat simply because it takes us quite some time to get where we’re going and sometimes we need stop and relieve ourselves by stretching our legs or other such activities.

Fortunately there was a fence between the two.

In summary, the idea the just anyone could, or should, spend their productive years living on the road is truly misguided and should only be attempted by professionals.  Everyone else is much better off watching from afar.

Off to Ashton

Good morning everyone. We apologize as we thought this post was in the mail but apparently we didn’t add enough postage.

Today we’re off to Ashton, ID. We had a great, peaceful evening on the lakeside, and the raccoons, coyotes, birds, crickets and jumping fish didn’t bother us at all.

We’re stopping for lunch after driving up Arbon Valley, where it appears likely most of us have consumed some of their wheat or potatoes. In the approximate 68 miles we drove getting to our first stop, we might have passed two dozen cars (or they passed us, anyway.)

Today we expect we should be over 1,000 miles down, not quite a third of what we expect for the entire trip.

More this evening when we arrive in Ashton, preparing for our arrival in Yellowstone tomorrow.

A Plan Is Something You Staple Changes To

It’s late, again, and hard to concentrate on the task at hand. Not because we’re tired but because we’re bedding down in our hammocks under the full moon and stars tonight, not 75 feet from the edge of Stone Reservoir in the Curlew National Grassland.

Our campground for the night.

It wasn’t easy getting here, but we made a promise to you that we’d make it to Utah today, and we did. Oddly, Curlew National Grassland is in Idaho. Let us explain.

Interstate 80, which by now you are familiar with, really runs the show in the northeast corner of Nevada. On paper, there appear to be other options for conveyance of goods and people, but it’s really I-80 which dictates the flow of things.

Fortunately for us, and for the desk sergeant at the Nevada State Police office in Elko, this hasn’t always been the case. Prior to the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, there were smaller, paved roads running about between the various towns in this area. But over time these roads were abandoned and then forgotten, except by the locals who may still live near some of the old paths.

So when we departed Wells this morning in search of the one road which would lead us out of Wells and towards Utah, we naturally had reservations about what we’d find but we’re full of hope this was The One. We only needed to travel about 28 miles down the highway, but our route would be 53 miles.

The turnoff for the road was exactly at an off-ramp from the highway and not more than half a mile later we passed a woman standing in the front of her house. It occurred to us that we should stop and ask her about this particular road, which we did, but she indicated it would not be wise to take it to where we wanted to go. We huddled to discuss what she was telling us and agreed it was not the answer we were looking for so we thanked her for her time and continued on into the desert on the dusty dirt road.

A mile or so further we found it necessary to open a barbed-wire gate strung across the road, but a sign said “Please close the gate” so we felt our presence was expected.

Closing the barbed wire gate.

The road was serviceable enough but our speed was limited to about 15 mph on average. The road also followed along roughly the same path as a rail line, reminding us of an earlier post regarding two boys and their walk to a rail line for help.

Spotting an old road sign gave us courage to continue on.

Hands down the road provided us with incredible vistas of wide open ranges and solitude. But it also kept us on our toes. There were sections with enough washboarding that even at very slow speeds the rear wheels of the cars would try to take a different track than the front wheels. Rain water runoff would carve deep canyons along one side of the road before suddenly cutting across the road again, leaving us helpless to avoid hitting the deep ruts with our skinny tires, flexing the car body and jolting the steering wheel from ones hands. We don’t recall the exact number, but there is a finite number of times one can listen to a tire scrape against the underside of its fender before one starts to become concerned.

Eventually we found ourselves on an abandoned railroad bed which had been converted to a “road” when the new line was built, and it was certainly exciting to be 10 feet or more above the ground on the raised bed as it curved through several gulches until we came to a point where a gulch had had enough of the crossing and washed it away.

The raised railroad bed was washed away.

At any rate, it was a wonderful 53 mile drive but it took us longer than expected. So once we were back on the pavement we decided we really had no chance of completing our planned route by nightfall, and decided to proceed as far as we could while still being able to find lodging. That took us to Snowville, UT for gas and food, and another 8 miles north into Idaho.

Tomorrow morning we’ll plan again, and tomorrow night we’ll tell you what really happened.

Utah Part Deux

After taking some of our “leisure” time yesterday to swim in the pool and do maintenance on the vehicles, we’re headed to Utah today and this time we mean it.

We lose an hour heading into Utah (MDT) but the sun doesn’t care and as far as it’s concerned it’ll give us about the same amount of daylight barring any entropic catastrophe.

We figure we’re two days behind where we wanted to be at this point of the trip, but only because we had to make lodging reservations at the national parks well in advance so that was the schedule we were trying to adhere to. However, we’ve been canceling those one day at a time (we had a multi-day reservation window, figuring we’d land there at some point within it) and now that we’re losing interest in keeping a schedule, the trip is becoming even more enjoyable. If you’re sitting at a desk today reading this, you should try it someday.

Spirits are high, supplies are sufficient, and our wanderlust is boundless.

Sounds of Adventure

For any audiophiles out there, here are some of the sounds we’re experiencing along our trip.

The four ignition coils cheerily idling:

Driving on a smooth road at 30 mph:

Driving on a gravel road at about 10 mph:

Driving through Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park, with a new harmonica:

Lessons in Life

To the ends of the earth.
School may be out of session for our youngest companions, but that doesn’t mean the learning has stopped.  Our group consists of three generations of men, and each generation has something to teach the other two.  But each generation shall pass in time, so we cherish the moments we have together.

Spending time together.

However, before a generation passes it is their duty to hand down to the next generation the lessons they’ve learned while temporarily living and traveling in this world we call Earth.  It is also the duty of the younger generations to mostly accept the lessons being offered.

Which is why we’re still in Nevada.

We departed as planned this morning intending to reach Utah by nightfall but one of the cars decided it really didn’t feel like giving 100% to the effort and, as such, pretended it couldn’t climb hills very well.  So we pulled over and, knowing full well the problem was related to fuel starvation (because experience had told us so), we tore into the fuel line and carburetor.  About an hour later we had confirmed the sage advice passed down from the eldest that 90% of carburetor problems are electrical and, re-seating one of the four ignition coils, we solved the problem.  As a bonus, the fuel-to-air ratio adjustment valve was cleaned, the spark plugs were inspected, and the ignition timer was cleaned and lubricated.  However, we had now lost an hour of our day that we had planned to travel with.

Setting out again on the first leg of our trip to Wells, NV we figured the journey should take us about 2.5 hours depending on the condition of the roads.  We knew the condition of I-80 was good based on recent knowledge, but we also knew we couldn’t keep the Nevada State Police liquor cabinet full so we had a different route in mind.  As it turns out, the road conditions were mostly favorable along our 66 mile route, and we know this because we drove about 30 miles of them twice.   Happily, the car that wouldn’t climb showed no hesitation to climb a 6,457′ summit it didn’t need to climb.

Mountain Valley on Top of the Earth

The problem, it turned out, was in the stars.  Generations gone by navigated by using the sun during the day and the stars at night.  Today, we navigate primarily by artificial stars we can “see” during the day, and we call it GPS.  Although not an original option with the model year, a GPS had been installed in one of the cars to do exactly what it had been manufactured to do: navigate.  So when, during the course of our travels today the eldest among us said “we’re heading west”, everyone else in the car took note but asked the GPS for an answer.  In the second car, which had been following the first, other generational lessons were being taught so it was of no major curiosity when the first car decided to turn around.

Having just traversed this section of road, and recognizing there was additional opportunity for one generation to teach the next, it became clear what was needed to be done.   Switching seats, but only after confirming none of the group believed we were in violation of any federal, state or local laws, and even if we were this could be considered normal by some cultures, we commenced driving lessons and proceeded east and then south.   It was at the top of the aforementioned 6,457′ summit when we felt we had driven far enough south to know it wouldn’t be taking us north anytime soon.

Three generations exploring the world.

So, tonight we’re spending time together in Wells and tomorrow will offer us new opportunities to learn.  If we heed the lessons, perhaps we’ll talk about them in Logan tomorrow night.


Logan’s Run

Good morning everyone . Our plan for today called for getting up to Logan, UT but since the great Austin Holdup, and with the police on our tails we’re going to instead aim for somewhere around Snowville, UT. This will be our last day in the Great State of Nevada.  We didn’t know it was the 7th largest state in the union, but we sure do now.

Today’s journey will have us following more dirt roads, including the old railroad bed of the Central Pacific Railway which was part of the first transcontinental railroad.  As such, we’ll try to get to Promontory, UT.  We’ll also be checking out Terrace Cemetery, which we suppose looks like this:

Terrace Cemetery

Not much gas or other civilization between here and there, so if you don’t hear from us within a couple days you can retrace our steps here except we’ll divert to Snowville instead of pressing on to Logan. We figure our longest leg will be about 140 miles between gas stations.

Here’s the PDF version  of our intended route.

Okay, Just Hear Us Out On This One

You may recall an earlier post from today in which we assured our astute readers that we would NOT be jumping onto I-80 between Carlin and Wells, NV. To do so would obviously mean violating Nevada State Code which says: “A person shall not operate a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic”. It would also violate a bond of trust between us and our readers.

So when we jumped on I-80 today between Carlin and Elko with a plan to avoid impeding the normal and reasonable flow of traffic, we were fairly confident no violations of trust or state code were occurring.

We would also like to make it known that we fully intended, and attempted, to proceed on the directions previously published, but after some hilariously harrowing ventures into the back country trails east of Carlin, prudence dictated we try a different plan of attack, and quickly since the sun was rapidly setting on us.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, we should probably go back to where today’s venture began, at Reese River Cabins, owned and operated by the incredibly wonderful Karl and Stacy Brooks.  But before we can do that, we owe you an explanation as to how, exactly, we ended up at Reese River Cabins.  That story begins in Gabbs, NV, a town in which we arrived late because we had flat tire in Hawthorne, NV, but that’s no longer important except to comment that the road between Hawthorne and Lee Vining, CA can be incredibly lonely and we were fortunate we noticed the low-pressure tire while refueling in Hawthorne.

Route 167 to Nevada

Leaving Hawthorne later than intended, we headed east for Luning, NV and then turned north for Gabbs.  But the climb out of Luning on Nevada route 361 left the cars hot and tired, requiring two rest stops on the way up to Calavada Summit (elevation 6,254′) near Mount Ferguson.  While we were enjoying the views, we also kept one eye on the clock as our goal for the day was to sleep in Austin, NV.

Climbing Calavada Summit, south of Gabbs.

Once over the summit, we headed down into Gabbs valley which consists of open ranges, expansive vistas and, there in the remote distance, the magnesium mine on the hill above Gabbs.

Upon arrival to Gabbs, which really sits to the side of route 361 and covers only 2.2 square miles, we made an impulsive decision to scare up the locals like two outlaws on horseback riding into town.  Creeping into the silent town at about 10 mph, our ignition coils pleasantly chuffing like baby steam locomotives, we spotted a small market directly ahead and tied up outside.  We all checked our watches again.

The market in Gabbs, NV

That’s when we met Ken.

Ken had saddled up to our horseless carriages like many others do, but he was outgoing and friendly and asked questions about our route ahead.  Our plan was to head up and over Ione (Eye-Own) Summit between Bald Mountain and Buffalo Mountain on the Reese River Valley Scenic Drive, but Ken suggested the best way to Austin was straight up 361 (the road we drove in on) until it bumped into route 50, then head east to Austin.

We explained we really didn’t like traveling the wide-open roads and unless he thought it was a bad idea we preferred to try the Scenic Drive.  However, we also admitted that we were concerned we wouldn’t make it Austin before sunset if we took that route.

Ken, who by now also had our attention on his pleasant-smelling cigar, said his brother lived along that route and even had cabins for rent.  He’d be happy to put us in touch with him if we thought we’d want to stop there that evening.  Although Austin was our goal, we immediately stopped watching the clock and started thinking about making one more stop at the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, home of an old ghost town and the most abundant concentration and largest fossil remains of a marine reptile which swam in the ocean above Nevada 225 million years ago.  Saying our thanks and goodbyes, off we went.

Headed up to Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park

By the time we left the State Park the shadows were getting longer and we knew for certain our goal was to spend the night in some unknown cabins owned by the brother of a stranger who recommended them to us.  Why not.

To find the cabins, we were instructed to pass Ione, also known as the “Town that refused to die”, continue past the Yomba Tribal Council, and a couple miles past that there would be sign on the right which said Reese River Cabins.

Passing through Ione, NV
Morning at Reese River Cabins

We had spoken with Karl Brooks, the owner of Reese River Cabins, back in Gabbs when his brother, Ken, called him for us to see about staying there.  With darkness falling and our headlights on, while driving down a deserted, dusty road with sporadic cellular coverage, we found ourselves poking along looking for the sign.  Then, as the last hues of sunlight were fading from the evening sky, we saw the headlights of an approaching car (probably only the third car we’d seen on that road all day).  It was Karl and his dog Arthur, who had come out to find us and lead us back to the cabins which turned out to be only about a mile ahead.  By the time we had both cars parked and shut down, Karl had our cabins ready and we joined him by the camp fire that had been built up earlier.  There are seven cabins available for rent at Reese River Cabins, and if you ever find yourselves in the area, or are looking for place to just get away from it all, call Karl and Stacy.

Which brings us to today (Sunday).

Sunday morning we completed the last 20 miles of the Reese River Scenic Drive on our way to Austin, where we stopped for a late breakfast.  We had driven close to 40 miles of dirt roads and people were starting to look at us funny.

The dirt road dust is building up. These wood-spoke wheels are painted dark blue. (We also vibrated a nut off the brake shoe!)

After what seemed an eternity to get our food and pay the bill, we found ourselves once again watching the clock and thinking about where we were going to stay tonight.  At issue was whether we took a longer route on paved roads, or a shorter route on dirt roads.  We were trying to make up time from our unscheduled transmission repairs two days ago, so after talking it over with the locals about the condition of the dirt roads, we once again opted for the road less traveled.  We knew we weren’t going to get to our planned stop of Wells, and we figured Carlin, NV was a good target.  It was do-able even on the dirt roads and it would have lodging, so we headed east out of Austin on route 50, climbed up and over Austin Summit (el. 7484 ft) and took a left on Grass Valley Road.  Ten miles later we were playing in the dirt again.

Which brings us to Carlin and the roads we’d planned on taking to Wells.

Since we arrived at Carlin with enough daylight to make some additional progress towards Wells, we noticed Elko lay right on our planned path and was only about 20 miles away.  Again because we’d be avoiding the highway, we planned on taking the dirt roads.  Pretty simple, just follow the roads which follow the highway.  Except no one told us about the tunnel.

As it turns out, a tunnel can be, in some cases, accurately described as the absence of a mountain.  And the Carlin tunnel is missing about 3/10ths of a mile of mountain.  But the dirt roads surrounding the area aren’t missing the mountain and, in fact, to get where the tunnel ends, the dirt roads must go over the mountain in a very steep, but relatively short distance, or by going in a relatively not-so-steep but very long distance.  And therein lay the problem.  Unbeknownst to us, our planned route was of the former kind.

The first part of the non-highway route was pleasant enough, even paved, enticing us to complete the challenge:


But the dirt road turn-off was a little more rustic than we had been used to and before long we knew we needed another plan that would a) extract us from the current situation; b) get us to Elko before sundown; and c) allow us to continue on our own four wheels (i.e. not be carried on the back of truck).

No way can this GPS be wrong!

It’s late, and we won’t bother you with the details but an extremely polite, professional and helpful Trooper of the Nevada State Police, Dan Schwedhelm, agreed to a proposal we had made and delivered us safely to the other side of the tunnel.  So now we’re in Elko, thanks to the Nevada State Police and we’ll be headed out the door in the morning for more adventure.

WARNING: Do not try this at home without the express, verbal consent of your friendly local authorities!

Next Stop – Wells, NV

Today’s route continues our journey diagonally through Nevada, with Wells as our destination.  If you look at our proposed route, it appears from a distance that we’ll be jumping onto I-80 between Carlin and Wells but I assure you we’re not.  Here’s a closer look at part of that section of our planned route:

Next to I80

That would be I-80 on the far right, and our path takes along the dirt road on the far left.

By clicking on the above link to our route you’ll also see “Pilot Travel Center”.  Although a couple of us are pilots, and another one wants to be one someday, we’re smart enough to recognize that as a gas station, which is important because it’s the first chance we’ll have in 120 miles to get gas.

To answer your next question, the cars have 10 gallon gas tanks and, when properly tuned and operated, can get about 18 miles per gallon.

Austin, Nevada 89310 to Wells, NV – Google Maps

[Editors note: because of our delayed entry into Austin, we will probably haul up short and spend the night in Carlin, but we’ll see how quickly we can proceed on the dirt, but graded, roads. ]

Less is More

We didn’t make it to Austin yesterday and we were rewarded for our efforts.

Near Ione, NV, pop. 41. “The town that refused to die.”
Our unplanned accommodations last night.

We have so much to tell and share but we’re now working on our routing for today to get towards Wells, NV. We’ll post from along the way today.

On the road again.

Day 3 – Austin

Wait, what?  You guys are in Texas already?  Nah, it’s Austin, NV located right on route 50, also known as the “loneliest highway in America”.

While we’re not taking a highway, we’re sure to be more lonely than the cars on route 50.  Today’s trip takes us on the Reese River Valley Scenic Drive.  You can read more about that drive here but we can expect one or two pretty hearty climbs, a ghost-town or two, dinosaurs, dirt/gravel roads, isolation and one of the nicest drives in Nevada.

They should have bought a Ford.

Today’s entire route can be found here.

Let’s Talk About Today

There were many reasons we wanted to make this journey, and arguably at the top of the list was to introduce the youngest of our clan to the Spirit of America.

Happily, our trip does not end today but were that to be we could say with confidence we’ve met that goal.

Today, as you’ve undoubtedly learned, we determined that the six-mile long, eight percent downhill grade coming out of Tioga Pass caused more damage to the ’11’s low-speed clutch than first believed and further travel would not be possible unless the clutch banding was replaced. Amazingly, but unsurprisingly, the eldest traveler among our group happened to bring along a set of Kevlar bands with him “because I had them”, says he. And with those in hand we set out to change all three bands in the 11’s transmission (low-speed clutch, reverse and brake).

Changing bands is, on the face of it not too difficult (the Kevlar band manufacturer states “No special skill required!”), but it can involve digging into the car’s drivetrain to expose the transmission bands if certain “upgrades” have not been accomplished on the past. Our 11’s transmission did not have upgrades.

So here we were, in Lee Vining, CA on the shores of Mono Lake strategizing where and how we were going to change the bands. Our hotel couldn’t host us in their parking lot (next tenants would be there later) and it was going to be another blazingly sunny day.

Which brings us to the Spirit of America. Just down the street from us was Lee Vining Shell (as in Shell gasoline) and we visited them to inquirer about using some of their parking space to effect our repairs, Not only did the owner, Shelley, say yes but he also cleared his one-car bay out for us so we could put the ’11 inside and out of the day’s heat while offering us free rein of the tool boxes and shop supplies. We learned that Lee Vining Shell was a family business, that everyone working there seemed exceptionally intent on helping the countless people who stopped in or phoned with rough-running cars, flat tires, requiring assistance with getting pulled back onto the road (think 4×4) and even people looking for inner tubes with which to go rafting in the local rivers. They enjoyed good-natured ribbing amongst themselves and had stories to tell about the local happenings. And they never blinked when our three- to four-hour project turned into six.

But most humbling, when at the end of the day we offered what we thought was a generous financial “thank you”, Shelley and Debby simply said the pleasure was theirs and we could just pay it forward. They, we know, represent the millions of Americans that make our country great, as opposed to the seemingly handful of people we always hear about in the media that we are supposed to find important. And if nothing else, we hope the youngest of our crowd are learning this, too.

Lee Vining Shell. Go there.

Day 3 Update: Brake and Clutch Work

Oldest son/nephew/grandson here to update on the brake and clutch work mentioned earlier. We thought we may be able to do some tune-ups and get going with a late start, but the problem turned out to be a bit more severe, and we may be taking a day to fix up the transmission bands. However, if we finish early we may head to Hawthorne, a town on our original route.

Behold, the Model T transmission!

We’d also like to sincerely thank Shelley, Debby, Cory, and the entire family at the Lee Vining Shell for allowing us to use their bay to keep the car out of the hot sun. If you’re ever in Lee Vining, make sure to visit their super friendly and helpful service station.

Belated Introductions

It occurs to us we’ve gotten this far without proper introductions.

Our group of tourists consists of two fathers, four brothers, four sons, a grandfather, two grandsons, two nephews and an uncle. All packed into just two cars, a red 1910 Ford and a blue 1911 Ford.

AND, on the first day of touring we even threw in another brother, another uncle and two more nephews!

Here’s a picture of the entire group, taken on that first day:

Okay, so maybe we made those introductions a little more complicated than necessary, but it’s true nonetheless.

Here’s a better view of the cars:

That’s the 1911 in front, with the 1910 behind it (and another ’11 behind that)*. This picture was taken on a different tour in Vermont and you see those brass cylinders standing upright on the running boards? Those are acetylene gas generators, the same kind of gas used by welders today, but also by coal miners way back when so they could see in the dark with their head lamps. Calcium carbide was placed in the lower section of the generator and water in the upper section. By dripping the water onto the calcium carbide through an adjustable valve, acetylene gas was produced and routed through rubber tubes up to the headlights. Then all the driver had to do is get out and light the headlights with a flame. (The side and tail lights are kerosene lamps). But we’ve removed those for this trip and installed safer, more reliable electric headlights which also freed up space on the running board for some of our gear.

* The ’11 in the background is owned by the father/grandfather on our trip. Of the approximately 15 million Model Ts built over a 20 year period, that car was built just 3 days after the blue ’11 owned by the father/son/brother!

Yosemite Valley? Tioga Pass? Mono Lake? Check!

Folks, we made it over Tioga Pass and it…is…beautiful!!!

All went well until the down slope leg into Lee Vining and the ’11 ended up overheating its brakes on an 8% grade, but we managed to work our way through the issue to get safely into camp. Definitely have some brake and clutch work to do in the morning.

More to follow, after we grab some chow.

Day 2 – Yosemite Valley

We’re getting a later start today than we hoped for due to a flat tire. More on that later.

Today will be one of the most challenging days for the cars.  Up and over Tioga Pass, el. 9945 feet.  Our destination is Lee Vining, CA.

Because it’s the beginning of peak tourist season, lodging is impossible to come by.  And because we can’t just “zip back and forth” between lodging and the sight-seeing destinations, we can really only drive through Yosemite today to give those of us who’ve never seen it before a reason to come back one day. We’ll start out with our car tops up, but as we enter the valley you can bet we’ll be putting them down so we can look up as well as out.

As far as getting up to Tioga Pass, we’ll be using every bit of the 22 horsepower our engines are rated for, although at that altitude they’ll be producing less power than that.

But once at the top, there’s yet another challenge…getting down.

Both our cars have original-style (correct for the period) aftermarket rear wheel brakes to augment Ford’s transmission brake design, but steep descents in a Model T are always approached with caution. Which is exactly how we plan to descend from the pass down to Lee Vining and the 760,000 year-old Mono Lake…cautiously.

Ultimately we may find that on the way up we’ll have to have the kids get out and push from behind, and on the way down we’ll have to have the kids get out and push from in front!

Oakhurst? Check!

Well folks, we’re in Oakhurst, CA after completing our 189 mile drive from Bakersfield today.  A great day of touring with only a minor delay late in the afternoon due to both cars overheating during a hill climb.  It was definitely a warm day but the real problem was that we needed to climb about 2400 feet, seemingly all at once!  The lesson learned was that we need to take a closer look at the topo maps and elevation profiles on the Google Maps bicycle feature.  Regardless, after letting the cars cool down during the climb, we were on the move again and pulled into Oakhurst late this afternoon.

Such a diverse drive today. The flat, expansive crop fields of the Central Valley, the rolling, golden foothills and the mountain lakes surrounded by rocky cliffs. Tonight we’ll sleep at the southwestern gateway to Yosemite Valley. Incredible!

Cruising right along.

Not a bad place to cool off.

One note: touring in an open car allows you to experience both the sights and smells along your journey. Blooming flowers, mountain air, lake winds or, when the manure spreaders are out, eau d’bouef.

Aaaaaaannnd They’re Off!!!!

“A tree as great as a man’s embrace springs from a small shoot;  A terrace nine stories high begins with a pile of earth;  A journey of a thousand miles starts under one’s feet.”  –  Laozi, Chapter 64 of the Tao Te Ching

“Sometimes a man wants to be stupid if it lets him do a thing his cleverness forbids.”  –  John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Today’s the first “official” day of the trip and we’re headed from Bakersfield, CA to the western gate of Yosemite National Park.  Although it will make for some long days, we’re hoping we can make 180-200 miles per day (+/-).

Here’s a Google Maps link to our planned route for the day, trying to avoid all the wide-open roads where people may be traveling more than twice as fast as us.  Here’s a PDF of the route.    [Note: We’re posting links to Google Maps with our routes, but we’re not sure what’s going on with them.  We’ve discovered that while looking at the link while using a laptop, the link shows our route as planned.  Looking at the link on a hand-held device (iPhone), Google Maps is for some reason showing a different route.  We’ll also post a .pdf file that captures the intended the route, although that file is less useful for anyone who wants to explore the route.] .

Clear skies are forecast, along with a high temperature of 99°F.  Only the first couple hundred Model Ts (in 1909) were equipped with a water pump for the engine cooling system.  Henry Ford soon thereafter decided to go with the simpler (and cheaper) thermosyphon design throughout the rest of engine production.  Hot engine water, being less dense than cooler water, rises up the return hose to the top of the radiator where it cools, becomes more dense, and sinks to the bottom of the radiator and returns into the engine block to complete the cycle.  This system has proven very effective but can be susceptible to overheating when the engine is worked hard at high ambient temperatures.  However, we have an ace up our sleeves…we can easily take the hoods off the cars and put them in the back seats if necessary to allow more airflow around the engine compartment.

Wish us luck, and we’ll see you on the road!


Today (Monday) we arrived in Bakersfield, where our cars have been patiently waiting for us since early April.

We shipped the cars out here from the east coast on a lift of opportunity when another group of cars from the Horseless Carriage Club Of America were headed out to CA for the annual board meeting and tour of Yosemite. Our cars were dropped off in Bakersfield where some extremely gracious hosts offered to store the cars in an airplane hangar.

The reunion with our cars was fantastic. The cars, being covered in dust and with spider webs from the floor to fenders and seats to ceiling were like perfect barn finds of days gone by. But after checking fluid levels and tire pressures, they fired right up.

We weren’t ready to pack the cars for the trip yet but we certainly wanted to drive them a bit, so what better way other than teaching our landlords how to drive a Model T?

Susan and her daughter-in-law Amanda at the controls after learning how to drive the T

Tomorrow, we’ll finish the tuning and preparations, shop for the things we didn’t want to send out on the cars or bring with us on the commercial flights out to CA, and finish packing. We’ll plan on setting out on Wednesday morning.

Similar, but Different

In 1910, Floyd Clymer, then age 14, and his younger brother, Bill (age 11), attempted to drive from Denver to Spokane by themselves in a Flanders 20.   They followed rough, rocky roads through the open prairies and high desert, sleeping out in the open beside clumps of sagebrush.  Now much of their route (between Laramie and Walcott, WY) can be driven on I-80.  When they broke down west of Laramie, they found the railroad tracks heading west and walked to the nearest flagging station where they sent a telegram home asking for spare parts.

The youngest of the five us are also ages 14 and 11.



Vehicle Maintenance

Obviously, when considering driving an old car across the country, one thinks a lot about vehicle maintenance.  Coincidentally, lots of people ask us how hard it is to do maintenance on the car.

Fortunately, there plenty of resources out there to help us keep the cars running in tip-top shape.  Here, for example, is the Ford Manual:


After reading through this booklet, it became evident to us that we really didn’t need to be too concerned with maintenance because it appears to be pretty straight forward.  Here, for example, are the instructions on removing a connecting rod (a fairly important component of the engine):


Of course, this “knocking in the engine” assumes the engine has been started and is actually running.  Let’s see what the manual says about starting the car.  (One of our cars has a starter and one of them does not):


So for those asking how hard it is to maintain the car…let’s just get them started first.

Which Way Do We Go?

For Route Planning, Pretend You’re a Bicycle

These days, driving across the country is almost as easy as saying you’re going to drive across the country, and almost as unremarkable.  Find the nearest on-ramp of an interstate highway and off you go.

But when your car’s top speed is about 35 mph on level ground, highways aren’t an option.  And, as most of us know, seeing the country from the highways isn’t really “seeing the country”.  So knowing your starting point and desired destination for the day, how are we planning our routes?

In the early 1900’s there were few motoring maps, and those that were published were often referred to as “guidebooks”.  Most of the guidebooks available for motorists were descriptive in nature, and not really maps (detailed maps, anyway).  This webpage describes what the first road trips were like using guidebooks for direction, with instructions such as these:

8.8         5.4         End of road; turn right with travel. Cross bridge over Platte River and RR.


3.4         1.7         End of road, turn right; curving left just beyond. Pass school on left 4.4. Turn right with road 5.0. Cross concrete bridge 5.2.

with the first number being the total distance (miles) from the start of the trip, and the second number being the distance between the last step and the next landmark.

Today we have incredible resources at our fingertips to plan our trips and, once on the road, to know our precise location anywhere on earth to within just a few feet.  So, like everyone else these days, we sat down with Google Maps to start our planning.  But resources like Google Maps are designed to get people to their desired destinations as quickly as possible, which means highways and other major roads.  But as mentioned above, those roads are neither usable nor desired for our cross-country trip.  So, we started doing a lot of hand-manipulation of the suggested Google Maps route between a starting point and the desired end point (for those of you familiar, we did a lot of ‘dragging and dropping’ of the suggested blue route line) but we quickly started hitting the 10 way-point limitation Google built into Google Maps.  This meant that unless we could build a daily route on the map in 10 way-points or less, we’d have to plan a series of shorter routes and then sum them up to get our total distances, stops, etc.  Then along came the bicycle.

Share the Road

After complaining about this “feature” to some coworkers, it was brought to our attention that you can force Google Maps to get you off the main roads by selecting the bicycle icon as the mode of transportation.  This greatly simplified our route planning, with the caveat that we had to make sure the route wasn’t taking us through a public gardens or on a ‘rails to trails’ bike path in some small town.  Now we could plan an entire day’s route, with step-by-step directions, in one sitting.  Of course, we still ‘forced’ Google Maps to roads we thought we might prefer, but most of the hard work about keeping us off the busy main roads was done for us.

We had to double-check (or at least spot-check) the Google-proposed route, but once again modern technology made this easy.  Almost every road in the United States has been visited by the funny-looking Google street-view car, so by simply using Google Map’s “Street View” we could virtually drop down onto the roads in our route and spot check them for size, condition, estimated traffic, and even turn points.  In fact, by the time we were done mapping our first several days’ worth of travel, it was commented that we no longer needed to go since we’d already ‘seen’ everything!

This is probably not a road we’d prefer to travel on….

Bad Road

But this one looks more promising!

Good Road