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.)