Across the USA in a Model-T
If you are a regular reader of our pages in this magazine you already know that we have a soft spot for early motoring adventures. We think it is fun to hitch a ride on a past event be retracing a map, looking at pictures or even deciphering handwritten notes that were often recorded on the bumpy roads of a trip. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that we were very excited when we recently received the notes and recollections of two unnamed, and presumably young, travelers who hopped in their 1914 Ford Model T and drove from Pittsburgh to San Francisco and then back to Pennsylvania during the summer of 1923.
The journal begins by describing the equipment with a handwritten note. It reads: “I drove to the coast & back in a 1914 Ford “Bug” (a cut-down body). The only extras were a foot throttle, 30” X 3 ½” tires all around, & Ruckstell 2-speed axle. Every day I kept a log of the run. I had no speedometer but used the Blue Books.”
Daily entries include total mileage, cities visited, condition and type of roads and finally, detailed notes about each segment of the journey. The notes section really gives the journal, trip and author personality. Here are a couple samples:
Saturday, June 16 (Eau Claire, WI – Montevideo, WI)
All gravel practically, thru flat farming country. By many pretty little lakes. Had a swim in one of them.
Indifferent roads at times little more than a little used lane. Grades 12% in places on buttes. Few good stretches of road. Thru wild, beautiful, dry, hot, lonely country. Used low gear for the first time since leaving Pittsburgh. The approaches to the grades were too sandy to get any start.
Naturally, over the span of nearly four months the travelers encountered bad weather. Here are some of their thoughts on the matter:
Tuesday & Wednesday, September 18 & 19 (No travel. Stayed in Flagstaff, AZ)
No travel, rain most of the time. All bridges on both sides of us washed out. No trains on Santa Fe until Thursday. Hundreds of motorists marooned all along the trail. Stayed at Hotel Weatherford.
Thursday, September 27 (Council Grove, KS – Kansas City, KS)
Rain during the night made the roads for first 50 miles terrible. Never knew what mud was before. This was the real gumbo. It was impossible to keep the car on the road. Just slid from one side to the other. Also lost my suitcase with four suits in it, among other things. Had gone about forty miles when it was found missing so we did not go back. The roads were too bad. Concrete last hundred miles. I mean about last eighty miles. Country began to get hilly as we neared Topeka and continued the rest of the way to Kansas City. Stayed at hotel there.
The only maintenance actually recorded in the logs included valve grinding on June 23rd and replacing two punctured tires on June 29th. Our travelers were also “pinched and fined $10 for speeding” on June 28th. Their speed was a blistering 46mph!
For the 4,113 mile trip out west the Model T averaged 20 ½ mph. The trip back east was shorter but slower as they covered 3,054 miles averaging 18mph. Just reading this journal makes you tired, stiff and sore and the author predictably concludes his own journal by stating “I was in an awful hurry to get home.”
This journal will be on display at the library during your next visit. In addition to the journal we plan to supplement the display with Blue Books, maps and newspaper clippings from the summer of 1923. We hope to see you soon!