Dearborn or Bust 1967

"Model T's Returning Home"

 

Doug Boilesen, 2015

In 1967 I caravaned with three Model T's from Lincoln, Nebraska to the birthplace of the Model T Ford and attended the 1967 National Model T convention at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

The following are some memories from that trip that I took with my fellow members of the Nebraskaland Chapter of the Model T Ford Club of America: Tom Lutzi with his 1913 Model T and his parents George and Hazel Lutzi as passengers; Jim Jensen with his wife Mary navigating their 1917 Model T; Dan Buckner with his wife Sharon trailering their 1921 Model T; and me in my 1917 Model T with my neighborhood friend Stan Delair.

The Lincoln Journal ran a story in July 1967 about our upcoming trip a week before we left for Dearborn which included this photograph.

 

Looking back I now realize that for me this was more than a roadtrip of "Model T's Returning Home" as was headlined in the Lincoln Journal. I had just turned seventeen and I knew driving to the Model T Convention in Dearborn was going to be an adventure. But this trip was to include a visit to Edison's Menlo Park Laboratory, the "birthplace" of Edison's Phonograph. I'm sure I had no way of knowing what it was going to mean to me in later years to have driven in Greenfield Village through its old covered bridge and around its grounds in my 1917 Model T Ford, a car that was a contemporary piece of transportation in Edison's own life time. Adding further meaning I would later learn that Edison actually did have a 1916 Model 'T' (given to him in 1916 with Mr. Ford’s compliments”) which was nearly identical to my 1917 "Touring" Model T except for the 4" inch wider wheel base.

 

 

Edison with his 1916 Model T Ford (courtesy of Mitch Taylor)

 

Edison's Menlo Park Laboratory had been transplanted from New Jersey and a replica reconstruction started in 1928 as part of Henry Ford's "Greenfield Village" outdoor museum. But its emigration to Michigan and its replica authenticity for me don't diminish the importance of the place. The relationship of Edison's Laboratory with Edison's invention of the phonograph is enough now to make me characterize (with a smile) that this roadtrip was ultimately a pilgrimage.

I was originally going to drive alone since I couldn't find anyone that wanted or was able to go. But thankfully my friend Stan decided at the last minute to take the long journey with me, perhaps to his regret as 35 mph from Lincoln to Dearborn and back ended up being a long trip of over 2200 miles - three days to get there, dawn to dusk, three days at the convention and five days back.

 

 

I was a teenager on a budget so we had a tent loaded on the running board for camping until we got to Dearborn where we stayed in a motel. We also took a cook stove which I borrowed from our neighbors, the Keisters, as I thought it would be easy to cook breakfast each morning.

Because I was going with knowledgable Model T enthusiasts I think my parents felt somewhat comfortable with my trip. I personally was never worried that we wouldn't get to Dearborn since I had bought my Model T from fellow traveler Tom Lutzi who had restored the car and who I was sure could keep it running no matter what. So in my mind there wasn't much of a 'bust' potential.

Additionally, since Tom's parents were also making the trip, I think my parents felt that I'd ultimately be 'watched over' by responsible adults. Part of their decision was also based on the understanding that I would call home each day to let them know how things were going. I did call the first night. And I did call when we got to Dearborn. But that was it and the next time I talked to them was when I drove into our driveway at the conclusion of the trip. It was something my mother would remind me about for many years.

 

Details of the Trip - July 12, 1967

We all met at the Gateway Mall parking lot at 5:00 AM on July 12 with my dad as our official "Sending Away Committee." He had made a banner for the back of my car which said "Nebraskaland Model 'T' Chapter "Destination Dearborn" 1917 Ford."

 

 

The original plan had been that the California Model T group was going to pick us up in Lincoln on their way east. But on Tuesday, July 11 we found out that one of the western groups had gone through Kansas and wasn't coming to Lincoln. And the other California group had gone through Nebraska the previous day but did not come through Lincoln and also forgot to contact us. So there would be no large caravan. And it also meant we were leaving a day later than planned and needed to leave very early the next day if we were to get to Dearborn for the start of the convention, i.e., we'd need three long days to get there on time.

So there we were on that next day at 5:20 AM on July 12, 1967, leaving the Mall's parking lot. Since it was still dark our kerosene tail lights and side cowl lamps had been lit. My car had electric headlights but Tom's 1913 Model T had carbide headlights so he had also lit those with a match.

We all waved goodbye to Dad and off we went - Destination Dearborn.

We headed out, as planned, on Highway 6 but 16 miles from Lincoln we hit our first detour of the trip. It took us over to I-80 East and we were making pretty good time, probably close to 40 miles per hour as it's pretty flat in Nebraska....perhaps even a little over 40 going down hills (although no speedometers on any of our cars to exactly know our speed).

 

Going Too Slow

The interstate made such a pleasant ride that I guess we decided we would stay on it a little longer than the detour required (though the elders of the group later confessed that they knew better). We passed through Omaha and stopped for breakfast in Council Bluffs, Iowa. We continued on I-80 and had seen at least three highway patrol cars since we started from Lincoln and no issues, and even a few waves and smiles. The fourth one, however, flashed on his lights, pulled us over. He told us we were illegally going too slow on the interstate and to follow him into town as we needed to appear before the Justice of the Peace. That seemed pretty serious to me that we immediately had to go to court. It was my first traffic violation, I was on a budget and I had no idea what was going to happen next. My consolation was that I was with my older Model T friends whom I was counting on to provide guidance for the next steps.

We pulled into Anita, Iowa and went directly to the Justice of the Peace's office. The JP was also the editor of their weekly newspaper (he would later take pictures of us with our cars). We went into his office. He listened to the officer's explanation of what had happened and then told the trooper that he could return to his duties and he would complete the process. Much to my relief the JP decided to let us go with a warning and instructions to stay off the interstate.

It was now after 1:00 PM so we decided to have lunch before leaving town. But after lunch when we came out of the cafe the patrolman and the Justice of the Peace had apparently had more discussion, with the patrolman insisting that we should be fined. The JP explained the situation and said that he had to at least collect court costs, which meant we each owed $5.00. I think he was a bit embarrassed and made a comment about the patrolman to the effect that he wasn't sure why "Joe" (not his real name) had to haul you in here this morning. "He must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed, or maybe his wife burnt his toast."

We each paid $5.00, got in our cars and headed north to Highway 6, a little poorer and wiser.

Iowa has more hills than one might think and that also had an impact on our timetable. On one particularly steep hill I was the only one who zipped up the hill in high gear. As Mrs. Lutzi later wrote "Doug slapped his white cap on his knee and said "What a car!" Tom made it up by going in low, but Jim couldn't get up the hill and finally backed his car up the hill since his low gear couldn't make the climb.

After a long day we finally stopped where Stan and I tried out our tent camping. It worked out well there and subsequently with most of the other motels where everyone else was staying with that first motel even providing extra towels for our shower in the morning.

 

The Pancakes - RIP

The first time we tried to make breakfast I unfortunately chose to do it in the parking lot of the truck stop where everyone else in our group had gone inside to eat. As I was making the pancakes the trucks entering that gravel and dirt parking lot kicked up enough dust to significantly impact the quality of those cakes. I think I may have finished one of those pancakes but after one bite Stan said he had had enough and went inside to eat breakfast with the rest of our group. Stan didn't join me for anymore cook stove breakfasts.

At the end of the third full day we made it to Dearborn and checked into The Dearborn Inn where the convention was being held which was a nice break from camping.

Besides the Model T meeting and banquet we participated in a parade and drove up to the Ford assembly plant and grounds. We toured the Henry Ford Museum and drove our Model T's through Greenfield Village and the Ackley Covered Bridge and later across the Ambassador Bridge to Windsor, Ontario.

Visiting Greenfield Village and seeing the Menlo Park Laboratory were my highlights, but also memorable were the Wright Brothers Bicycle Shop, the Sarah Jordan Boarding House, and the numerous early American shops and technologies displayed in Greenfield Village and the Ford Museum.

On our way back to Lincoln we were much more leisurely than our trip east. We visited multiple antique stores and a few roadside stops and I purchased two full-size sewing machines that we somehow found room for in the back seat. I guess even then I understood the close relationship between the phonograph and sewing machines and thought a few sewing machines should be part of my collection.

During that trip home the cook stove fell out of my car (perhaps having been repositioned because of the sewing machines) and it was quickly runover by a truck. Looking back it probably would have been better if that had happened sooner as the dust of those pancakes was still being remembered by my taste buds. I pulled over to retrieve the poor smashed Coleman and reportedly said "Ashes to ashes, iron to rust. Rest in Pieces. You've cooked your last pancakes."

 

Summary - We saw more country by going slow - and "we saw it longer."

There were a few unexpected events. A few detours. The illegal "Driving Too Slow." The parking lot pancakes and the loss of the camp stove. I ran out of gas three times (there's no gas gauge on a 1917 Model T and I must not have understood how to correctly read a dipstick). I had to be pushed on three occasions to jump start my car, plus there was a minor grader ditch incident.

On the huge plus side we had no accidents and no flat tires and my grader ditch reverse gear problem was easily fixed. I saw Edison's Menlo Park Laboratory, the birthplace of the Phonograph. I thoroughly enjoyed Greenfield Village. I loved seeing all of the Model T's at the convention and the Henry Ford Museum was great. We had many interactions with people in the small towns we passed through who were interested in our cars and what we were doing.

In short, the trip created many lasting memories.

I can still visualize, when we finally pulled into my parent's driveway, Stan practically jumping out of the car before it stopped and saying something like "Let me out...Let me out of this car!"

I get it.

It was a long trip. As a passenger it was probably even longer. But as Hazel Lutzi said "we certainly saw more country by going slow" to which George Lutzi added and "we saw it longer."

Thank-you Stan for making the journey with me.

Likewise, I'll always be grateful that my parents agreed to such a trip.

 

 

Doug and Stan

 

 

Edison's Laboratory, Greenfield Village

 

 

Edison's Laboratory, 2nd floor where his Tin-foil Phonograph was completed on December 6, 1877

 

 

Sarah Jordan's Boarding House, Greenfield Village - One of the earliest homes with electric lighting this Menlo Park Boarding House near Edison's Laboratory was "home" for several of the unmarried employees working at the Edison complex.

 

 

Ackley Covered Bridge, Greenfield Village

 

Don't be Alarmed! (Printers' Pie, 1904) Punch, Bradbury, Agew & Co.,Published by The Sphere, UK, 1904

Grader Ditch Incident: Hazel Lutzi documented in her story that in Iowa "Doug was turning around and ran into a grader ditch. Found out he had no reverse so had to tighten the bands so he could back out."

 

 

A special thanks to Mrs. Hazel Lutzi who documented day by day details of this trip.

Her final numbers for the Lutzi family car:" 2200 miles give or take a few. Used 90 gallons of gas and 2 oil changes. Total car expenses was $36.40."

 

And a dedication to Tom Lutzi who introduced me to Model T's and was a good friend on that trip.

George T. "Tom" Lutzi, August 23, 1945 - March 17, 2004

George Lutzi, 1910-1990

Hazel Lutzi, 1912-1986