After some 3,000 miles and countless hours behind the wheel, we sat down with the 1915 Model T’s two primary drivers to ask a few questions about the trip. Read on to hear firsthand accounts of HVA President Mark Gessler and HVA Historian Casey Maxon.
What do you hope will be the legacy of this trip?
Mark Gessler: With this trip we were able to raise awareness of the importance of automotive heritage and the birth of the American road trip. The road trip, while not unique to America, is deeply rooted in our culture. Following Edsel Ford’s 1915 route gave us a template to understand travel as it was 100 years ago in a Model T and compare it with the experiences today in a 2015 Mustang. Thankfully, Edsel and his friends left us an abundance of notes and photographs of their 1915 experience. We have done the same in 2015. We hope that in 100 years from now another group will follow the same route and record their experiences on how 200 years of the automobile and road trip shaped America.
Casey Maxon: That we have raised awareness for the evolution of automobile travel in the U.S., Edsel Ford’s virtually unknown trek, and the significance of the Panama Pacific International Exposition, not just in American history, but in the history of the automobile.
What was your favorite part of the route from a driving standpoint?
MG: My favorite part of the route was California Highway 1 the Cabrillo Highway from Morro Bay to Carmel. This ribbon of pavement along the cliffs of the Pacific coast is among the world’s most spectacular highways. The road has steep climbs and some treacherous sections. Fortunately, it was toward the end of the trip and when I was comfortable with operating the Model T and able to thoroughly enjoy the vast and striking coastal scenery at 35 mph.
CM: Between Pueblo, CO and Trinidad, CO we spent virtually the entire day on gravel and dirt roads. The roads took us through the most rural and gorgeous landscapes, leading us to places like the historic abandoned town of Shady Greenhorn, and through ranches with antelope running alongside of the Model T. It was a timeless experience in so many ways. The drive paralleled what Edsel and his companions would have likely enjoyed 100 years ago.
What has surprised you most in terms of what has or hasn’t changed in the 100 years since Edsel and his friends attempted a similar route?
MG: Amazingly you can travel huge distances of America on dirt and gravel roads. Much of the time these were the original National Old Trails Highway roads that Edsel Ford took 100 years ago. Also surprising was how comfortable it was to drive the Model T. With the large wood wheels there were no annoying shakes or rattles and with the top up at 25 mph the cockpit was cool and pleasant even with temperatures over 100 degrees.
CM: What was certainly most surprising was the lack of alternative roads on one of the major routes west that exist today. In much of the Southwest, the interstate or a locked and gated dirt road were the only options.
What advice would you have for someone considering a similar trip?
MG: Prepare the car well. We were very fortunate to have such a trouble-free trip. Struggling and fixing a Model T on the side of the road is doable but not enjoyable. Try Google Maps bicycle routes to plan a trip that is slower and more comfortable in an older car and off the beaten path. Limit the miles you intend to cover and allow yourself to surrender to spontaneity and soak in the history. If you are traveling in a Model T flashers on the car are recommended on modern roadways.
CM: Plan plenty of time for the trip and allow for the unexpected. There are countless historic sites to take in, document, and enjoy. As the cliché states: the journey is the destination.
How have the last six weeks affected or impacted your appreciation of vintage automobiles?
MG: Even the most know knowledgeable experts thought we would struggle on trip with the Model T, but we didn’t. The Model T is an incredible piece of 100+ year-old technology. The design was perfect for the time and still incredibly capable in 2015. In 1915 there were automobiles that were bigger and faster but they terribly ill suited for trips beyond the city. Roads were still primitive and the Model T was light and agile. Its simplicity was genius. It was just what America needed. With this experience, it is easy to understand how the Ford Model T changed everything.
CM: The trip has helped me develop significant admiration for driving pre-war cars! I have always appreciated their place in automotive history but preferred post-war cars for touring; I can now say a 100 year old car likely can’t be beat for experiencing the nation’s rich and vibrant culture and history.