My exciting first ride in a Ford
1923 Model T Dearborn, Michigan
The year was 1945 and the war with Germany had just ended. I was 11, my brother Ken was 17 and we lived in Topeka, Kansas. We had no family car during the war. Our father sold his 1938 Buick in 1942 because he couldn't get tires and assumed that with rationing it would get worse. We had a neighbor who worked on cars in his garage and I spent a lot of time watching, listening, learning and fetching tools. Ken was not mechanical.
Our father taught Ken how to drive the Buick before selling it so Ken was now determined to buy a car of his own. After searching for several months he found an ad in a Kansas City newspaper for a 1923 Ford Model T for $50. The ad said it was in great shape!
The next morning, we grabbed some sandwiches and a headed to the nearby highway to hitchhike about 80 miles. We told our mother that we were going to look at a car, but didn't tell her where. Hitchhiking was common in those days because things were safer and there was a shortage of gasoline and running cars. Luckily, we were picked up in minutes. The driver was headed to Kansas City, so he dropped us off right at the Model T.
As we approached the house, the car was sitting in the driveway. The body was violet green and the wheels were painted a vivid yellow. It looked as if it had been painted with a brush – or maybe a broom. It wouldn’t have been out of place in a parade with clowns riding and dancing around it. It was a touring car but the rear half of the body with the rear seat had been cut off and a wooden box added. Model T touring cars had a fake driver’s door so it had gone from a three-door touring to a one-door roadster. It was however rust and dent free.
After the owner showed us around the car while we honked the horn and kicked the tires a few times, he took Ken out for a driving lesson. Ford Model T's are different than the Buick Ken had briefly driven. In case you are not familiar with driving a T, here is a short lesson. There are three pedals on the floor, a large lever next to the fake driver’s door and two small levers on the steering column. Pushing the left pedal all the way down puts the transmission in low gear. Allowing the pedal to release to the top puts the transmission in high gear. Holding the pedal half way between low and high is neutral. The vehicle can also be placed in neutral when setting the parking brake. This feature allows manual cranking of the engine without running over the cranker. The center pedal is reverse. Holding the left pedal half-way down and pressing the reverse pedal, backs the car up. The right-hand pedal is the brake. Levers on the steering column are spark advance on the left and throttle on the right.
Ken had a 20-minute lesson on driving the Model T before he decided to buy it. Not enough! After trading money and paperwork, we started home with no license plate, no insurance, no tools, no food, little money and not enough driving experience but plenty of youthful fearlessness. While driving through Kansas City during the 5 PM rush hour, Ken struggled. He discovered that this Model T had a very large left hand turning circle after driving over a curb onto a sidewalk while randomly pressing pedals to stop.
When we got to the two-lane highway toward home it started to rain. That’s when we realized there was no windshield wiper and no side curtains. Ken drove off the highway and across a field to a farmer’s shed where we waited until the rain stopped.
By the time we got back on the highway, it was dark so Ken found the switch and turned on the lights. About a half-hour later the lights dimmed and went out. Without lights, Ken had to pull off the road onto the gravel shoulders to avoid approaching cars. We didn't know why but the engine just purred along. Due to the low battery, the starter wouldn't work but the crank in front of the car did. The Model T had reliability through redundancy!
Next, steam started coming out the radiator cap. Obviously there was a leak somewhere. We had to stop three times at large puddles to fill the radiator with a can we found.
We got home about 1 AM. Of course our parents were very concerned because they didn't know where we went. Since Ken was the oldest, he caught all the blame. Our father came out to see the car and said, “What are you going to do with that old thing?”
A couple of years later Ken went into the Air Force and gave me the Ford Model T. Wow! My own car! I was 13 years old by then and I qualified for a Kansas driver's license.
Since the car would have been easy to restore, I wonder if someone reading this article has it in their collection.
I can't believe that no one has replied yet. My first experience and first drive in a Model T Ford came after I foolishly sold my half finished 1931 Model A project. After all, the guy offered way more than I'd paid or spent on restoration.
A much older friend who was restoring one of almost every model of 1926 Model T offered to let me choose one of three 1926 T touring car projects he had. He only needed two. One to restore and the other for parts.
I figured that if a Model A was a fun project, a Model T was funner! I choose the oldest, early 1926 T touring. Even though it is not noticable, beginning in 1926, the Model T was taller and wider. Yes, like a VW, they did change a bit over the years. 1926 was the first year a Ford had the fuel tank as part of the cowl, rather than under the seat. The coil box was relocated to the engine compartment. The first year for a driver door. Yes, now it was a real fordor. It was also an early model without the familiar headlight to fender cross bar. A bar needed to support the fenders and help keep those headlights from shaking so badly! Henry and his team were smart. But, they were also stubborn and the less they added the more money they made.
My '26 T also still had the old style larger wheels. I choose 21" wood wheels so I could afford 21" Model A style white wall tires.
For the most part, I restored my Model T as original, except for those smaller non-painted natural wood wheels, red painted demountable rims, and white wall tires. No respectable Model T or Model A came out with white side wall tires or non-black wheels!
Since I had never driven a Model T and was confused which pedal did what, I also added bumpers and bumper brackets to protect those fenders I'd spent months restoring. Somehow I learned to drive it with my family bouncing in the backseat just like that early Model T farmyard add of long ago!
My T became a fun parade and tour car for many years. Even after we moved to Florida. Four lane highways, tourists, large trucks, traffic , and classic car interests convinced me to sell the Model T.
I still don't know if it was funner than all of my Model A's. But it was fun while it lasted.
Everyone needs to drive a Model T at least once.
Mine originally came to central Illinois from Lincoln, Nebraska. Once I trailered it to Greenfield Village for an all Model T show and it went by trailer when we moved to Florida. Other than that, it was driven on club tours, local car shows, and to the Root Beer stand or for ice cream during summers.
Fun or not, I ended up being called Model T at work, on the CB radio, and on this internet thing. Maybe because I talk about those darn things way too much!