3043 miles in a 1930 Model A Ford Tudor
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Taking the backroads at 35 mph
In September of 2014 Mervyn and Sheila Bergman traveled in their 1930 Model A Tudor with Larry and Linda Hanson in their 1928 Model A Roadster. 3043 miles at 35 miles an hour. It was great.
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It’s the day before our trip. Merv has our Model A ready, complete with an add-on brake light and turn signals. Model A’s didn’t have turn signals back in the day. And the brake light is an inconspicuous amber light mounted on the left rear fender. There is a two gallon gas can and a gallon of antifreeze strapped to the rear bumper. Tools and spare parts are under the seats. There is a load of laundry and packing left to do. Its been rather a low-key day before such an ambitious undertaking.
At 7:00 tomorrow morning we will be meeting up with our friends Larry and Linda Hanson just south of Turtle Lake, WI and we will be on our way. Our ultimate goal is Missoula Montana but for Day One, our goal is to make it to Alexandria, MN where Sheila’s brother Denny and his wife Barb will be putting us up for the night.
Barb, in her confirmation email wrote “Can’t wait to see the six of you!” And it’s true, the two cars will be characters in this trip as much as the people. Larry and Linda will be driving their 1928 Model A Ford Roadster. Its a convertible but they can snap on side curtains. We will be driving our 1930 Model A Tudor. These old cars cruise along at 40 mph. They were made for the back roads that we will be taking. One of Henry Ford’s specifications for the car was that there had to be room on the floor of the backseat for a 10 gallon milk can so there will be plenty of room for our gear.
Denny has tentatively arranged to have Merv and Larry show the cars to some members of his church tomorrow night. Merv and Larry love to show people their cars and people, especially in small town’s, love them too. Whenever we stop with our “A” in a small town we can count on someone walking over and asking about it. Often three or four more join in before we make our getaway. Once an old gentleman remarked wistfully that he had “courted many a gal in a car just like this”. It’s also fun to watch people react as they first hear the car coming and then turn, smile and wave. Merv honks the a-ooga horn and they laugh. I hope to catch a number of these scenes as movies and photos and then stream them together later.
A few years ago, Larry came home with a 1919 Model T Coupe. He and Linda planned to drive it to Montana to visit relatives. Larry spent nearly a year restoring it to beautiful condition readying it for the trip. But time and progress conflicted to force a postponement until this year. Two weeks before the planned departure date, Larry was on a local drive in the Coupe when the crankshaft broke. A disheartening event. Fortunately, it happened then instead of someplace in North Dakota.
Larry fell back to his backup car, a 1928 Model A roadster which he had to hurry to get ready for such a trip. So he wound up preparing two cars for one trip.
When Larry first talked about going I said “Well, I’ll just go with you.” So on a whim I decided to go with him.
What a great day! We met up with Larry and Linda, went over our back road route to Grantsburg and off we went.
I have to admit to wondering how I was going to spend the time as we crept along at 40mph but navigating is a full time job. And when I wasn’t tracking our route, I was thoroughly engaged in watching the scenery. Traveling slowly allows you the time to really see what you are driving by.
We made two stops en route. The first was at a wayside rest in Governor Knowles State Forrest to go over our route to Alexandria. The second was a dirt road tailgate lunch west of Ogilvie.
We were intrigued by rock corner markers in Benton county MN. A cylinder of woven wire fencing about 4 or 5 feet high and 4 feet in diameter filled with field-stone rocks.
We arrived at Dennis and Barb Angland’s home, Sheila’s brother and sister-in-law, near Alexandria, MN at 3:55pm having traveled 249 miles. Barb had snacks and refreshments ready, the table was set and we enjoyed a wonderful end-of-summer feast. Sheila’s nephew Bean, wife Tina and kids stopped in to visit too.
After dinner we brought the cars to show to the men’s club at Dennis’ church. The men were very interested, had lots of questions and shared their own tales of cars. It was hard for Dennis to gather them back in for their meeting.
Then it was back to their house for some conversation and a good night’s sleep.
Written by Sheila and Linda
Day two began with a great pancake breakfast at Den and Barb’s. And speaking of pancakes, the morning also began with a flat tire on Merv’s car. Merv and Larry put the spare on, no problem.
Well its now the morning of the third day 3. And I thought time was going to be plentiful on this trip. Its been tough finding the time to write.
So on the way to have the tire repaired yesterday, another tire went flat on our car. M&L put one of Larry’s spare tires on and we were once again on our way. Merv put new tubes in the tires before we left. It turns out the rubber on the tubes was of bad quality and had degraded. Fortunately the service station in Parkers Prairie had two tubes. There is a tractor that has similar size tires. The station only had two tubes of that size. We are on the look out for another two as we go along.
We headed out cross country from Parkers Prairie with Larry and Linda in the lead and crossed the Red River at Breckenridge. I was totally absorbed in following our route on the map and watching the countryside turn from lake country oak savanna to flat prairie with its occasional wetlands.
Linda was frustrated because choice of roads seemed to be either highways with semis or minimum maintenance dirt “field roads.” She noticed a sign for a Wild Rice Preservation Area. And numerous potholes seemed to be surrounded by wild rice.
Well into the afternoon Larry and Linda’s car overheated. As the guys were replacing the coolant, I enjoyed observing the marshland on either side of the road while Linda stood guard behind the cars holding up a FTD Lakeland Coop neon green shirt as a warning flag.
After we got back underway, the packing at the connection of the exhaust pipe and the manifold of Merv’s car gave way and we rode along listening to a very loud ticking sound.
Linda’s wildlife observations: 2 sandhill cranes, lots of swamp birds including, great blue herons, snowy egrets and a deer.
We were amused by the area’s short railroad telegraph poles still with their glass insulators not much taller than the corn.
It does seem unlikely, but actually Merv had a good day. I think he said “cripe” a couple of times but I guess these sorts of issues are to be expected with these old cars. I had a good day too. Am really enjoying life at 40mph.We stopped traveling after 7pm last night. After having a bite to eat we crashed.
I’ll upload pictures tonight I hope. Last night the wifi here was so slow as to be unusable . No cell coverage either. I am amongst morning people who are ready and raring to start day 3.
The first thing the lady in the office of our motel said to us tonight was “Are you guys lost”? You don’t get that kind of question when you travel freeways.
We had a good day although it was a bit warm at 94 degrees. Not so bad for us as for Larry and Linda’s radiator which needed water added a few times. Once, when their radiator started spitting, we pulled off the road into a driveway in Emmons township. Thanks to the home owner for his route suggestions and a short visit (we hope you are following us on the blog now.) We are finding people along the way to be quite friendly and interested in our trip.
When Larry checked over his car this morning, he discovered that his radiator problem is caused by a leaky upper radiator hose. He got a stainless steel hose clamp and Merv got a muffler patching kit at a car parts store late this afternoon. The guys will make their repairs tomorrow morning.
Tired now and again I didn’t get the photos uploaded. Tomorrow will be hot again so we plan to start out early and stop someplace early afternoon. I hope to add photos to all posts then.
We enjoyed the little town of Carson ND. More curious, friendly and helpful people. We were told of a scenic back route through the badlands that was stunning. Merv was unable to fix our exhaust issue with a kit that turned out to be inadequate for the task. It did take the noise level down a tad and changed the pitch to something less annoying though.
We’ve been out of cell range almost the entire way through North Dakota. Bismarck and here, that’s it. Note to self, don’t travel with cell phones with coverage supplied by your local telephone coop. The two-way radios we brought have been invaluable in communicating between cars. Messages like “Didn’t we want to turn there?” and “Stop at the next gas station” and “Where the hell are we?” go back and forth.
We started out the day traveling along the edge of a thunderstorm. It kept us cool most of the morning. But by the time we got to the town of Amidon , our departure off the tar road to the 34 mile gravel back road through the badlands the clouds had dissipated and it was getting warm. We had expected there to be a gas station there. Note to self, never expect there to be a gas station in a North Dakota town. After a quick calculation, we decided that we had plenty of fuel in our reserve gas cans to get us through to the large tourist town of Medora on the freeway.
The trip through the badlands was impressive. It would be impossible to relate the breadth and scope of that rugged landscape. Photos certainly are not going to to it either. As I mentioned earlier, we took a back road into them. We came in from the south. Most everyone comes in from the freeway and takes the driving tour through Theodore Roosevelt National Park right out of Medora. It was hot but not unbearable as long as we were driving with the breeze blowing on us. When we got to Medora, we saw a thermometer that read 102 degrees!
We are staying at a nice place in the country called Buffalo Gap Lodge with a sweeping view of the badlands out our window.
It was overcast and cool in the morning when we headed south on a gravel from Buffalo Gap Lodge to old highway 10. The guys weren’t thrilled with the coarse rocky roadbed, but the scenery made up for it.
Water is a commodity here. No crops, just grazing land. They pipe in water in 6 inch PVC pipe from a lake several miles away. The system is called Rural Water and subscribers can hook into it. The owner of the lodge was installing a 6,000 gallon water tank to store the piped in water so that he could supply enough for the showers. He has a 1500 foot well but the water is not potable.
There were scattered showers throughout the day so the big sky was once again fun to watch.
We had lunch in Miles City and deliberated as to where to stay the night. Towns of any size are so far apart that we need to plan ahead. We learned the hard way that just because a town has large letters on the gazetteer doesn’t mean that it has services. We ate lunch at a wifi hotspot to find available rooms ahead. Today we had to decide between stopping at 3pm or going on another 100 miles. We wanted to get to Helena on Sunday so we decided to forge on to the town of Roundup, MT. We opted to take 40 miles of freeway to help shorten the drive. Linda remembers being nervous because of all the semi’s. I remember being bored for lack of scenery. The rest of the drive was enjoyable in spite of having to be alert because of all the deer as it got dark.
I asked Merv, still at the wheel after a long day of driving, how he was enjoying the trip. He grinned wide and said “I like my car.”
The repair wasn’t a complete success but it introduced some low frequency sounds. Now, instead of making an irritating clacking sound it sounds like the chuff of a high speed steam engine so its not unpleasant. The road we are on follows an old abandoned railroad bed. Its nice to think that we have returned the sound of a steam engine to these hills. We’ll attempt a more thorough repair sometime later.
At breakfast, a local man came up and introduced himself as owning the towing service in town. He told us that he recently had to tow a totaled Model T Touring car. The driver had stopped to make a left turn and a car of kids slammed into it from behind at 65mph. Everyone in the T was thrown from the car a considerable distance but they all lived. His story added fuel to Larry’s concern of getting hit from behind when driving on the freeway.
I made a recording of the sound in our car as we were driving along. I will try to post it.
The guys have driven the entire time. They don’t seem to mind. Neither do Linda and I.
We drove through the mountains in the afternoon. The guys were very aware of how slow we took the long hills so they kept moving off to the shoulder to let people pass. A lot of traffic with a strong head wind made for hard driving.
We arrived at Linda’s cousin Sharlene and her husband Kenny Kolb’s home in Helena late afternoon. They have a beautiful view of the valley and mountains from their home. It was nice to chat and relax. Sharlene and Kenny, and Linda and Larry used to double date in high school so they had a lot of catching up to do. We had some tasty apple cobbler and retired early.
Nice relaxed time with Sharlene and Kenny. They had been to the farmers market so we reaped the benefits with meals of fresh fruits and vegetables. We took a guided trolley ride around Helena and visited the Historical society museum with its large collection of old west paintings by Charles Russell.
On the trolley tour, we learned that Helena was once home to the countrie’s largest number per capita of millionaires – over 120. This was on account of gold mining in the vicinity. The trolley took us past many of their old mansions. I didn’t have my camera with me. I’m sorry to not have taken pictures of them.
Another interesting trolley ride story. They tore down an old bank building and they discovered and recovered enough gold in the mortar sand to finance the new building.
Sharlene spoke of a Montana resident who traveled to Wisconsin and had a hard time of it because they felt so closed in and claustrophobic. Sharlene says that even she and Kenny who grew up there have similar feelings when they go back to visit. I can see it. The grand vistas and low population density out here is quite …. I can’t come up with a word for it… freeing or calming maybe?
We left Sharlene and Kenny’s knowing that the first thing we were going to tackle was a 6 mile 8% grade over MacDonald pass. The continental divide runs along the top. Last night in Kenny’s off-road 4×4, the guys scouted out a possible gravel alternate route over the pass but ruled it out as being too rough. We got to be a bit concerned because they didn’t return until well after dark. They had waited “forever” for a train stopped on a siding at a crossing that was waiting for another train to pass by. A couple of hunters came by in a pickup with a low tire. Kenny loaned them his car jack. The hunters were lucky the guys had been detained because they were out in the middle of nowhere and it would have been a long time before another car came by.
We made it up the pass without any trouble. Highway 12 is a four lane so people were able to pass and the trucks were creeping along too. We even passed one. Merv did have to replenish the engine oil. It had dribbled out of the back of the engine during the long steep climb.
People continue to delight in our cars. At one point, as we crept up a steep grade, we pulled over to let a mini van pass us only to find them pulled over a little further up the hill. They had stopped to take a movie of us as we went by.
The rest of the route offered more great mountain scenery with an added bonus. In the town of Deer Lodge, a few miles off our route, was an antique car museum with over 120 old cars, many old model A’s and T’s. Many were extremely rare.
We pulled into Bruce and Darcy Hover’s place near Clinton, MT around 5:30. Bruce is Linda’s nephew. We caught them in the middle of a busy work week but they made us feel more than welcome. As you can see from the pictures, their home is a trophy chest. Bruce, Darcy and their two boys are avid hunters and lovers of the outdoors.
Bruce and Darcy suggested we head south for 40 or so miles on Rock Creek Road. Wow, was that ever an awesome drive. These photos will have to do for now.
The internet speed was so bad at the Super 6 Motel we stayed at last night as to be unusable. Much better tonight but its 11:00pm. Gotta get some sleep.
We started out from Butte at 5300 feet on a winding uphill road over a mountain pass that took us up another 1000 feet. The road was steep with hairpin switchbacks but the car performed very well. The ‘A’ took the pass in second gear all the way. Beautiful views rewarded us at the top.
Just west of Livingston we stopped at a tourist attraction called Grizzley Encounter. A couple has built facilities that house 5 rescue grizzlies with a large zoo-like observation area. The bears come out 2 at a time (they don’t all get along) to play and forage for hidden fruits and nuts and we tourists watch and take photos. One playful female gave us quite a show. After first testing the water temp with her back foot, she took a swim and then ran circles around the yard like a puppy. She teased her big oaf of a male companion trying to get him to play but he was having fun straddling a huge log with his hind quarters and rocking it back and forth like a teeter-totter (see the pictures). One of the bears the couple had raised from a young cub. He is used in films. The others, they rescued from poor captivity situations.
After Grizzly Encounter, we attempted to bypass a section of the freeway on a cut off road we saw in the gazetteer. The road kept getting narrower and steeper as we drove up the mountain. Finally, just a few yards short of the crest, we hit a section that was so steep that our ‘A ‘could go no further. Just not enough power. And when we stopped the car even slid backwards a bit on the gravel. Yikes. There was no room to turn around and no going backwards for fear of an un-controled slide. Larry and Linda’s roadster is lighter and geared lower so they did not have a problem with the steep grade. Merv suggested that the three of us give him a push to try to get him going again. Fortunately that worked. The road ended as the driveway of a huge house on the very top of a mountain so we had to go back down that steep gravel slope. I can’t imagine how they managed to get big trucks up there to build that thing. Were we ever glad to get back to the tar.
We enjoyed our stay at our motel in Livingston. Its nice to park right outside of your room. Every time we would go outside, there would be people curious about the cars. Poor Larry, still sick with his cold and tired after a hard day of driving, was not sick or tired enough to stop chatting with people. He and Merv stayed out til after 9:00pm chatting with a couple who, on their evening drive in their Model T, happened to see our Model A’s in the motel parking lot.
A gorgeous day of driving through incredible beauty. On the advise of some locals we took Swingley Road south out of Livingston and could not believe our fortune. The weather, the cars, the scenery – everything was optimal.
After a couple of hours on I90 frontage road from Big Timber through Billings we were back on the back roads heading towards the Little Big Horn Battlefield. We are staying 15 or so miles from there in a motel at Hardin.
Larry’s cold has moved into his chest but he refuses to lay-over. He says that he has never taken a sick day in his life. I guess he isn’t about to start now.
Merv’s hip is giving him problems. He is fine driving but walking is quite painful. He will not be going on any walking tours tomorrow. Linda remarked that she has not had the time she would like to work on a needlepoint project. Merv told her he would stay back and work on it for her while we go off sight seeing.
The guys are taking the term “road trip” quite literally. Going from point A to point B has been the, well, point. No lengthy layovers and not much in the way of sight seeing. I have been content with this approach. The passing scenery has provided sightseeing a-plenty.
It was a good day for photos. Most of my photos have been taken from the window with the car underway and jiggling. I have been surprised and quite pleased with some of them.
Merv is on the laptop tonight so just a quick two fingered summary of our day.
We spent a lot of time at the Little Big Horn National Monument. They have done a good job mapping out the cultural and political issues as well as the battle strategies of both sides. We took the five mile drive around the battle field and stopped to read the descriptive markers.. It was a sobering experience.
We left there about 3pm and drove 3 hours to our motel at Broaden, MT. We went down the block for some good pizza and have tomorrow’s drive to the Black Hills region all planned out.
Merv’s hip is better today. He thinks he pulled a muscle getting into or out of the car. There isn’t much room between the steering wheel and the seat so he has to do a bit of contorting when climbing aboard.
I had to ask Larry where we started from this morning. It seems like a week ago.
It was a full day. We angled SE from Broadus, MT and cut across the corner of Wyoming into South Dakota. Then we went looped south into the Black Hills, took the Needles Highway scenic route, stopped at Mt. Rushmore and headed back north to Rapid City. In a way it reminded me of that segment from the Chevy Chase movie “Vacation” where they drive all the way to the Grand Canyon, nod a couple of times at the view and get right back into the car. I think we might be getting desensitized to grand scenery.
The roads of the Black Hills had sharper and steeper switchbacks than anything we had encountered in the mountains. Linda has a fear of heights so negotiating the narrow twisting roads with no shoulders and no guard rails did not amuse her. We did see some awesome vistas though.
By 7:30 pm when we pulled into Rapid City the guys were pretty tired from driving those hills without power steering or power brakes. We had seen some hotel signs along the way but we could not find them. We decided to look for one out by the airport which was on our route east anyway. No hotels there either. At that point we were 5 miles out of town, it was after dark and we were more than a little tired. And what happens but our alternator stopped keeping up with the headlights. It was one of those moments you laugh about after the fact. As it turned out, Merv found a way to make the alternator kick in, we stopped at a gas station and got directions and after some doubtful moments we found a nice hotel.
After settling into our room we went to a nearby Arby’s and rehashed the day. We even had a few chuckles.
Tomorrow we will head east through the South Dakota Badlands.
The weather has taken a turn for the worse, we are finished sight seeing and are now like horses galloping back to the barn.
Larry and Linda put up a side-curtain on her side. She has been getting pummeled by a strong wind from the south east yesterday and today.
It was a dreary overcast day, not good for photos.
Click on an image to enlarge
We drove under overcast skies again today. It’s hard to get good landscape pictures while underway in low light. Also making it difficult is all these Minnesota and Wisconsin trees. I’d see something engaging and it would be blocked or have passed before I could snap the picture. Not a problem in the Dakotas and Montana where I had time to get off two or three shots. I deleted 90 percent of the pics I took today. Thank goodness for digital cameras.
Today’s trip was uneventful which is a good thing. We were happy to cross over the Wabasha bridge and we stopped on the Wisconsin side to savor the moment. We all had the feeling of really having accomplished something. Merv and Larry with their mechanical skills and their long hours behind the wheel, Linda and me having successfully navigated the back roads with maps and gazetteers. It was comforting to have made the trip with two cars. It made us feel secure during the trip that we had a backup should one of us experience a total breakdown (as in mechanical).
Once in Wisconsin, we took the familiar highway 25 north through Menomonie and said our good-byes at its junction with county road F.
Tune in tomorrow evening for one more post.
Click image to enlarge.
I took a photo from the shotgun seat every hour that I was in the car.
I have been trying to think of another mode of travel that would draw the smiles, trust, and local advise that these quaint old cars drew along the way. Both men and women showed such enthusiasm for the cars and for our venture wherever we stopped. These encounters left us smiling as we climbed back in and headed on our way. They made the trip. I suppose you could travel with a puppy and get a similar response. But then you would have to travel with a puppy.
We drove to Montana and back in our restored Model A s with a credit card in our pockets. When you think about it, people drove these cars to California in hard times under dire conditions. Now that is amazing. I wonder if the shared hard times drew people together. Did spontaneous campsites spring up alongside the road where people shared stories, supplies and skills?
It was comforting to travel with another couple and another car. Larry and Linda’s skills, tools, parts, and eyes, all were good things to have on the road. Rehashing the events of the day with them added a lot to the trip too.
They came in so handy when needing to communicate between cars – “Hey, you missed the turn!” or “Pit stop next gas station” or “Gotta stop and check our coolant level.”
Our phone contract is with our local telephone coop. We rarely had cell reception even in some larger towns. Larry and Linda have Verizon, they had much better luck.
We took a modern general purpose hydraulic jack only to find that it wouldn’t lift the car high enough. Luckily Larry had one that would.
Purists might have a problem with having a GPS stuck on the dash of their model A. We did our navigating on Gazetteers but we found the GPS useful at times to know exactly where we were in relation to a town or a road.
Larry and Linda had been intending to go on this trip for a few years. Things kept getting in the way. Two weeks before we were set to go, the crankshaft broke on the Model T they intended to take. Rather than delay the trip any longer, they decided to take their Model A instead. It was just time to do this thing.