NANTUCKET TO STOWE VERMONT BY MODEL T….. or bust!
Copyright Vladimir Kagan, Sunday, June 19, 2011
My little Ford
Four wheels and a board
With a little bit of tin
To keep the engine in
That's my little Ford!
That's our little Ford in Warren Vermont - a 1922 Center Door Sedan
My friend, Dolph Cramer, has owned his Model T Ford for sixty years… I’ve only owned mine for forty. Even before our love for Model Ts we had been ski buddies for fifty-five years….. When Dolphy comes up with a wacky idea, I jump on it. A Model T Rally in Vermont sounded like a cool thing to do while we were both basking in the Florida Sun this past winter. Much correspondence had gone between the two of us… We had been carefully planning this tour for the past six months…. shopping lists of vital parts that needed adding to my car for this grueling trip.… Itineraries came regularly, which I duly filed in my computer for future reading. The plan was to join 28 other Model Ts for a five day Rally in Stowe.
Time flies and winter drifted into spring… we did our Turkey trip… and whammo… it was time to get ready for Vermont.
Two years ago, Dolph had participated in a cross-country Model T Rally called “OCEAN TO OCEAN” with fifty other Ts. Our tour was to be the first reunion of this stalwart group.
The plan was for Dolph and I to drive our cars at a leisurely pace for 350 miles of bucolic back roads. For companionship and mechanical assistance, Dolph invited two charming Brits, who had driven with him on the tour two years earlier. Both were brilliant Model T mechanics. The “boys” were to help install the vital ingredient: Rocky Mountains Breaks, new tires, a new water pump, a distributor, new timer and sundry other “toys”. Dolph arrived ten days earlier to start the restorations, Then Murphy’s Law kicked in: when things are looking too good… “They aint”.
To our dismay, both friends unexpectedly bailed one week prior to our departure! Our plans were thrown into a panic... No crew – no repair help and no relief drivers!
Ten days to departure: Dolph and I working on my T and resting our backs..the cute car in the center photo bottom is Dolph's 1918 Doctor's Coupe
There was no one on Nantucket to install the Rocky Mountain brakes; we found an auto repair shop on the island willing to change the tires. (It took two mechanics five hours) Dolph’s overwhelming optimism kept the show going….”Oh this is easy…I’ve done it a hundred times”. Of course it was NOT easy. Changing the water pump took two days and in the process the radiator sprung a leak in the drain spigot that took another two days to resolve. Installing the new alternator took six hands…. No one on Nantucket would touch the brakes… Through an off Island friend, Dolph located a mechanic willing to tackle the job on a day’s notice! Dolph drove my car to Chatham on the Cape on Wednesday night, giving the poor man one day to make this tricky installation. He was an old-timer and knew his stuff…. But Dolph’s optimistic appraisal of one day drifted into two.
For moral support and companionship, we went into high gear in search of new buddies. I managed to Shanghai two friends for the trip.... Doug Hughes from Nantucket and Kimo Bailey, who flew in from San Francisco. They were the greatest guys but neither knew how to drive a T, but became invaluable map-readers and four extra hands when trouble struck.
I drove Dolph’s “Doctor’s Coupe” off Nantucket on the Friday noon ferry, to rendezvous in Hyannis at 2:15…. Dolph finally showed up at 3:45… quite content with a box of pizza under his arm… We set off, too late to make our first stop to Worcester in daylight. I had neglected to top off my gas tank and two hours later ran out of gas! As a precaution, I had taken a three-gallon jerry tank, which was; of course empty in my car. (A little philosophical note: We passed a gas station not a mile away from my breakdown: An optimist will drive onward in search of the next gas station…a pessimist, turns back to the “bird-in-the hand is worth two in the-bush” solution.) Dolph, the eternal optimist blasted off into the unknown… and one hour later returned with the gas.
Starting off in Hyannis - The crew: Erica, Dolph, Kimo, Doug and me
The first glitch: We run out of gas two hours into our drive
The first hundred miles were the toughest! Too many towns…. too much weekend traffic, easily lost roads and I, a very hesitant driver (having spent the last forty years driving my little car 15 miles a year in local parades) .We arrived at our hotel at 9:30 PM…(Thanks to the GPS, it delivered us through winding city streets right up to the front door).
The next day we drove 150 Miles: Worcester to Brattleboro would have been a breeze…but we opted to continue on to Woodstock Vermont. 150 miles in one day, in the rain, in a Model T, is not the easiest drive. However, I gained enough confidence to slog it through. The terrain became more mountainous as we progressed…. We arrived at the salubrious Woodstock Inn at 7:30 that night. Exhausted. A hot bath, a good single-malt whiskey and a superb dinner revived us all.
Sunday promised to be a short haul: only 75 miles…. seventy-five of the toughest roads over steep mountains and long precipitous descents! Add torrential rains, no windscreen wipers, narrow, winding gutted roads (treacherous from last winter’s frost heaves) and you have an image of our trip.
Top - Raindrops on the windscreen.- Middle: abandoned Barn - Bottom: Rutted roads
A poignant War memorial to soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan
Modern Vermont: Solar panels called "Flowers" they turn facing the sun all day!
I won’t begin to describe how to drive a Model T… it is totally foreign to anything you’ve ever driven. To begin, the break is where the gas is on a modern car, in place of a clutch, a pedal on the left side controls the low gear and neutral; the reverse is a third pedal squeezed into the middle. It is best driven with bare feet to properly control these pedals. Oh yes, and the gas is controlled by a lever on the steering wheel… Rain pours in through every crevice. Communication by cell phone is spotty and hard to hear over the roar of the engine. Fortunately I had taken two walkie-talkies for communication, which worked remarkably well. Seating is cramped and visibility neighs zero in the downpour… brakes are iffy…. In short, it’s was an anxiety trip.
Driving "barefoot" with soaking wet socks on my feet
When we finally met up with the “guys” in Stowe, it became a reunion of a bunch of remarkable people for the rest of the tour: sixty Guys and Gals of all ages and backgrounds. One common denominator: a love for Model Ts. Most had a collection of six to a dozen sitting in their garages all over the country.
One of the highlights of our tours was visiting Bill Alley's collection of rare antique cars (his collection is tucked away in an unprepossessing barn on a dirt road only viewable by invitation)
Two of Mr. Alley's rare cars: A 1904 Electric that got 85 miles on a single recharge and buzzed along at a comfortable 45 miles an hour. The second car has a Mother in Law's seat positioned in front of the driver to catch all the dust and bugs!
A Splendid Brassy (I a'm too addled to remember its name)... I loved the oil lamps
This yellow machine caught our eye for its chic lines
Lunch at the Highland Inn before visiting Bill Alley's collection: Erica Dolph and his wife Beatty, who drove up in their glamorous Jaguar - it was a joy to ride in it at night to the various restaurants
One of the many covered bridges we crossed on our tour
Close-up of some of the old Barssies at the Rally
Driving through a field of mustard
We managed to log 800 miles of driving. All went well except one horror filled incident on Smuggler’s Notch Mountain Pass. This became an initiation under fire. Two “minor” details were not explained: One - driving up extreme hills, you must have a full tank of gas (there is no fuel pump) otherwise you run out of gas… and Two: Rocky Mountain Breaks are great, but they do not work backwards!
On the steepest incline, in the midst of a sharp S turn, my car stalled out! I started rolling backwards, slowly at first, but as the car accelerated, I stepped on the breaks… there were none!..... It was a panic moment. Other cars skirted around me to avoid a collision. I zigzagged across the narrow road and fortunately drifted into a rocky bank to come to a sudden stop…beyond the bank was a deep ravine into the river! God and good fortune were with us…. Kind people assisted in pulling us out. (Five other cars could not complete the mountain but were more fortunate in finding a space for their U turns). We all drove down the mountain and ultimately rejoined the others for a wonderful day’s drive.
NO PHOTO AVAILABLE OF OUR DILEMMA... we were too petrified to get out of the car
At the farewell “banquet”, as a reward for my heroic driving, I was presented with four lolly pops and a standing ovation!
Erica and Kimo walking to the "Banquet" at the end of the week
Would we do it again? You bet!!! But not this year.