Follow Along as Drivers Retrace Edsel Ford’s 1915 Cross-Country Trip in a Model T [Updated Day 16 – Albuquerque, New Mexico to Holbrook, Arizona!]

1915-Ford-Model-T-Touring-National-Historic-Road“Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.”

-— Jack Kerouac, On The Road

While the automobile may have spent the better part of the last century as an avatar for hope and a better tomorrow, it’s the road trip that serves as the catalyst for adventure and freedom. Back in 1915, nobody knew this better than a then 21-year-old Edsel Ford, who, along with a group of like-minded young men, all on the cusp of adulthood, saddled up in one of his pappy’s Model T touring cars for a road trip from Detroit to San Francisco. (Cadillac and Stutz vehicles accompanied the T, driven by some of Edsel’s similarly privileged peers.) In addition to sowing their wild oats, Edsel and company had semiprofessional business at hand, in the form of attending the San Francisco–based Panama-Pacific International Exhibition (PPIE)—the word’s fair held in conjunction with the celebration of the opening of the Panama Canal—where Ford exhibits would go on to take several top awards, lending an air of semilegitimacy to the proceedings.

Edsel-Ford-departing-Henry-Ford-Clara

“The Americans have found the healing of God in a variety of things, the most pleasant of which is probably automobile drives.” — William Saroyan, Short Drive, Sweet Chariot

In a build-up to the PPIE, public campaigns encouraged people to take to the still-emerging road system by automobile to “See America First.” Many heeded the call, including Emily Post, who traveled in a chauffeured vehicle, and Packard president Henry Joy. As such, the Historic Vehicle Association (HVA) identifies the year 1915 as the beginning of the “The Road Trip Century.” From that point on, the road trip wove itself into the fabric of American culture, the automobile offering travelers freedom to move at their own pace and determine destinations on a whim. 1915 Ford Model T Touring Road Trip Century

“That’s why I love road trips, dude. It’s like doing something without actually doing anything.”— John Green, An Abundance of Katherines

To mark the 100th anniversary of the Road Trip Century, members of the Historic Vehicle Association are re-creating the cross-country feat in a restored 1915 Ford Model T Touring, the same model Edsel Ford employed in his excellent adventure. HVA president Mark Gessler and HVA historian Casey Maxon are slated for the majority of the wheel time in the Model T. Through the aid of Edsel’s diary, the team has been able to largely reconstruct the route, with stops in Indianapolis, Saint Louis, Kansas City, Albuquerque, the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

No strangers to long-distance travel in Mr. Ford’s legendary T, we here at C/D wish them the best, and we kindly remind them to pack plenty of lip balm and sunscreen. Any concerns regarding their lack of comfort may be tempered by the fact that a 2015 Ford Mustang EcoBoost convertible will be along for the entire journey, the pair bracketing the Road Trip Century symbolically and chronologically. For an illustration of how far the four-cylinder engine has come in the last 100 years, consider that the 2.9-liter unit in the Model T produces just 20 horsepower, while the turbocharged four in the Mustang cranks out 310 ponies from just 2.3 liters—that’s an increase of approximately 2.9 horsepower per year. Suspension technology didn’t develop as rapidly, with the Mustang content to ride through its first fifty years (1999–2004 Mustang SVT Cobra aside) on a solid-axle setup that shares a passing resemblance with the Model T’s underpinnings. The 2015 Stang rides on an all-new IRS setup.  Road Trip of the Century

“Road trip!” — Boone and Otter, Faber College, Undecided

The whole shebang departed from Henry Ford’s Fair Lane Estate in Dearborn, Michigan, on Friday, July 17, the very same spot Edsel and his pals kicked off their epic journey a century ago. Scheduled to conclude in San Francisco on August 18, the route will cover 3565 miles, with numerous stops of interest scheduled along the way. Day one concluded in Auburn, Indiana, at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, after a relatively short 156-mile jaunt with the T averaging 25-to-35 mph; day two had the gang making a 164-mile run to Indianapolis where they visited the Speedway; day three had them overnighting in Saint Louis after covering 260 miles.



We’ve posted the team’s itinerary below, and from here on out C/D be updating the journey on a regular basis with exclusive photographs and anecdotes from the road, so check back often.

1915-Ford-Model-T-Touring-Indianapolis-Motor-Speedway

 “Without the automobile and road trips, the American dream would be more of a nightmare.” ­— Us, Car and Driver

UPDATE Day 4 — Saint Louis to Jefferson City, Missouri: Due to heavy traffic conditions in and around Saint Louis, the team wasn’t able to get the cars close enough to the Gateway Arch for a photo session before departing. Later in the day, however, the entourage made time for a stop at the Historic Daniel Boone Home and Heritage Center in Defiance, Missouri, where they shot the below photo of the cars in front of the restored Newton Howell house (circa 1814), one of the many restored antique buildings located on the premises. 1915 Ford Model T 2015 Mustang daniel Boone Heritage center

Later, after arriving at the day’s destination of Jefferson City, Missouri, the group calculated that it had driven 127 miles for the day and 707 miles overall.

UPDATE Day 5 — Jefferson City, Missouri to Kansas City, Kansas: Although otherwise uneventful, day five included two items of historical significance: First, a short stint on the Santa Fe Trail, the 19th-century trade route that connected the Missouri River—and by proxy the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers—with the largely unsettled (at the time) western territories and Mexico. Second, the entourage stopped for refreshments at the J. Huston Tavern at Arrow Rock, the very same place Edsel Ford and his contemporaries dined 100 years earlier. Opened in 1834, the tavern is the oldest continuously operating restaurant and tavern west of the Mississippi.

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Once arriving in Kansas City, the HVA group checked in to the Muehlebach Hotel, which was constructed in 1915, and hosted every U.S. President from Theodore Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan.IMG_1915

UPDATE Day 6 — Kansas City, Kansas to McPherson, Kansas: Before setting sail from the historic Muehlebach Hotel, the gang was met by Maria Brown, the niece of this particular Model T’s former owner, Leon Brown. Maria shared stories and photos of her family enjoying the car in the 1970s, and the team reciprocated by taking her and her children for a ride in the Model T.

Next up on the day’s agenda was a stop in Baldwin, Kansas, where several friends and relatives of HVA road-trip team driver/mechanic/photographer Casey Maxon would greet the travelers. Not content to simply make the scene, the Maxon clan arrived fully loaded, with Kevin Maxon, Casey’s father, rumbling in with his 1957 Chevy gasser, Tim Maxon astride a WWII-style sidecar motorcycle (complete with machine gun), and Chris Maxon behind the wheel of his Model A.Motorcycle-Sidecar-Machine-Gun-Military

Maxon’s mechanic skills would come in handy later, when the T decided to throw its leather fan belt. A quick call to David George at D.L. George Historic Motorcars put the team on the road to recovery, George recommending they adjust the pulley alignment. After reseating the belt, the car ran the rest of the day without issue. Traveling Route 56 for most of the 160-mile day, the group reached McPherson before dark, bringing the trip total to approximately 1100 miles.1915 Ford Model T Edsel Ford

UPDATE Day 7 — McPherson, Kansas: Day seven in McPherson was the first officially scheduled as a “rest and relaxation” day, and the break in the action allowed for the guys to visit McPherson College and its Automotive Restoration Technology Program, where the T was given a once-over. Chris Paulsen, an assistant professor, and Brian Martin, the director of restoration projects, were on hand to lend their considerable expertise, and they wasted no time in putting the T on the lift. The team couldn’t have asked for better hosts familiar with the century-old mechanicals of the Model T (Chris owns a 1910 and Brian a 1926, and both commute in them frequently).

1915-Ford-Model-T-2015-Mustang

While in the shop, the brakes were adjusted and every bolt on the engine and drivetrain were checked and tightened if necessary. The transmission bands were tightened somewhat, now having been properly seated, and all four wheels were checked. After a thorough going-over, the only concern was the fuel drip from the base of the carburetor. After a few adjustments Casey, Brian, and Chris agreed that the carburetor should be swapped for the spare that had been riding along on the journey. As Brian later put it, “It takes more time to take out your tools than it does to actually change a Model T carburetor.”Ford-Model-T-Repair

UPDATE Day 8 — McPherson, Kansas to Dodge City, KansasAbout 30 miles into the day’s journey, the Model T began to have troubles with fuel starvation. Despite changing the carburetor the day before to address this specific issue, it seemed they’d yet to get to the root cause of the problem. Not helping was the oppressive heat, which would reach 105 degrees before the day was done. The team stopped at Marmie Ford in Great Bend, Kansas, where they borrowed some shop space and changed back to the original carb. Thankfully, Chris Paulsen from McPherson had enlisted for a weeklong tour of duty as the Model T’s guardian angel (expert).

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As a side note, the first nationwide National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) championship quarter-mile drag races were held in Great Bend in 1955. The event was organized by the Sunflower Rod and Custom Association (SRCA) and held on the concrete landing strips of a former military airfield for B-29s. Art Chrisman of Compton, California, set top speed for the first day in his famed #25 car at 145 mph, and Lloyd Scott of Long Beach, California, set the 151-mph top speed of the weekend in his twin-engine Bustle-Bomb.

With 80 miles to go to Dodge City, the team started taking some dirt roads to avoid the semis and high-speed traffic on Route 56. Soon, the pesky fuel issue that had plagued earlier in the day returned. Apparently, the changing of the carburetor failed to correct the problem. Slowly, the distance signs to Dodge City counted down the miles to a welcome respite from the oppressive heat. To put an end to a long, hot day, the guys visited the Depot Theater, a former Harvey House establishment where Edsel and company stayed back in 1915.Ford-Model-T-Mustang-Heat-Kansas

UPDATE DAY 9 ­– Dodge City, Kansas to La Junta, Colorado: Somewhat fortuitously, the all-Ford team found themselves arriving in Dodge City, Kansas, just in time for the 150th birthday of Fort Dodge. Unconcerned about the namesake disparity, the good people of Dodge City extended an invitation to our intrepid travelers for them to participate in its annual celebration parade. As the parade came to an end, the gang hung a right and kept on going with their sights set on La Junta.

1915-Ford-Model-T-Kansas

After a stop for a BBQ lunch in Garden City, Kansas, the team reconnected with the original Santa Fe Trail route. Around 4 p.m. they hit Syracuse, Kansas, where they stopped at the Hamilton County Museum and checked out a couple of Ts it had on display. The museum building served as gas station, repair facility, and Ford agency in the 1910s, and further review of Edsel’s diary revealed that he had stopped at the spot for gas, oil, and minor repairs during his trip.1915-Ford-Model-T-Flat-Tire

Just outside of town the gang rejoined the gravel Santa Fe Trail heading to La Junta. While enjoying some spirited driving on the largely gravel back roads, the driver’s-side rear tire went rogue, separating itself from the rim and attempting to take a shortcut through an adjacent field. After the repairs were made (a Ford F-150 tugging a trailer full of tools and supplies is also making the journey, and it rarely ventures more than a day’s travel from the T), the team continued on, arriving in La Junta, Colorado, at 10:30 that night.

UPDATE Day 10 ­– La Junta, Colorado to Colorado Springs, Colorado: After a hearty breakfast at the Copper Kitchen, a favorite local restaurant, the T took a series of dirt roads out of town, while the F-150 and the Mustang followed 50 west into Manzanola. While there, they visited the Manzanola Trading Company, which is housed in an old hardware store that was established in 1905. Before leaving, they put the T on the industrial scale and discovered it weighed 1460 pounds. At the end of this comparatively easy day, the team checked in to the Antlers Hilton in Colorado Springs by 5 p.m.

Model-T-La Junta-Colorado80

UPDATE Day 11 ­– Pikes Peak/Garden Of The Gods: While in Colorado Springs, the team planned to subject the Model T to its toughest challenge yet: climb to the top of Pikes Peak. Initially constructed in 1889 as a horse and mule trail, the road fell into disservice a couple of years later when railway service was established. In 1915 the road was reopened to handle automobile traffic, and just a year later the Pikes Peak Hill Climb competition was born.

Model-T-Pikes-Peak-Haggerty

Edsel and his crew wisely decided to leave their vehicles at the base and ride the railway to the peak. Situated some 14,110 feet above sea level, it was a challenge the current-day team could not ignore. The T reached the 10-mile marker without incident, but by the time the 14-mile marker came into view the T was barely making progress and stalled out shortly thereafter. The decision was made, with the approval of a park ranger, to leave the T behind and continue the ascent in the Mustang and the F-150.Model-T-Pikes-Peak

After spending some time at the top enjoying the cool 45-degree temperature and taking some photos, the travelers returned to the T, which surprisingly fired right up. To ensure a careful descent, the T relied heavily on engine braking and liberal usage of the Rocky Mountain Brakes, a period-correct aftermarket braking system that was quite popular in the day. Later, the team headed to the Garden of the Gods park for a victory lap of sorts through its massive, prehistoric rock formations.

Update Day 12 – Colorado Springs to Trinidad, Colorado: After the previous day’s unsuccessful ascent of Pikes Peak, the team figured the T could use a thorough once-over before heading out. After replacing a fuel line and attending to the right-rear wheel, the guys set out for Trinidad, Colorado. After a few routing mishaps that required actual paper maps and the help of a couple of locals to rectify, the team continued on via winding gravel roads. Here they began to get their first real taste of wildlife, spotting mule deer, antelope, red-tail hawks, owls, and a host of other animals, including a group of half a dozen or more antelope that ran alongside the T for several hundred yards. Later they would pass through the remains of Shady Greenhorn.

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Keen to keep to back roads and two-tracks, the team found a route that would take them through Ideal Canyon, immersing them in thick pine forests and across dried riverbeds, reaching Trinidad, Colorado, by sundown.Ford Model T at Dusk

Update Day 13 – Trinidad, Colorado to Las Vegas, New Mexico: Although the day started under friendly skies and with cooler temperatures, the weather would soon take a turn for the worse and all three of the team’s vehicles would end up mired in mud. Traveling on gravel and dirt two-tracks, the beautiful scenery served as the sole bright spot in an otherwise dreary day.

1915 F-Ford-Model-T-Road-Trip

After having suffered through what appeared to be the worst road conditions yet, the team encountered a locked gate making forward progress impossible. Due to the muddy conditions and the narrow two-track, turning the truck and trailer around was deemed impossible, and the Model T took off to find help in one of the many farmhouses they’d passed earlier in the day. After waiting for almost two hours, the folks in the F-150 took to the wet, soggy ground in the adjacent fields and managed to turn the truck around. By then the team received word from some locals that there really was no good way to continue, and that the best way to reach Las Vegas, New Mexico, was to return to the interstate. Somewhat dejectedly, but knowing when to admit defeat, the guys loaded the T—which has a top speed of about 40 mph—into the trailer and headed for Las Vegas, arriving at the historic Plaza Hotel around 9 p.m. Plaza-Hotel-Santa-Fe-New-Mexico

Built in 1882, the Plaza has seen its fair share of history through the years, housing everyone from Doc Holliday, Jesse James, and Billy the Kid to modern celebrities filming countless movies in the surrounding area.

Update Day 14 ­– Las Vegas, New Mexico to Santa Fe, New Mexico: Leaving from the Plaza Hotel with the Model T again out of the trailer, the team made the short drive over to the Castaneda Hotel, where they were met by one of its current co-owners, Dan Lutzick. A former Harvey House, the Castaneda Hotel is one of the 900-plus historic buildings in Las Vegas that are on the National Register of Historic Places. Standing adjacent to the equally historic train station, it served as the starting point for tourism in the Southwest. Among those who stayed at the Castaneda Hotel over the years were former president Teddy Roosevelt, heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, and, in 1915, Edsel Ford.

Road-Trip-Century-Model-T-Castaneda-HotelLeaving the truck and trailer at the base of a county road just outside of Santa Fe, the T and the Mustang ventured into the Santa Fe National Forest. At the entrance, a park ranger stopped to take a quick photo and indicated that the road ahead might be a bit dicey due to recent rains. Undeterred, the team forged ahead over a small hill and into the forest. 1915-Model-T-Mud-RunAfter a day of tackling muddy trails that would give even seasoned travelers second thoughts, the team unanimously concluded that the Model T is easily the most versatile two-wheel-drive, commercially available vehicle ever produced. Assessing the collateral damage at the end of the day revealed only a broken latch strap for the roof, the result of a bit too much body flexing.

Update Day 15 ­– Santa Fe, New Mexico to Albuquerque, New Mexico: Compared to the previous three days of capturing the spirit of Edsel’s trip on back roads fraught with obstacles, day fifteen was a peaceful jog. Leaving Santa Fe at 8 a.m., the guys headed toward Albuquerque, where they would rendezvous with the Tin Lizzies, a local Model T club.

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After introductions were made and the cars were topped off with fuel, the entourage departed for Albuquerque. Model T speedsters, touring cars, and even a truck joined the procession, slowly but surely making its way through traffic and into the center of the city where it was scheduled to meet with several local news stations at 12:30 p.m.Ford-Model-T-Tin-Lizzie-Club

After spending the afternoon with the Tin Lizzies and giving the cross-country T a thorough once-over at the shop of club member Larry Azevedo, the team bid adieu to their new friends. Later, they found the battery had become weak; although the car was still able to drive, its lights were no longer operational. To continue, one of the guys held up a flashlight over the hood, weakly lighting the way and, at the very least, confirming their presence on the road. Holding their breath as they passed a cop, the travelers were relieved to find that he simply looked the other way as they passed.

Update Day 16 ­– Albuquerque, New Mexico to Holbrook, Arizona: During the morning pre-drive inspection, the team discovered that the trailer hitch and stabilizer bars on the F-150 had been damaged, most likely during one of the previous days’ impromptu off-road sessions in the Colorado mud. While repairs were being made, a few of the guys made their way to the Unser Racing Museum to pass the time.

Unser-Racing-Museum-New-Mexico

Once back on the road, the guys piloted a course through the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park, as did Edsel back in 1915. Following the original Route 66 as closely as possible, the team happened upon the shell of an old Studebaker, where they paused to take the obligatory photograph.Studebaker-Painted-Desert-Route-66

To keep the authentic Route 66 vibe intact, the team booked a few rooms at the iconic Wigwam Motel Village #6. Constructed by Chester Lewis in 1950, the steel and cement wigwams stand some 32 feet high and feature the original, restored handcrafted wood furniture from the 1950s. Closed in the late 1970s (although a gas station on the premises remained in operation), the property was purchased and reopened by Mr. Lewis’s wife and adult children in 1988. In May of 2002, the Wigwam Village #6 was added to the National Register of Historic Places.Wigwam-Motel-Model-T-Arizona-Route-66

Projected Itinerary:

Day 1: 7/17 Dearborn, MI to Auburn, IN   147 miles

Day 2: 7/18 Auburn, IN to Indianapolis, IN   151 miles

Day 3: 7/19 Indianapolis, IN to St. Louis, MO   264 miles

Day 4: 7/20 St. Louis, MO to Jefferson City, MO   127 miles

Day 5: 7/21 Jefferson City, MO to Kansas City, MO   143 miles

Day 6: 7/22 Kansas City, MO to McPherson, KS   235 miles

Day 7: 7/23 McPherson, KS   zero miles (rest/repair day)

Day 8: 7/24 McPherson, KS to Dodge City, KS   160 miles

Day 9: 7/25 Dodge City, KS to La Junta, CO   210 miles

Day 10: 7/26 La Junta, CO to Colorado Springs, CO   109 miles

Day 11: 7/27 Colorado Springs, CO  zero miles (rest/repair day)

Day 12: 7/28 Colorado Springs, CO to Trinidad, CO   168 miles

Day 13: 7/29 Trinidad, CO to Las Vegas, NM   194 miles

Day 14: 7/30 Las Vegas, NM to Santa Fe, NM   137 miles

Day 15: 7/31 Santa Fe, NM to Albuquerque, NM

Day 16: 8/1 Albuquerque, NM to Chambers, AZ   199 miles

Day 17: 8/2 Chambers, AZ to Flagstaff, AZ   137 miles

Day 18: 8/3 Flagstaff, AZ to Grand Canyon, AZ   79 miles

Day 19: 8/4 Grand Canyon, AZ to Kingman, AZ   156 miles

Day 20: 8/5 Kingman, AZ to Barstow, CA   163 miles

Day 21: 8/6 Barstow, CA to Los Angeles, CA   190 miles

Day 22: 8/7 Los Angeles, CA  zero miles (rest/repair day)

Day 23: 8/8 Los Angeles, CA to Pismo Beach, CA  210 miles

Day 24: 8/9 Pismo Beach to Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA   144 miles

Day 25: 8/10 Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA

Day 26: 8/11 Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA

Day 27: 8/12 Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA

Day 28: 8/13 Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA

Day 29: 8/14 The Quail

Day 30: 8/15 Monterey Motorsports Reunion

Day 31: 8/16 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

Day 32: 8/17 Stanford University

Day 33: 8/18 San Francisco, CA/PPIE

Day 34: 8/19 San Francisco, CA/PPIE

*Note: Travel distances listed here are pre-departure estimates. We’ll have actual mileage figures in the updates whenever available.

The story was originally published on July 21; it is being updated as the T makes its stops along the way to California.

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