Ocean to Ocean in a T

The Centennial of the 1909 Ocean to Ocean Endurance Contest

In 1984, when I was just nineteen years old, the Model T Times came in the mail and it had, as its cover, a replica of the number two Ford racer. I was convinced then, and still today, that that car was one of the single most significant symbols of something that would change the face of this earth. Whether you consider the after effects of the world’s transportation infrastructure, the significance to the women’s movement, Henry Ford’s contribution to industry and wages, or the eventual urban sprawl that was enabled decades later, this car was a catalyst of change. Today, as a teacher of Environmental Science and Public Policy, I have not changed my opinion very much about the significance of the #2 Ford and it’s victory in this race (whether by perception or by reality.) I told myself twenty five years ago that I would drive that same route and look again at the sights that they saw in 1909. Today, as the 2009 President of the Model T Ford Club International with my wife as a graduate student earning her PhD in Science, Technology and Society and three kids who grew up in the back seat of that 1926 Touring car that I was given by my godfather at age ten, we get to realize that dream together. This is my blog (diary) about that adventure:

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Comment by Billy McGuire on July 14, 2009 at 5:20pm
Monday, July 13, 2009 – The Last Blog – Simon and Garfunkel said in a song about twenty five years ago that “we’re all off to look for America.” I suppose that this is what I’ve been trying to do over the lasr month. Each day, I’ve tried to capture my observations not in a romanticized or patriotic shrouded guise, but objectively working to figure out just what this country is and how it works. I’m not sure what conclusion I have come up with, but I plan to distill my ideas into an article for publication in a non-Model T magazine. Today we shipped our little flivver named Lucy back to Virginia, we took a last look at the University of Washington as we went to the AYPE (Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition) centennial exhibit at the Museum of History and Industry, and now we are as blindly traversing the country as most Americans do at 20,000 feet in the air in a jet. While we did not see all of America, we got a great and unbiased sample. If you want my conclusions, you will have to ask for them once I’m done with the article. If you have comments or arguments with what I’ve said, I’d love to hear them as I have never claimed to be an authority.
Comment by Billy McGuire on July 14, 2009 at 5:17pm
Sunday July 12 – Endings always tend to celebrate the great plays or battles. The end of this pilgrimage across the country is no different. While the tickertape falls on the celebrated heroes, the one that shoveled coal into the boiler has to be content that it was worth the effort. Today we went to the Drumheller fountain in Seattle at the University of Washington. En route to the end of our drive, there were volunteers that were holding up arrows directing us to turn. This made the drive much more coordinated, but I wonder how many of my fellow drivers remembered to say “thank you” to them as they drove past. I think that the Seattle Mayor did some grandstanding at the finish line, but I’m not sure what he did to get to that point.

Endless questions were asked and answered as I stood by my little flivver and introduced the hundreds of visitors to her. All of her new acquaintances seem to appreciate her more than just an old machine that had performed a remarkable feat. It seems that the Model T is much more engrained into the institutional memory of what made America the country that it is than say perhaps the Hudson Automobile.

At the banquet, the quarterbacks were celebrated and the star players gave themselves high fives. Some were emotional and some were just sincere. Those memorable moment of broken axles, broken crankshafts, midnight engine changes, blown tires, were relived as though the banquet room was a locker room, but the individuals that did what they were supposed to do, or acted to support the team in the shadows, were unnoticed. My friend Jon Griesenbeck spent months working through the website to make sure that everybody was ready and that everybody knew what was going on. Morris Dillow wore out his sewing machine getting Ocean to Ocean apparel ready for drivers and their passengers. John Strickland allowed cars to ride in his trailer while they were down for the day and Don and Pat Lang refused to forego their entry fee and yet they provided essential services for which others did forgo the entry fee. While the crowds “yucked it up” about mechanical catastrophes, hardly a mention was made of the individuals that properly prepared their cars and required nothing except gas, fresh oil, and grease.

I would contend that the Model T is one of those “coal shoveling” soldiers in the history of the Unitesd States. While classic automobile books and collectors are obligated to mention or own one, their significance in history is much less celebrated than the ’56 Chevy, the Thunderbird, or the Harley Davidson. The later are quintessentially “American” while the Model T did its job as Americans built this country into what it is today. Today’s post is not dedicated to the fast, the loud, the self proclaimed leaders, but to Jon, Morris, Don and Pat, and all of the others that have made this trip special…and the Model T.
Comment by Billy McGuire on July 14, 2009 at 5:15pm
Saturday, July 11 – Wash, Wash, Wash…let’s get ready to show. Henry Ford would have said “bull!” In the mid 1980’s the first car advertisements came out that strategically placed mud on to a Land Rover in order to show how tough the car was. This was hailed as revolutionary and soon cars were “put through their paces” in muddy advertisements. I figure that Henry Ford was well ahead of his time as he only figured this out three quarters of a century earlier. Bert Scott and C.J. Smith were disgustingly filthy as they crossed the finish line in Seattle. Why didn’t Ford clean them up? I wonder how many times that homemade wreath had fallen off of their radiator before they crossed the finish line, only for them to pick it back up and replace it because the imaginary references were just too strong. I would suggest that any Model T person try to balance a wreath for miles and miles as it dangled from the radiator cap over a rough road. I contend that those finish line shots, as well as the Goodland, Kansas hose down shots, were staged by a masterful marketing person, Henry Ford.

Today, Richie and I took off to see Seattle. I had been there as part of The Western Tour in 1982, but Richie had not been there before. For such a big and diverse city, it is hatd to know where to start. We went to the Fry Museum of art and they had a special exhibit about puppetry. This was very interesting and took my understanding of this art form to a new level. I only wish that my children had been there as they are active in the crafts of the theater and it would have provided valuable insights to them as well. We drove to the waterfront and parked in a garage, then found a place to eat alongside the sound. This was a nice break, but the tourists (like us) were obscuring what was really there to the point that it was hard to figure our whether what was there, was actually there beyond the tourists. This exercise was repeated at the Pike Street Market, where I was tryng to figure out how much marketing was going on despite the tourists. If I lived in Seattle, I might go to Costco in order to avoid the tourists.

SAM (Seattle Art Museum) was a real highlight. Expecting to find galleries with old masters and oil paint, I was really aken aback. Guards in the galleries wore everyday appearing clothes and were familiar in their approach. While there were some old European paintings, there were also a lot of fresh and different artwort – including some by the artist that my Sister-in-law is working on for her phd. There are masks of Indian origin, photographs, weaving, decorative caskets, video art presentations, and my favorite was about young artists that are making history with their art today.

Perhaps the most refreshing thing about the art galleries that we visited today is the fact that there were comfortable chairs in the gallery spaces. These chairs invited the guest to sit down and watch an interview with the artist that created the art. In this way, one could contextualize the art into its place in time and space. I find that art doesn’t always make sense unless you put it in time and space. I did not clean up my Model T and neither did Henry Ford in1909. The mud was important to the message that that car sent out to the world in the newspaper headlines. The dust, rainspots, grease, and gasoline spills are important to the massage that my car is sending to its observers aa I concluded the rerun or Fords historic journey and I did not wash it off for a car show! Viewers looking for another pretty car (just like gallery goers that are looking for just another pretty picture) will not get it.
Comment by Billy McGuire on July 14, 2009 at 5:14pm
Friday, July 11 – Now I know what comes after each end that I discussed yesterday – purgatory. We woke up early yesterday and went out to breakfast at the Pancake house that was attached to the summit Lodge – this was basically the only option in town. We thought that we had plenty of time, but not really because the service redefined the meaning of “slow.” Horridly, we loaded up our bags into the car, lined up, and started the procession out of Snoqualmie Pass down to Issaquah. We drove through some nicely asphalted roads – at 13 miles per hour. Moved to a gravel road that is well maintained by the U.S. Forest Service – at 8.5 miles per hour. All he while, I was following a Model T that needed a new set of piston rings because it was smoking very badly and the burnt oil was giving me an incredible headache. I’m sure that most people that read this blog have never seen the bumper sticker made for Model Ts that says, “this car only has two speeds, if you don’t like this one, you sure as Hell won’t like the other,” but neither of the Model Ts comfortable speeds are 13 or 8.5. So the early hours of today were spent, touching the car into low, letting it pop into high, pushing the clutch in and letting it coast, then repeating this procedure as the car lurched toward the billowing smoky car in front and then found its distance once again. All of this ended up at an Indian reservation where there were drummers, singers, and dancers in a tribal hall where they talk about the culture, serve meals, and meet. Today’s provided lunch consisted of smoked salmon, fried bread, baked beans.

Being the prudent type, Richie and I found a shady seat and waited for the line to get shorter as people were fed and others were interviewed by the local media. The lines did not get shorter, they got longer. Friends standing in line did not move any closer to the front. The sun warmed the area and people waited as we wondered why the Indians only had one pan to cook the fried bread one piece at a time and the smoked salmon was being thawed one flat after another. After watching this for an hour and a half, I got some lunch fixin’s out of our car. As we were told that it would be an hour before the parade stared again, I packed up my lunch, loaded the car, and set out for Issaquah on my own.

Freed by the chains of the earlier morose speed parade from the morning, my flivver was darting up hills and rolling down dales (whatever they are.) Enjoying the best decision that I had made in a long time (that of breaking ranks with the pied piper and the rats) I wheeled into the Holiday Inn in Issaquah and was one of the first drivers to check in. I unloaded my filthy dirty car and Richie rented a VW Beetle for the weekend so that we could explore Seattle unencumbered by safety concerns and weak 85 year old brakes in a rather hilly city.

I was talking to another Model T person later that night. I was told that the Indians had more than one grill set up to cook our lunch for 350 people, but the health inspector had showed up and determined that they had too many square inches of grill surface exposed for the number of sinks and potties in their pavilion. The health inspector made them put some of the grills away and they were forced to feed the masses with equipment enough for a nice family barbeque. Apparently, the Indians want to capitalize on the tourist activities and want to build a lodge or casino, they are in a “deadlock” with the local government who is making life hard on them. When we find ourselves in purgatory, we tend to focus on how we can always bring these things as a test of ourselves. I think that the Indians are in a purgatory of their own, but it is harder for them to pack up their picnic and go.
Comment by Billy McGuire on July 14, 2009 at 5:13pm

Going up Canyon Road toward Ellensburg
Comment by Billy McGuire on July 14, 2009 at 5:10pm
Thursday, July 10 – Bittersweet is the sense of the day. This morning, we got up earlier than necessary because we wanted to go and visit with Margaret at her farm on Hey Rd. We let the GPS get us there and drove in the driveway, but missed her house that was obscured behind some very lush trees whose branches touched the ground. We knocked on the door of one house, wrong one. Drove up to another, and it definitely did not look like the abode of a 98 year old lady. We then saw her house, knocked on the door: no answer. So we decided to take a few photographs and then drive on. As I was taking a shot of one of the circus wagons that she uses to store her books, I noticed that a door was open. Nobody that stores books leaves to door open to the elements when she’s not there so I went up and greeted her as she was going through the volumes. She was cheery and she left to visit with Richie. Meanwhile her son gave me an oral history of what was once the working farm. He showed me where the irrigation ditches had once been before they sold the rights to someone else in the water district and not just intermittent flows are released for them to keep the yard trees alive. When the old silo blew over, his mom had it made into a fence for her flower garden, sort of a precious fence made out of clear 2 x 6 x 24 foot Fir boards, but he said that was what mom wanted. He gave me a tour of all of the horse drawn implements that were lined along the driveway, and showed me the 1951 tractor that replaced the horse, thought the implements stayed the same

Driving up the Yakima Canyon was an unexpected surprise. Huge bare mountains off to either side and a bold river flowing through the middle provided the route for us to get through to Ellensburg, where we had an eleven o’clock rendezvous with the rest of the cars. Outside of Ellensburg were were stopped, lined up and ut in a parade through town that ended at the historic train station where we were provided with Lunch, serenaded by a local band, and I even won the double sack race competition with Dennis Fleming. Most folks believed us when we said that that is all we do for entertainment on Sunday afternoons after church picnics and that is why we were so good! Leaving town, we went up to Cle Elum where we were once again greeted by folks from the town, refreshed with iced tea and cookies. A local historian had carefully planned our driving route and we were following the historic road up Snoqualmie pass as much as possible – but that is where some of the trouble started. The rough road got rougher, and rougher, and soon my teeth were going to rattle out as I passed cars up the washboarded and rutted up road. Leaving some as “dead soldiers” along the side, Lucy (our flivver) kept going up and up, then down, down, and down – quickly. When the road leveled out and the asphalt started, we were rolling up the pass and swoosh…into a parking lot! A full band was playing and there were linen tablecloths set out for dinner in the parking lot, a big tray of vegetables, and a cash bar.

Well, I’ve been looking forward to this trip since 1984. The parking lot event pretty much said, “it’s almost done.” So what now? We’ve come a long way, made good friends, learned a lot, and prepared for years, but you are never really prepared to be finished. I think that Margaret’s Son, who gave me the tour of his old family farm felt the same way. As she is now 97 and has made her casket, much of the farm that was carved out of nature has now returned to nature, he is wondering the same thing. What is next? They have come a long way, but are not prepared to figure out how to finish. Life is a pilgrimage; each end must be the start of a beginning.
Comment by Billy McGuire on July 9, 2009 at 1:24am

Growing pole beans in the Yakima Valley of Washington. it is interesting to think about the net productivity of these bean stalks relative to the hops, wheat, or straw. Further, if ones considers the energy input for the yield ...I think that we should all be more "full of beans."
Comment by Billy McGuire on July 9, 2009 at 1:16am
Wednesday, July 8 – Today Richie and I were off to a slow start. Although the alarm went off at 5:45, we were not out of the Hotel until just after eight. Following our bumper stickers,” think globally and act locally,” we went downtown to get a good cup of coffee for the road. We drove up to Walla Walla where we had a stylishly late breakfast at a local diner at about 10:00. Continuing up Rt. 12 was unimpressive scenery with fields full of hops, where I just wondered how much beer could be made per unit area that I was observing, meanwhile Huge semis and modern vehicles were busily passing us and more than one gave some special salutes to us as they passed. The wind was really whipping and tossing our little flivver all over the road and to say that I was miserable would be an understatement, but eventually all of those trucks scurried off to the adjacent interstate highways and my blood pressure returned to normal just as the landscape became interesting as we drove along the banks of the Columbia River and then the Yakima River. The agriculture of the Yakima Valley also changed to vineyards, peach, apple, and plum orchards. Later we saw fields of pole beans being grown. Along with the agriculture, the culture was distinctly different. Lunch wagons advertised “el taco loco” and many of the stores catered to Spanish speaking individuals. The housing conditions seemed to relate to whether the workers were permanent or seasonal, but always distinct from the establishment. Irriigation is used widely, but in a more conservative fashion than seen in Idaho where water use is so casual that it seemed that a farmer might irrigate a field of rocks in order to see whether they would erode into a fine loamy soil. The farmers in the Yakima valley tend to flood ditches or use drip irrigation to conserve the water.

Tonight, we went out to Dinner with Don and Marge Krull to a local bar and grill. While the Menu did not have as colorful a palate as last night, there were plenty of things to eat that were grown in or produced in the Yakima Valley. On the way back from dinner, we found the reception that was hosted by the Historical Society. Dennis Flemming introduced me to a local lady named Margaret who is 98 years old and sharp as a tack. She told us about her centennial farm where she was born and still lives, her work as an extension educator, her college days in the depression, seeing FDR as he traveled the west, and all sorts of other stories. She even has made her own casket, lives alone with a high school friend, and has even held a wake where everybody signed the inside of her casket. She says that she goes to read the notes in her casket if she gets depressed. Tomorrow morning Richie and I are going to drive out to her farm. Her Son was there as well and explained much of the changes that he had seen in the agriculture in the Valley to me; the loss of cottonwood, the rise of Russian olive, and the abandonment of the water cooperatives that kept their early life going.

Most interesting to me is that this near centenarian woman was not telling us stories of the past in the tone of “those were the good old days.” Margaret spoke of the past as an adventure. She talked in a way that it seemed like she knows now and knew in the past as to what was going on in the world, but she also cares deeply about her community. After we parted ways, Dennis was telling me that she had given a Spanish couple three acres of her land and loaned them money to build a house. In return, they just needed to help her keep up her yard and house. At 98 she has outlived the husband, but the wife still helps her keep up. Margaret never needed a bumper sticker to remind her to “think globally but act locally.”
Comment by Billy McGuire on July 8, 2009 at 2:02am

The road driving down and into Pendleton, Oregon. This elevation is about 4500 feet, hundreds of feet above the elevation of Pendleton.
Comment by Billy McGuire on July 8, 2009 at 1:59am

Horaay - natural shade trees along the roadsides.

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