Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Old vs New

I enjoy reading about other people’s travels.  Whether riding around the world on a motorcycle, crossing the continental United States by boat or car, or exploring the Canadian Rockies by train, I feel like I am part of the writer’s journey.  I have especially enjoyed reading about automotive travels and adventures that occurred in the first part of the 20th century. 

The 1907 Peking to Paris and the 1908 New York to Paris races were epic adventures actually experienced by only a handful of men, IMG_6767but the dozens of books written about each of them has inspired untold thousands of more modern day adventurers.  Me being prime among them.  I found an original, first edition, autographed by the winning driver, copy of the account of the 1907 Peking to Paris race written by an Italian newspaper man that traveled in the winning car, an Italia.  In it he describes the hardships that those early racers had to endure and it really staggers me.  There were no gas stations, motels and in a lot of cases, IMG_6771no roads! There was no GPS or, for that matter, maps.  Bridges across rivers were a rarity, and when one was encountered, its structural integrity was always suspect.  (In the 1997 re-running of the Peking to Paris, we crossed a bridge in Pakistan with two wheels of the race car on rebar, because the concrete had crumbled out!)   There were several books written about the ‘97 Peking to Paris, one of which the author, IMG_6772Genny Obert incorporated the journal I kept on the trip.  If you would like to find a copy, it is sold on Amazon, here.

In 1915, the San Francisco Columbian exposition drew many novice motorist to take up the challenge of driving across the United States.  Roads were still the exception rather than the rule.  I have collected several journals kept by people as their families made this trip.  Imagine having to shoot rabbits along the road to cook for supper over an open fire! 

In 1931, two teenage friends drove “From Sea to Sea in a Model T”  and years later, one of their daughters gathered their photos and journals together into a book of the same name.IMG_6766  In 1991, one of those young men, then 80 years old, attended the Model T Ford Club International tour we hosted in Gulf Shores, Alabama. I was able to hear first hand some of his adventures, and have read and re-read his book several times.

How much easier it is to travel today.  I think one advantage is that you can find out what’s out there!  The internet is the greatest tool ever designed to research destinations, hotels, restaurants and plan routes.   Modern GPS systems allow you to look down the road, find places to eat or to stay and sights to see - instantly.  Many also offer up to the minute traffic advisories and mine also has a function that would allow overlaying radar weather onto the display with the proper antenna.  In travel, information is definitely you friend.

The state of roads and bridges has improved vastly (in the United States, anyway) in the past one hundred years.  Once local and state governments realized the impact that good roods on commerce, and hence tax revenues, they began to build maintain and regulate roads and bridges.  The federal government got involved with the interstate system in the 1950s, causing an exponential expansion in commerce and leisure travel.  One of the original design criteria for the interstates was to have a straight and level stretch of road every five miles that would allow landing of military aircraft (ours, presumably) in time of war.  I don’t know whether that requirement is still being met.

Finding gasoline is not the big drama it once was, either.  It is rare to find an exit on an interstate highway without at least one gas station, usually several to choose from.  An despite the seemingly high price of gasoline, we really have it relatively good compared to the rest of the world. 

I don’t think that the destination be some exotic place to have the spirit of discovery and adventure.  There are many parts of Alabama that I have not seen yet.  I hope getting away from interstate highways, fast food and chain hotels will open up a glimpse of life the way it was if the past generation, a step back in time. 

Travel itself has become somewhat boring. If I have to travel to the west coast, I get on an airplane, they close the door in Birmingham and open it again in California.  Unless I happen to have a seat by the window, there is very little sense on the ground we are covering, I might as well have gotten on an elevator one one floor and gotten off on another!  Of course this takes five hours, where to drive the same distance today would take five days, but 80 years ago it might have taken five weeks!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Preparation for the Adventure


Driving a Model A Ford (or any old car, for that matter) on a long trip requires a little bit more planning and forethought than we have become accustomed to lately.  If we take a trip in our modern car, we really don’t think much about spare parts or tools that might be needed.  Cars today are so reliable that we have become very spoiled.  At the same time, cars have lost a lot of their personality, and have become more like tools to get from point A to point B.

When the Roadster Pickup was dragged out of the barn, it had been there for many years.  The top was in tatters, the tires were flat (they did hold air when pumped up) and dry rotted, and the engine had zero compression on two cylinders.  The wiring had been used by various rodents as snack IMG_4525food  (evidenced by the deposits they left everywhere).  There was even a device to rid the truck of rodents – a very large snake skin tumbled out onto the running board  when I opened the driver’s door.

Considering the time frame that we were dealing with, possibilities were discussed as to what repairs could be made, and in which order.  Overall priorities of safety, reliability and comfort were decided upon.  The appearance of the truck was not much of a concern,  with plans to leave much of it in the “as found” condition.  However, it was decided that if something were repaired or replaced, it was best to bring it up to an acceptable cosmetic level.  For instance, when the top fabric was replaced, the top bows would be cleaned of surface rust, repaired and repainted. 

We discussed, briefly, taking our 1914 Model T pickup truck on the Grand Adventure.  However the clincher tires, wooden spokes and general cantankerousness of the old T led up to make a more sane (less insane?)  choice of vehicles.

   I really think that the old girl would make it alright, but most likely with more drama than we would be willing to accept.  14jpegModel Ts seem to have a much more distinct personality, sometimes getting too grumpy for enjoyment. But when they are feeling good, they can be a great joy to travel in.  We just felt like we would have more fun in the Model A.

One of the first requirements that was addressed was the tires.  Although the ones on the truck still held air, their age and condition made their replacement a top priority.  There are a surprising number of brands still available in the 450/550 X 19 size used on the 1930-31 Fords.  Goodyear, Firestone, Lucas, Universal, Coker, and even Michelin are advertised for the car, ranging in price from $99 to $450 each.  (Although the Michelins might be good, I don’t think they are that good).  Dismounting the old tires and mounting the new ones took up a complete, hot, steamy Saturday morning.  New tubes and wheel liners were also installed, along with new lug nuts and hub caps (the ones on the car were rusted beyond use). 

The new blackwall tires changed the look of the truck dramatically, too.  The whitewalls had turned a dingy gray, and the black part of the tires was no longer black, but a gray only slightly darker than the whitewalls. 

The next area of concern to be addressed was the lighting and wiring.  The insulation on the wires had become brittle and had actually fallen off in some places.  I was afraid that I would not be able to keep the smoke inside the wires where it belongs.  When you operated the high-low function on the light switch, the head lights winked alternately – left then right, like Curley in an old Three Stooges episode.  There was no tail light or brake lights functioning, and the generator worked intermittently and erratically.  I decided it would be best to replace ALL of the wiring, install and alternator and upgrade the headlights to halogen.  The installation of a turn signal system was decided as a safety measure.  Everything needed was readily available from Mike’s.  They have convenient kits that group items that need to be replaced, based upon many years of experience with these cars.

Old TopThe old top was removed and the major remaining pieces were saved for comparison purposes.  The front bow was broken and was replaced with one made from some left over mahogany.  The other bows and sockets were cleaned and painted black, not as a restoration, but just to make them presentable.  A new top was also ordered, but when it came in, it was slightly different than the one I had removed.  The new one had a one piece back curtain, where the old one had a center section that could be rolled up.  A quick call to the maker and I was told that Ford never made one with a roll up center section.  However, if I could send the old one in for patterns along with the new one, they would make one to match the  “unauthorized accessory” back curtain.  I think the benefits of flow through ventilation trump any need for originality.

Brakes, wheel bearings and kingpins were serviced, adjusted and lubricated.  The front end alignment was brought back to factory specs. The original windshield wiper motor and horn were also disassembled, cleaned and made fully functional. 

We thought of another convenience item we need, one that was never considered in 1930: cup holders!  Although the contemporary sales literature said that the Model A truck was made for three people in the cab, there is not as much room as you would think.  With both of us comfortably seated, any type of console would be rather crowding. Oh, well – we will come up with something.