Cross-country Model T trip is drive of lifetime
Ken Hummel is going for a drive.
He will travel 3,961.9 miles. His speed won’t exceed 40 miles per hour.
He won’t have windshield wipers, air conditioning, or a radio.
He will pass through 12 states over 29 days.
It’s a trip that’s been in the making for 100 years. And he can’t wait to put the pedal to the metal.
Hummel, 53 of Bell Township, Westmoreland County, will be in the driver’s seat of one of 55 Model T cars making a trek across the U.S. to commemorate the centennial of the 1909 New York to Seattle Ocean to Ocean Endurance Race.
The drive includes an individual — and Model T — representing each the 50 states. Five additional enthusiasts will participate from the United Kingdom, Ireland, England, Canada and Sweden. Hummel is Pennsylvania’s representative. All participants will pay their own way.
The ride begins Sunday at New York City Hall and ends at Drumheller Fountain in suburban Seattle on July 12.
“I am nervous and excited,” says Hummel, who is part of a Model T Ford Club. “There was no question in my mind that I wanted to do this. This is a part of history, especially since it most likely will be the last time anything like this will be done.”
The original race was sponsored by millionaire Robert Guggenheim, part of a publicity campaign for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition held in Seattle that year.
Drivers will be behind the wheels of Model Ts dating from 1909 to 1927. Every fourth day on the road will be a free day, a day to rest, recover and tinker.
Planning for the event began in 2003.
“I have always liked the Model T because it reminds me of a time when people in this country were self-reliant and self-supporting,” says Peter Bernhardt, one of the tour’s co-chairmen. He saw a Model T for the first time at the age of 9 and says he “never got over it.”
Bernhardt, along with his wife Mary — both are 62 — will be making the trek in a 1911 model.
“A lot of Americans learned to drive on the Model T,” he says. “This is about tradition. It will also take great patience, but it will well be worth it.”
Most of the trip will follow the original route from a century ago. The plan is to avoid highways if possible. The motorcade will have police escorts for part of the journey as a safety precaution. Three days will be spent in Dearborn, Mich., and three days in Seattle.
But this time around, the trip should be easier than it was in 1909, says Bob Casey, curator of transportation at the Henry Ford and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Mich. Roads are nicer, gas stations are available, there is cell-phone technology and GPS systems, and the capability of bringing extra parts in a modern vehicle. And there are plenty of hotels along the way.
Planning the route was probably one of the most difficult parts of this entire voyage, Casey says. Drivers in these relatively slow-moving vehicles have to be careful on roads with lots of traffic or other distractions. The taillights and headlights aren’t very bright, so night driving should be avoided.
“Not many people will drive across country in their lifetime in a modern vehicle, let alone a car made in the early 1900s,” Casey says. “So this will definitely be a challenge, but an experience they will remember for the rest of their lives.”
Despite being a well-made car, the Model T requires a lot of maintenance such as adding oil. It can overheat quickly and can be uncomfortable to ride in because you can’t adjust the seats.
“You have to always keep your mind on the fact that you are driving a Model T,” Casey says. “It can be mentally as tiring as physically because you have to keep thinking about what you are doing all the time. This car doesn’t react the way a modern car does, and it has quick steering which means it can be tippy if you aren’t careful.”
But balanced against the challenges is a whole lot of fun.
“It will be an adventure that you will be sweaty and tired after because you worked so hard at it,” Casey says. “But it will also be rewarding.”
When Hummel brought up the trip with his wife, Barbara, she told him to go for it.
“I was going to go with him,” she says, “but after he gave me my first driving lesson, he decided to not give me a second one. These cars are not easy to drive. They are not like regular cars. But he is so excited to go. He has been talking about this trip for years.”
Accompanying Hummel on the drive will be friends Ed Smith, 62, also of Bell Township, and Dave Ross, 63, of Brackenridge. Hummel estimates the trip will cost him about $8,000, which includes covering lodging for Smith and Ross.
The trio will take turns driving the Model T and another, more modern Ford product — the Expedition. The newer vehicle will hold emergency engine parts and be the vehicle they will use for the return home.
Hummel, Smith, and Ross have been acting like little kids because they are so excited, says Barbara Hummel, who will be monitoring the trip along with Ken’s father, Merritt Hummel, 84, from Lower Burrell.
Dad says his son always loved cars.
“I remember his first car — ’39 Plymouth,” he says. “I had to tow it home because it didn’t run. It took two U-hauls to hold the parts. But my son always liked antiques. He would look for antique cars on the road when we would be on trips. Antique cars are in his blood. He likes old things, and likes the way things used to be. I never discouraged him because this is his passion.”
Hummel, who is a geologist, has also put together a Model T, which came in pieces. It took him four years. He will be driving his 1912, but he also owns 1911 and 1916 models.
“I am glad to represent Pennsylvania,” says Hummel, who will celebrate his 54th birthday in Idaho. “It is certainly an honor.”
Smith says he was honored when Hummel asked him along. Although Smith appreciates the advancement of today’s automobiles, there is something special about driving a Model T.
“Just to be able to say we did something like this will be great because it most likely will be the last time it’s ever done,” Smith says. “Think of the people we will meet, and the things we will see.”
Some of the scenery may not be that enticing. They could endure everything from rain storms to blistering heat.
“Not having a radio or windshield wipers or air conditioning is part of the experience,” Hummel says. “Driving with the top down is the way to go. You get to take in so much more of the scenery that way.”
“This is an opportunity of a lifetime,” says Ross, whose late father, Harold, got his son interested in older cars by taking apart a Model A and putting it back together. “When Ken asked me if I wanted to go with him, I said ‘How come it took you so long to ask?’ If Ken would say I could drive the entire time, I would jump in and start driving. I prefer these kinds of cars. I guess it’s just a nostalgia thing.”
On Sunday, 55 Model T cars will embark on a 3,961.9 mile trip across the US to reenact the 1909 Ocean to Ocean Endurance Contest. You can follow the trip as it progresses on the Internet. Details: Web site .
Follow Ken on his trip