Mr. and Mrs. Model T: New York to Seattle trip part of Ford showcase
By Mark Wineka
Model T Fords weave in and out of the lives of John Strickland and his wife, Kathryn Johnson.
So it’s fitting that the Salisbury couple will take off today from New York City Hall and chug across country with more than 50 other Model Ts on their way to Seattle.
“It’s just one of those things I’ll never forget,” Strickland predicts.
Strickland and Johnson will not be setting any land-speed records during the monthlong, 3,800-mile trip.
Their maroon 1927 Model T will flirt with 35 mph, while staying off interstates as much as possible.
The centennial trip is trying to retrace closely the route of the 1909 Ocean to Ocean Endurance Contest won by a Model T.
It’s the race Henry Ford used to sell the American consumer on the value and durability of his Model T, which debuted in 1909 and stayed in production through 1927. (See the accompanying story.)
At several of the daily stopovers, communities plan big celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the endurance racers coming through. At least three days are planned at Dearborn, Mich., home for the Ford Co.
Other free days, where the participants and their cars will be given a chance to rejuvenate, include places such as Bloomington, Ind.; Olathe, Kan.; Fort Collins. Colo.; and Pocatello, Idaho.
The participating Model Ts represent all 50 states and several foreign countries.
The Salisbury couple are North Carolina’s representatives, and Johnson Concrete of Salisbury is a sponsor. (Kathryn’s mother, Billy Johnson, owns the company.)
Strickland figures the couple will spend close to $10,000 when banquet costs, motel rooms, food and gasoline are figured in. They’ve been planning on taking the cross-country trip for about five years.
The couple will have a NASCAR-like support team thanks to friends Jim Davidson and Steve Elling, who will be making the trip, too, in a truck pulling a 40-foot-long trailer.
The rig can hold four Model Ts, which it did as Strickland trailered his car and three others to New York for the start.
After Strickland and Johnson reach Seattle, they will put their Model T (and the others) in the trailer and drive the rig to North Dakota, where they plan to meet Hedrick, one of their daughters, who is working a summer internship related to the inventory of wild horses.
The others will be flying back home from Seattle.
“It’s going to be a fun trip,” Strickland says.
The couple have no allusions. The New York-to-Seattle trip will be a challenge for the Model Ts, which are definitely high maintenance by today’s standards.
But the cars are so straightforward mechanically ó and Strickland knows them backward and forward ó that they think they can handle any problem that might arise.
“You do have to be pretty fluid and flexible with a Model T,” Johnson says.
If they need a part that’s not in the trailer, the couple figure they can call back to Salisbury and have one delivered overnight to wherever they are.
“I work on my T-models every day,” Strickland says.
You see, Strickland has 25 Model Ts.
He takes a visitor out to his Rowan County shop and walks in and out of a virtual museum of T-models.
He ticks them off ó the coupes, the depot hacks, the pickups, the touring editions, the roadsters ó and calls out the years they were manufactured. All are restored and in running condition. They encompass some 35 years of collecting and his bringing them back to life.
“I guess I went overboard … most of them don’t leave the shed,” Strickland says. “I guess I’m going to give her (Kathryn’s) next husband something to do.”
Johnson is still trying to figure out how Strickland’s collection of cars outgrew her own stable of horses.
Strickland has storage buildings full of parts, too.
“A lot of people bring them (Model Ts) to me to work on,” explains Strickland, who owns three Charlotte Honda motorcycle dealerships.
His oldest Model T is a 1911. And he has at least one body style of each Model T manufactured over the car’s 16-year run.
For safety reasons, Strickland likes to fit his T-models with turn signals, alternators and hydraulic brakes.
He first envisioned making the cross-country journey with a 1913 touring Model T, but it has no windows.
Kathryn insisted on taking a Model T that could be shut tight against the elements ó hence, the 1927 model.
“You have air-conditioning,” Strickland adds. “All you do is open the windshield.”
Truth be known, Kathryn developed a passion for Model Ts first. As a kid, she regularly rode to Rowan Dairy for ice cream in her father Allen Johnson’s 1924 Model T.
The car always started conversations, and Model Ts still do.
“I don’t know what it is about an old car,” Johnson says. “… It always brings a smile.”
Strickland became hooked on the Model T long ago when he saw Allen Johnson’s 1924 model. He calls it “the one I got started in.”
The couple are hardly novices when it comes to traveling in their Model Ts.
Longtime members of the Model T Ford Club International, they often planned family vacations with their daughters around club excursions.
With their daughters grown, they still try to take extended weekend trips in a Model T about once a month to places such as Wilmington and New Bern.
They routinely show up in a Model T for weekend breakfast at College Barbecue or Marlowe’s. They also like to drive for ice cream to Curt and Geri’s Dairy Bar in Salisbury, usually with their dogs Sadie and Raleigh.
Their 1927 Model T has conquered the Rocky Mountains in Estes Park, Colo. They’ve also driven 1,000 miles roundtrip from Nashville, Tenn. to Natchez, Miss.
Johnson says you simply see the country better from a Model T.
In other words, you can’t be in a hurry.
“I’ve always been high-strung,” Strickland says. “This is a way to slow down.”