Model T Ford ~ 100 Years Old and Still Going Strong

June 1, 2008 | By More

Story by Dianne Edwards

They stare, they point, they wave and they ask a lot of questions. Being the driver of a Model T means one better know their “stuff” because the adoring public is going to want to know more.

Driving a Model T Ford is fun, “more fun than just owning one.” Just ask David and Tena Ragsdale of Russellville and the handful of other Model T owners lucky enough to drive the “world’s most influential car of the 20th Century.” The couple seldom drives their 1923 Ford Model T Touring Car without acquiring stares and waves.

The Ragsdales purchased their Model T in 1999. David had never really sought to own one; he had, however, restored an old 1950s Chevy pickup with his grandfather. 

The car the Ragsdale bought needed very little work. He drove it eight years before minor repairs were required this spring.

The Model T was a rear-drive vehicle with a “planetary gear” billed as a 3-speed, though one of those was actually “reverse.” Ragsdale will admit that learning to drive the Model T takes a bit of practice.

“It’s definitely not something you just jump into and drive,” he explained.

When he purchased his Model T, David received a 10-minute lesson from the previous owner. When the Ragsdales decided to buy the car, David had never driven a Model T. He agreed to buy the vehicle only if its owner would deliver it to Russellville in time for his wife’s birthday.

Tena, an avid antique-collector since her youth, had discovered the car with David during a trip to Judsonia. In search of a part to repair an antique pedal car that she had acquired, the pair found the Model T in one of three barns owned by collector Tony Noble. Noble had restored the car in 1961 after purchasing it from its original owners. It was in near-perfect shape for a car that was built in the 1920s.

“You need to buy that,” Noble had told the couple. “’Yeah, right,’ I thought,” added Ragsdale.

“I hadn’t gone to Judsonia to buy a Model T, but, as lovers of old things, the idea intrigued us,” David recalled.

“Tena and I talked about it on the drive home. Later, I called Walter Hudson, whom I knew was knowledgeable about old cars. I did my research and then called Noble back a few days later, telling him I would buy the car if he could deliver it in time for Tena’s birthday.”

Ragsdale has taught several people how to drive since learning himself, including his father-in-law. Bill Payne and his wife, Jane, are now the proud owners of a 1920 Model T Touring Car which differs slightly from David and Tena’s car.

The acquisition of the Payne car was not without drama, admitted David. While on a family vacation, the Ragsdale family – including son Will and daughter Lauren – toured the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich. with their grandparents.

While visiting Greenfield Village with the kids, Payne began showing signs of heart distress. The discomfort landed him in the hospital, resulting in the insertion of stints at a leading cardiac center in Michigan.

Determined to find a Model T for himself during the vacation, the patient pleaded with his family to continue their search while he recovered in the hospital with wife Jane by his side. Two days later, Payne rejoined the family and made a trek to Ohio and Maryland where he purchased his own Model T, which son-in-law David drove home.

David, who started a business in 1985 — first as Dover Insurance and now as Ragsdale Insurance — serves as the secretary/treasurer for Arkansas Tin Lizzies. The local Model T club he helped charter on March 22, 2005, is a sub-chapter of the Model T Ford Club of America based in Centerville, Indiana.

Roy Mathis of Van Buren is president and Bill Payne of Dardanelle is vice president of the Arkansas Tin Lizzie club, which boasts approximately 60 members. Of those members, about 20 are active, attending the quarterly meetings which are held in one of the four zones covering Northwest Arkansas and Oklahoma, North Central Arkansas, the River Valley area, and the Southern part of the state.

Local members assembling for a recent photo included: Tom Patrois of Dover, owner of a 1911 Model T Speedster; Chuck and Sharon Haynes of Dover, owners of a 1913 Ford Model T Runabout; the Ragsdales, the Paynes, and Bill and Nellie Howell, who live on Mt. Nebo and drive a 1925 Model T Tudor Sedar.

About eight Model Ts from the group will travel on July 17 to Springfield, Mo., to begin 2,000 mile round-trip journey to Richmond, Ind. They will be attending the 100th birthday celebration recognizing the Model T, sponsored by the Model T Ford Club of America.

The next morning, the Arkansas Tin Lizzies plan to travel 253 miles to Alton, Illinois, and then head to Terre Haute, Ind., on their third day of travel. With 172 additional miles behind them, the Arkansas Tin Lizzies will trek to the Centennial for the week-long celebration.

A national web site, mtfca.com, provides up-to-date information on the centennial event. The Model T Ford Club of America is the World’s largest Model T club.

Organized in 1965, the club’s purpose is to bring together those who are interested in the Model T Ford, its history and evolution, and its place in America. More than one hundred chapters have been formed in the United States, Canada, Argentina, Australia and Europe.

The organization provides activities and fellowship for Model T enthusiasts on the local level as well as offering national gathering opportunities, such as the centennial event

The return centennial trip begins July 27th by way of Mt. Carmel (244 miles) and then to Farmington, Mo., where they will rest before returning home by way of Springfield.

The Tin Lizzies will travel with a 20-foot enclosed trailer pulled by a Suburban, loading one T and swapping out drivers and vehicles if a break down occurs. David considers a break down to be something that cannot be fixed on the side of the road. If that happens, the affected vehicle will be loaded into the “Vulture Wagon,” and that owner’s driver will take over the wheel until someone else needs a break.

Simple repairs are most often made by the owners while complex issues are left to experienced mechanics. A number of reproduction repair manuals still exist. The vehicles, which originally ran on a low- octane fuel, use regular unleaded gasoline. Ragsdale said his best mileage per gallon was 20, traveling at about 35 mph.

David says the group prefers to drive the lesser-traveled “back roads” to avoid slowing down speedier drivers. They seldom travel an interstate, staying on the state highways instead.

With an average speed of 35-45 mph, the group will have time to enjoy the view.

“Seeing each blade of grass on the side of the road, rather that the drive being a blur,” is one of the things that Tena Ragsdale enjoys most.

“The fun is not in owning the Model T, but in driving it,” Ragsdale declares. “This is such a good group of people. Many of the drivers were born during the time the 1920s Ts were being driven, so several of our members are of that age.

“Others are younger, raised in the 40s and 50s, or approaching retirement, looking for something to do.”

New members are welcome, explained Ragsdale, adding that many of their contacts result from activities such as the Petit Jean Swap Meet. This year, the group will have a booth on the mountain during the 50th annual Swap Meet and Auto Fair June 10-14.

The annual antique car show is co-hosted by Mid-American Old Time Automobile Association and the Museum of Automobiles on Petit Jean Mountain. The event draws car enthusiasts from around the world. Classic and vintage vehicles from all over the region will be displayed. Information is available by calling (501) 727-5427.

Those interested in additional information and membership in Arkansas Tin Lizzies may call Ragsdale at (479) 970-3461 or visit the club’s website at arkansastinlizzies. com. Dues are a nominal $10 a year and members do not have to be a Model T owner to join. Member Bill Howell maintains the club’s website, frequently uploading photos of the group’s travels. He will be updating the Centennial tour progress daily.

The group also has a tour to Vicksburg, Miss., planned for October. Better tune up your engines so you can travel along!

Tin Lizzie

Known as the Tin Lizzie (and also the Flivver,) the Ford Model T was produced by Henry Ford’s Ford Motor Company between 1908 and 1927. The Model T’s 1908 creation established that historic year as the one during which the automobile came into popular usage. Production of the Model T began in 1908 with model years ranging from 1909 to 1927.

Regarded as the first affordable vehicle, the car “put America on wheels” with its eventual assembly line production. The first production Model T was created on September 27, 1908, at the Piquette Plant in Detroit, Mich.

The Model T has a front-mounted, 4-cyclinder four-in-one block motor capable of producing 20.2 hp and a resulting speed of 40-45 miles per hour.

When introduced, the Model T was assembled by hand and production was limited. A standard four-seat touring car built in 1909 cost $850 in the United States. In 1913, the price dropped to $550 and to $440 in 1915. In 1911, nearly 70,000 Model Ts were produced. By 1915, the number had increased to over 500,000.

Ford intended the car to be built for the “great multitude… large enough for the family but small enough for an individual to run and care for…low in price that no man… will be unable to own one and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.”

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