Imagine getting the chance to relive a legendary cross-country road trip. That is exactly what drivers from the Historic Vehicle Association are doing this week as they set out in a 1915 Ford Model T Touring Car on a Road Trip Century Celebration.
The trip that they are recreating is the one taken by 21-one year old Edsel Ford – yes, son of Henry – and six of his friends who would become prominent figures in the Detroit scene in the 20th century. In the meantime, they were just a group of guys enjoying their last chance to be adventuresome youth before settling into adulthood.
“It was one last taste of freedom before life and family obligation took over. Edsel’s life was pretty well planned for him. They slept out in tents they secured to the cars. They carried pistols and rifles because of wild animals and criminals along the route. It shows there was a romanticism to the road trip even then. It wasn’t about the destination as much as the journey and the company,” says Matt Anderson, curator of transportation at the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn.
The youthful trip was carefully documented by Edsel who took hundreds of photographs as well as detailed notes each day. The photos capture young men living up life on the open road and striking humorous poses along the route.
“It was quite a trip. They were all buddies and they had a ball,” says Horace James Caulkins III, a 93-year-old whose father, Horace Caulkins Jr., participated in the original trip.
Along with the Model T, the young men also drove a Cadillac and a Stutz, both top luxury models, but according to Ford the Model T fared the best.
The 4,202 mile journey began in the Detroit metropolitan city of Dearborn and ended in the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. The men zigzagged across the country with stops that included a couple of days in Denver with Countess Stoeffel, an Austrian heiress, opera singer, and medical doctor. The guys also made stops in Kansas City, the Grand Canyon, and Los Angeles.
The HVA will be traveling the same route, but will have the benefit of modern roads. Back then, Edsel and his friends experienced many technical difficulties including getting through the mountains, mud up to the axles, frequent flat tires, and one night of tarantulas.
“It was the dawn of the American road trip,” says HVA president and one of the drivers of the Model T on the recreation trip, Mark Gessler.
18 months after the trip, Edsel would become a husband and father as well as becoming the secretary and then vice president of Ford. He would then go on to be the head of the family business until his death in 1943 at 49. It really was an epic once in a lifetime cross-country road trip.