DEARBORN, Mich. – British travel journalist Tim Moore's post from a Model T forum in May started out with the words, “A Model T novice’s ambitious quest...” For Moore, what better way to learn about small-town America for the subject of an upcoming book than to drive coast to coast in the car that brought mobility to the masses?
“The Model T launched the automobile age as we know it,” said Moore. “If I was going to go across the states, I wanted to do it in the most iconic vehicle I could find. And there was only one car in town for that, really.”
After consulting with several Model T club members – many of whom tried to dissuade him from the venture altogether – Moore, 53, put rubber to pavement in early July, setting out from Virginia after taking possession of a 1924 Model T he purchased online.
A few days in, he took a detour to Michigan, stopping at Ford World Headquarters in Dearborn, visiting the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and meeting up with his cousin, Marshall Irby, a global market representative in Ford’s emerging markets group. Moore also visited the Piquette Avenue and Highland Park plants, the manufacturing homes of the Ford Model T, before embarking on his trip in earnest.
Summer days driving along vast roadways have been followed by nights sleeping in hotels and motels in rural towns across the country. Moore encountered multiple repairs along the way, including those involving a head gasket, tie rod, starter motor and fan belt.
The “mother of all breakdowns” came in Bend, Ore., near Moore’s final destination. A crankshaft replacement and subsequent electrical rewiring kept Moore off the road for 12 days while local Model T enthusiasts collaborated to get him back on track.
“The car just kind of went ‘bang’ and cruised to a halt,” he said. “It was quite lucky it happened there because I had just made it through this lonely desert road. It could’ve been a lot worse.”
The final repair was similar to many of the others, which often occurred in areas where help was not too far away. Moore was able to rely on help from Model T enthusiasts and other gearheads across the nation.
“People were just unfailingly friendly, helpful, cheerful and generous with their time,” he said. “People were just so pleased to see me while I was holding two pieces of a crankshaft and saying, ‘please fix my car, mister.’”
That’s not to say Moore didn’t get his own hands dirty. Besides helping others repair the car, he made one fix on his own.
Early in his expedition, on a lonely stretch of road in West Virginia outside of cellphone range, the Model T just stopped. After some deliberation, Moore decided the problem was a corroded ignition switch, so he removed it from the dashboard, scuffed it up with sandpaper, reinserted it, and was back on the road.
“The Model T was designed for total idiots like me to be able to fix things,” said Moore. “And it’s been very satisfying – one of the proudest moments in my adult life, actually.”
Moore managed to incorporate a few of America’s best-known highways into his route. He drove portions of Route 66, as well as the Lincoln Highway. He finished the more than 6,000-mile, two-month trip at a beach in the Northwest after traveling along the Pacific Coast Highway.
The Model T came to its final stop of the trip on Sept. 15 on a beach in Ocean Shores, Wash., where Moore deposited a small amount of water taken from the Atlantic Ocean into the Pacific Ocean.
His ocean-side photos were among the last Moore shared from his trip on social media. They followed weeks of photos of the landmarks and other pieces of Americana that crossed Moore’s path. He also shared his impressions of the people he met at restaurants, gas stations and other stops.
The car made Moore a celebrity. Wherever he went, locals were asking him to inspect the Model T. He was even interviewed by a local paper in North Dakota about his travels. One couple used a pit stop at a gas station in northern Colorado as an opportunity to take their infant’s photo in the front seat.
“People have some kind of instinctive connection to the Model T Ford, particularly in those rural areas where it changed their grandparents’ lives,” Moore said. “Everyone just has a universally cheerful, real response to that car.”
Though he spent much of the trip meeting – and in some cases, spending several days with – complete strangers, Moore did have familiar company along the trip. His wife flew into Denver to join him for part of his venture through the west.
The time together also helped him see the trip from another perspective.
“It was interesting, but I had been seeing (the trip) through my own eyes,” he said. “It was fantastic, because you do go slightly mad on your own. … She really got into the whole thing.”
The transcontinental voyage has even inspired other Model T enthusiasts to attempt journeys or their own.
“The good thing about being me is, because I don’t know what I’m doing, all these other guys who do know what they’re doing think, ‘Well, if he can do it, so can I,’” Moore said. “They’ve been organizing coast-to-coast type trips in their Model Ts and that’s great.”