Model Ts lined up in Leadmine community park.
Driving through Leadmine last Tuesday morning, one might think they were in the year 1918 as they passed rows of pristine Model Ts, people gathered for lunch under the pavilion in the town park, and water cascading through the wheel mill.
But alas, it is still 2018, and these anachronisms were part of the 100th Anniversary Commemorative Vagabond Model T Tour. The tour celebrated the anniversary of the 1918 vacation trip of the four “vagabonds,” which were Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, and John Burroughs.
From 10 a.m. until noon, a slew of slick Model Ts lined the parking lot around the Leadmine community park. Each Model T had its own flair, whether it was the paint job, accessories, or the person who drove it.
Tour Director Bill Ramsey started planning this commemorative tour over a year ago. “We have 25 Model Ts and one Packard on the tour,” Ramsey said. “The Packard is involved, because that is the car that Thomas Edison drove.”
With 60 people part of the tour itself and community members turning out to see the tour, Leadmine was a busy place.
Speaking with the tour participants it is evident that ownership quickly turns into a passion when a Model T is involved.
“I got interested in Model Ts many years ago,” Ramsey said. “My grandfather used to talk about driving his father’s Model T in southern West Virginia. They were poor. They couldn’t keep the gas tank full, and Model Ts have a gravity fed gas system. So if you have a steep hill, a lot of times you have to turn around and back up the hill, so the gas will flow. He used to talk about that, and I’ve always been fascinated,” he said.
Salisbury, North Carolina resident John Lingle has owned his 1925 Model T for about 12 years. This commemorative tour is one of three that Lingle and his wife plan to participate in this year.
Each tour is a marathon in and of itself. “Generally top speed is about 35 or 40 mph,” Lingle said. “They generally keep us to back roads, on account of holding up traffic. People get excited when they have to slow down,” he said.
Model T owner John Strickland completed a 3,000 mile tour from New York City to Seattle in 2009.
Strickland acquired his first Model T from his father in law who purchased it in the 1940s. “When my wife was a kid, the family lived in town, and on the weekends they would go out to the country,” Strickland said. “The girls would ride horses. And at the end of the day they would pile in the Model T and go get ice cream. So she has fond memories of this car,” he said.
Strickland restored this Model T, which was his first of many to come. “Right now I have 30 Model Ts and 10 Model As,” he said.
While enjoying lunch provided by the Leadmine CERT team, many drivers commented on the natural and engineering intricacies of Hogback Road that led them to Leadmine. The four vagabonds may have had similar thoughts on their way into town.
The 1918 trip included six cars: two Packards for riding, two Model Ts, and two Ford trucks. The tour began in Pittsburg and made its way to Uniontown, Pennsylvania where the four vagabonds stayed at the Summit Inn.
The commemorative tour began at the Summit Inn exactly 100 years to the day that the four vagabonds stayed there. “They considered their 1918 their best tour. They did it for 10 years. They did ten trips, and they called this trip ‘the best trip ever,'” Ramsey said.
The commemorative tour followed the original trip’s route from Uniontown to Elkins. The original trip started in Pittsburg, made its way through West Virginia, hit its southern terminus in Asheville, North Carolina, and then came back north through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
John Burroughs wrote of their camping experience in Leadmine along the “clear creek in West Virginia called Horseshoe Run.”
“But wild Nature, when you can manage her, is what the camper-out wants. Pure elements – air, water, earth – these settle the question: Camp Horse-shoe Run had them all,” Burroughs wrote.
He also wrote of the grist mill, where the four would pose for the famous picture that now hangs on Mark Warner’s Leadmine Museum.
The town museum includes a water wheel fashioned after the original. “You pump it out of the stream, not like in the old days when you actually used gravity and water to run it. But it works,” Warner said.
With help from the community, Warner finished the museum and the waterwheel in 2017. “It was just lucky that I had it built at this time,” he said. “And it was in conjunction with the CERT building everything else and helping with the mill. So the timing worked out just right. We weren’t conscious of the 100th anniversary coming up.”
After the commemorative tour left Leadmine, the long line of Model Ts made their way into Parsons for a stop at the courthouse.