By: Jennifer Britt
The Parsons Advocate
Model T owner, Bill Ramsey, along with 11 other Model T owners with many of those present that completed the Vagabond tour in 2018 traveled this week to Leadmine, Parsons, Dry Fork, and Canaan Valley. Along their journey they made several stops including the Kingsford plant, in Parsons, and the historic site St. George Academy.
During their lunch stop in Leadmine, Mark Warner was present to give the drivers a background on the history of Leadmine. Warner and his wife rebuilt the replica water wheel to a 50 percent scale of the original water wheel. It is on the actual site that was pictured in 1918 with Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, his son Harvey, John Burroughs, and Robert DeLoach of the Armour Company, as they caravanned through the mountains of West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia.
Warner said, “I am glad you are all here. My story of the water wheel is that I have always been intrigued by the water wheel and the history that is behind it. I had the opportunity to build this water wheel in preparation for the 100-year anniversary. It worked well.
We moved here in 1970 and the local older people remember sitting at the camp with those guys. (The Vagabond) and remembered Thomas Edison being really intrigued with all the wasted energy coming off the mountains. (Referring to the water running off the mountain).
Henry Ford was also interested in it. Henry Ford is connected with Kingsford Charcoal, because he wanted to use the wasted wood that was involved in making his cars. He eventually ran into King, and they decided to figure out a way to make it into briquettes. When they expanded and the plant here started in 1957, they were connected to Henry Ford to that extent.”
Ramsey explained to the other drivers that there was not an actual lead mine in Leadmine. The name came about from an Indigenous legend and the name was given at the turn of the century and when the trees were beginning to get logged in the area.
Ramsey said, “It is a Native American legend from this area. Supposedly Indians hide lead in the trees and the settlers found it. So, they thought there was lead here (Leadmine) but that’s how the area got its name.”
Ramsey also gave a quick background on the Vagabond tour. Ramsey said, “You remember that Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone and John Burroughs traveled for about 10 years. This was there 1918 trip and for those of you who did the 2018 Vagabond remember they stayed at the Summit Inn overlooking Union Town. And we stayed there exactly 100 years to the day that they had stayed there. And then we went back there, and it was kind of a loop tour.
They (Vagabond) traveled through the area. They traveled through Oakland , Md.and came down into Leadmine and could have been that very road, (the road the drivers came in on), but we do not know for sure but probably off of 219.
Thomas Edison would be the navigator and he would be notorious for picking off roads. They had no GPS and very few maps of the wilderness area. So, they stopped at the locals and talked to them and if you look there is pictures of them on a shay locomotive which was just up the road from here. And if you look up there you can see the remnants of the grade.
There are also some neat stories about meeting some young kids and apples, Model T stories, and a myth that may be true. There is story in Oakland, Md. about Henry wanting to get some flour. He got the flour and also for helping them out he actually sent a car back to the owners as a present.
John Burroughs was a great naturalist. He was opposed to the automobile originally. He thought that it was shame. Henry was also a bit of a naturalist because his step-grandfather was into birding. Henry liked the outdoors and so Henry admired John Burroughs. But early on John Burroughs did not really care a lot for Henry. So, Henry gave Burroughs a 1915 Model T car and told him he could see a lot more of the wilderness if he had a car and they became friends.
We just want to express our appreciation to Mark, Larry, and the whole serve team. And the whole community for letting us be here a little early. We just really appreciate it.”
According to www.thehenryford.org website: “Between 1915 and 1924, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, and John Burroughs, calling themselves the Four Vagabonds, embarked on a series of summer camping trips. The idea was initiated in 1914 when Ford and Burroughs visited Edison in Florida and toured the Everglades. The notion blossomed the next year when Ford, Edison and Firestone were in California for the Panama-Pacific Exposition. They visited Luther Burbank and then drove from Riverside to San Diego.
In 1916, Edison invited Ford, Burroughs and Harvey Firestone to journey through the New England Adirondacks and Green Mountains; Ford, however, was unable to join the group. In 1918, Ford, Edison, Firestone, his son Harvey, Burroughs, and Robert DeLoach of the Armour Company, caravanned through the mountains of West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia.
Subsequent trips were made in 1919 to the Adirondacks and New England; in 1920 to John Burroughs’ home and cabin retreat into the Catskill Mountains; in 1921 to West Virginia and northern Michigan; and in 1923 to northern Michigan. In 1924, the group journeyed to northern Michigan by train, gathered again at Henry and Clara Ford’s Wayside Inn in Massachusetts, and visited President Coolidge at his home in Vermont.
The trips were well organized and equipped. There were several heavy passenger cars and vans to carry the travelers, household staff, and equipment; Ford Motor Company photographers also accompanied the group.
The 1919 trip involved fifty vehicles, including two designed by Ford: a kitchen camping car with a gasoline stove and built-in icebox presided over by a cook and a heavy touring car mounted on a truck chassis with compartments for tents, cots, chairs, electric lights, etc. On later trips, there was a huge, folding round table equipped with a lazy susan that seated twenty. After 1924, the growing fame of the campers brought too much public attention and the trips were discontinued.”