Ford Model T: A New Museum For An Old Friend
By James Grahame
Time has a way of clouding history, and many of us have never experienced the Ford Model T firsthand or fully grasped its place in automotive history. To help us remember, the Model T Museum in Centerville, Indiana opened its doors in September 2007 – just in time to celebrate its 100th anniversary this year. The Model T was the Ford Motor Company's only product in 1908. While some questioned the wisdom of building an automotive company around a single machine, history proved Henry Ford right. Over fifteen million Model Ts were produced over the next couple of decades, cementing it as the vehicle that brought mobility to the masses.
Jay Klehfoth is the gregarious CEO of the Model T Ford Club of America. He and his wife Barbara are the driving forces behind the new museum and the massive Centennial 'Model T-Party' this week at the nearby Wayne County Fairgrounds in Richmond. He jokes that “Model Ts are like Fritos; you can't just eat one.” He knew he wanted one as a seven-year-old, and got his wish at the tender age of 13. The car was an olive green 1927 coupe that he admits “needed a little help.” It became a faithful companion, accompanying him to school in the early 1960s while his schoolmates dreamed of more modern wheels. Jay still owns that first car today, along with two of others. “I'll always own it,” he pronounces solemnly. Not to be left out of the fun, his wife Barbara owns a Model T as well.
The Model T sparked a personal transportation revolution that far surpassed the potential of steam or horse-drawn transport. “At the turn of the century, 94% of people had never traveled more that 20 miles from where they were born, but the Model T changed everything. It was more economical to own a Model T than a horse,” Jay explained. Even though the vehicle is quaint by modern standards, it was mechanically simple and surprisingly resilient – perfect for the highways and byways of the day. Driving a Model T on grass feels like driving a vintage sport utility vehicle. You can even feel the body flex almost organically as you drive up from a ditch onto a roadway.
Jay aptly concludes, "This car changed the world. By building a car that was affordable to the masses, Henry Ford made us a mobile society."
The museum's collection now includes 14 Model Ts, including the car that Jay purchased as a teenager way back in 1959. Other highlights of the museum's collection include a 1924 military ambulance, a gleaming red fire engine built on a Model T truck frame, a bright orange dirt track racer and a wonderfully strange snowmobile equipped with bogie axles and skis.
The museum is a worthwhile stop on a road trip,
just off I-70 in Centerville, Indiana. The location takes one back in time and the sight of
a Model T puttering past majestic farmhouses scattered along the back
roads of rural Indiana is an unforgettable pleasure. Besides, the enthusiasts involved with the
Model T Museum and Model T Ford Club of America are the some of the
nicest people you'll meet.
Admission is only $2 and the gift shop is well stocked with mementos and memorabilia. If you visit, be sure to ask the staff to point out Jay's first car.
The Centennial Model T Party runs July 21-26, 2008 in Richmond, Indiana with almost 1,000 vintage Model Ts and thousands of enthusiasts in attendance.