What do you know about the Model T? You know – the iconic car that Ford produced during the early years of the twentieth century? People called it Tin Lizzie and it was the vehicle that opened up car travel to the American middle class, thanks to its affordability and availability.
That paragraph contains about all I knew of the Model T before last week. That and Henry Ford’s famous quote:
“Any customer can have a car painted in any color he likes so long as it is black.”
I had heard good things about the Model T Museum and hoped to stop in at some point during last week’s adventure. Making time for this was a great decision. This place is packed full of beautiful, fascinating vehicles. They have great signage that explains what’s so special about each one and about it’s place in the fabric of our history. I was also fortunate to catch a tour with one of the best tour guides imaginable, Senior Docent and Researcher Justin Mitchell.
It quickly became evident that my knowledge of the Model T was quite shallow and that there is so much more to learn than seemed imaginable when handing over my $3 admission.
The museum consists of two buildings. The first houses a nice showroom, library and gift shop. The annex, located across the street, is packed with more vehicles, including some arranged in themed rooms. One is set up like a twenties garage while another houses agricultural pieces. Work is ongoing to create more specialty rooms that will hopefully be done on my return trip.
They have many fascinating vehicles with interesting stories. Better yet, Justin is an engaging tour guide whose enthusiasm for his work is contagious. I don’t want to spoil the experience for you but want to point out that the Model T story is far more extensive than you would expect.
The collection changes periodically as vehicles rotate in and out on temporary or long term loans. This keeps the museum fresh and exciting, providing reason for repeat visits. At this time they have fire engines, a school bus and an Australian race car. They have farm tractors, a dump truck and some of the shiniest, most beautiful passenger vehicles imaginable. They even have a small airplane!
Justin relayed stories, not just about the cars but about what they meant to people, what they still mean to people. He talked about a retired fire chief who visited and recognized a fifties fire engine that he drove many years ago.
He took the time to explain the inconvenience of stopping for gas in one particular model, given the challenging location of the gas tank and the lack of a gas gauge. This really made me thankful for the gauge on my little Hyundai and for pay at the pump on practically every corner in every American town!
Justin discussed what it meant to a farmer to have access to a kit that would transform his Model T into a farm tractor with twenty minutes worth of effort. At a cost of about $200 this kit allowed the farmer to maximize the capabilities of the family car while saving money.
One of the most fascinating pieces isn’t very pretty but it is ingenious. At one time, you could buy a kit called “Snow-Bird” or “The Mailman’s Special” which equipped a Model T with attachments to provide mobility in snow. At a cost of about $350, it provided rural mail carriers, doctors and others who needed reliable winter transportation the tools needed to safely navigate in bad weather.
They have a car equipped with one of these mail order kits. They also have one that someone made using scrap wood from old cabinetry and other parts. It was a mail vehicle in Massachusetts, if I remember correctly, and was hand made with a little Yankee ingenuity. Like I said, it isn’t pretty but is sure is neat.
Here’s something I have learned, friends. We walk through life with specific interests, those things we know we enjoy. We like a certain band or genre of music. We like cars or model trains, books or science or polar bears or whatever it is that strikes a chord within us. And that’s what we learn about, care about and know.
But if we only learn and care about the things that we know we like, when do we broaden our horizons? What are we missing out on?
I knew little about the Model T before I met Justin and toured the museum. But I thought it was worth risking the $3 and a little time to see if there was something worth knowing from the experience. It was a wonderful experience and I had a great time. So good, in fact, I’m hoping to take my dad to visit sometime this year and I’m looking forward to seeing it all again.
This museum is about 45 minutes from Dayton and is located in a city rich in history with lots to do. There are two antique trails that start in Richmond as well as trails celebrating chocolate and wine. There are fun restaurants and opportunities to get outdoors plus it’s close to Indianapolis which is also rich in fun things to see and do.
If you like old cars or history or if you just want to learn about something new, this is a great place for you.
The Model T Museum is operated by the Model T Ford Club of America which happens to be the largest Model T Club in the world. Much of the work here is done by volunteers and through donations. Volunteers work on the cars and help with construction and other projects. Whether it’s a gift shop purchase, a few bucks in the donation box or a donated car part (or entire car), they will be thrilled to have your support.
I hope you’re fortunate to get Justin as your guide but I’m sure everyone else is great too! If you go, pay special attention to the hours. They do observe more limited hours during the winter time. Check out their website or Facebook for fun events and other information to make your visit more enjoyable.
One more thing – that famous quote about having any color the customer wants, as long as it’s black? Turns out this only applied to some years. These cars also came in gorgeous colors including red, green, blue and brown. I had no idea.