Tour of 50 Model Ts make stops at Laurel Run Park, downtown Rogersville

Jeff Bobo • Jun 20, 2017 at 12:59 PM


ROGERSVILLE — Some of the Model T Fords on display Monday in downtown Rogersville have been driven across the country two or three times, so Monday's jaunt from Greene County to Rogersville was a piece of cake.

For those who don't have side windows, and a couple that didn't have tops, the ride back to Greeneville during Monday afternoon's torrential rain storm may have gotten a bit damp.

But that is all part of the experience — driving across the country the way our grandparents did 100 years ago.

Monday was day 2 of the week-long Greeneville-based 2017 Poor Boy Model T Tour featuring more than 50 Model T Fords between 90 and 110 years old.

Model T enthusiasts George Akin, from Knoxville, and Brent Terry, from Elizabethton, started organizing the tour five years ago. Previously, they visited Kentucky, Virginia and other areas of Tennessee, but this was their first Model T adventure through Hawkins County.

On Monday morning, they started in Greeneville, and accessing back roads only, went over Bays Mountain via Baileyton and stopped at Laurel Run Park in Church Hill for lunch.

Many of them had cooked their lunch on the way in a special box that mounts to the exhaust manifold in the engine compartment.

Akin, who was driving a 1914 Model T pickup, cooked "goulash," and others cooked various dishes featuring beans and sausage or stews.

When they arrived at Laurel Run Park, the "box lunches" were set out on a picnic table under a shelter for a pot luck meal that everyone shared.

After lunch, they all set out for Rogersville, again utilizing back roads only, and arrived downtown a little after 1 p.m.

Main Street was blocked off for the Model Ts to park, and there was a large crowd of spectators on hand walking around looking at the vintage cars and meeting their owners.

The tour group is comprised of members of the Model T Ford Club of America who congregate in Greeneville for this event around the second or third week in June every year. A total of 15 states were represented, including most of the Southeast, as well as Illinois, Michigan and Missouri, to name a few.

Akin bought his first Model T for $200 when he was 18 years old, and he still has it. But the 1914 Model T pickup he drove Monday is a newer addition to his collection that he’s driven across the U.S. three times.

"Last year we drove it 871 miles on all dirt, high clearance, four wheel drive only roads in Utah," Akin said. "If you think about it, that's the kind of roads they were driven on when they were first made. There were no paved highway. They were all rutted, muddy dirt roads."

Akin's pickup has an all-original, four-cylinder Model T engine that produces 22.5 horsepower, gets about 20 miles to the gallon and has a top speed of about 50 mph.

He plans on putting 5,000 miles on his pickup this year, which the engine can handle with no problem.

"They're extremely durable," Akin said. "They're very simple and extremely reliable."

The only modification is disc brakes, which were added as a safety feature. When you're climbing Pike's Peak, as Akin did a few years ago, or even Bays Mountain, disc brakes are a must.

John Strickland and Catherine Johnson, from Salisbury, N.C., were driving a 1924 Model T sedan that has been in Johnson's family for 50 years.

When it was salvaged by Strickland, however, the body was in pieces and the whole back end had to be replaced, although the engine was intact and still ran.

Speaking of durable and reliable, in 2009 Strickland and Johnson drove their Model T 3,000 miles from New York City to Seattle, Wash.

They averaged about 200 miles per day on back roads, and they took off every third day to rest, wash clothes and work on the car.

The trip took a month, and they plan to do that trip again in 2019. In the meantime they plan on leaving for Montana in two weeks to take another model T tour, although they'll be pulling their car out there on a trailer.

Monday's tour was scheduled to stay in Rogersville until around 4 p.m., but at 2:45 the sky opened up and began to pour.

Strickland's car didn't have any side windows. So what happens when it rains?

"We get wet," he said. "The guys in the back get wet. People in the front, probably your shoulder because the wind blows around. Those guys back there (in the back seat) get soaked."

Some Model Ts had plastic see-through after-market side curtains, but not Strickland and Johnson. They wanted to stay authentic.

"That's right," Strickland said. "We're tough."

On Tuesday, the tour will travel back roads parallel to Interstate 81 between Greeneville and Washington County, and Wednesday the tour will go to Newport and over the mountain to Hot Springs, N.C. Thursday will be spent in Jonesborough shopping and taking in that city’s historic sites, and the tour participants will all start heading back home Friday.                                                                                              

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