Around 56 vintage Model T Fords ranging from 90 to 108 years old will be sputtering their way along Hawkins County’s back roads Monday at a top speed of 25 mph as part of a week-long group tour of the region.
Rogersville was chosen to be a stop on the fifth annual Model T Ford Poor Boy Tour representing cars from 16 states and organized by the Greeneville chapter of the Model T Ford Club of America.
The tour actually begins Sunday with a 30-mile spin through Greeneville which concludes with a cookout in Afton.
Each subsequent day the Model Ts will travel between 90-120 miles along back roads from their Greeneville home base.
On Monday, the Model Ts will cross Bays Mountain into Hawkins County from Baileyton for a visit to Laurel Run Park, where participants will eat lunch cooked in original metal boxes heated by the cars’ exhaust systems.
After lunch, the tour will make its way to downtown Rogersville, where the Board of Mayor and Aldermen has agreed to close Main Street from 1-4 p.m.
The Model Ts will park along Main Street during that time, and the public is encouraged to come downtown and look at the vintage cars.
Tour Chairman Brent Terry told the Times-News Wednesday that the Rogersville stop isn’t intended as a show for the public, however.
In fact, it’s the Model T riders who will be the spectators. They want to spend their time looking around Rogersville and taking in the historic sites.
The group plans to stop at the historic Amis Mill property just south of town on their way in and then shop downtown and visit the Hale Springs Inn.
On Tuesday, the tour will travel back roads parallel to I-26 between Greeneville and Washington County, with stops planned at the Gray Fossil Site, Harmony Baptist Church and Davy Crockett birthplace.
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 Friday the tour participants will all start heading back home.
Originally the Model T group planned on a low-profile visit to Rogersville and intended to park in the public lot in front of City Hall.
But Rogersville Chamber of Commerce Director Nancy Barker saw the visit as an opportunity for the city to host an event.
“Our typical thing is we just want to come and look at your town, but we realize there will be some interest in us as well,” Terry said. “We’re not doing it to draw attention to us as much as we’re just a bunch of Model T enthusiasts who just want to drive our cars. Should people come look at our cars while we’re downtown? Absolutely. Will the owners be there to talk to people and answer questions about their cars? Probably not because we’re tourists too, and we’ve got a lot we want to see.”
Terry noted that each of the vehicles is vintage and original, and as a result there are occasional breakdowns. Usually it’s a part failure, such as a coil or a carburetor.
The parts are fairly universal, and someone usually has a spare that will get a stalled car moving again.
“Most of these cars are right at 100 years old,” Terry said. “I think the oldest car on the tour this year is a 1909, and I think the newest is 1927. There are breakdowns, and AAA is your best friend in that case. We’ve lost engines on past tours, and the best you can do then is try to find them a ride back to Greeneville to get their trailer.”
Henry Ford began production of the Model T in late 1908 and ended in 1927. The Model T is recognized as the first mass-produced automobile, and more than 15 million were built worldwide.
It’s unknown how many Model Ts still survive, but conservative estimates suggest that number is around 500,000.