Gallery: Classic cars a model ride

Published 10:58 am Friday, July 22, 2011

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Story by Matt Peterson, photos by Eric Johnson

Austin’s traffic was a bit slower than usual on Thursday, as a result of 245 Ford Model Ts perusing the streets.

The Model T Ford Club International’s 55th annual tour was in Austin all day. Though the tour has been in Minnesota twice, it’s the first time the tour has come through Austin. Members staged at the Mower County Fairgrounds, where visitors could see Model Ts from 1909 to 1927, including touring sedans, coupes and roadsters.

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Though 535 people joined the tour through a different town from Rochester every day from July 18 to July 22, the event drew even more spectators and enthusiasts.

One of those enthusiasts was Craig Dunn from St. Ansgar, Iowa. Dunn has owned a 1913 Model T Gentleman’s Speedster for about seven years, and the hobby is growing on him. Dunn’s wife and a friend persuaded him to buy a Model T, as Dunn has always been a collector of antique, slow-fire gas engines. Breaking into his new hobby has allowed Dunn and his wife more time together.

“My wife decided we needed something we could do together,” he joked. “… This is pretty much a husband and wife thing.”

Dunn has seen how thousands of people in one are can be so intrigued by old cars.

“The old machinery just draws people,” he said.

Dunn hopes to someday join the Model T Ford Club and travel on its international tours. For now, he’s saving his money for more restoration and stealing ideas from other enthusiasts.

LaVerne Hoffman is another potential club member. As an owner of antique machinery, LaVerne has displayed some of his cars at shows, including the Mower County Fair. Now, he’s decided its time to start restoring his 1917 Model T. For many, it’s the nostalgia that draws them back to the era of the Fords. Hoffman told a couple about the time he was at an auction in 1940, and a Model T sold for $80.

“It’s really amazing, these old cars,” Hoffman said, and rattled off his knowledge of some of the original, battery-less cars, driven by coils and magnetos.

Knowledge was flowing between enthusiasts. But one could say the event organizer, Steve Boyd, of Wisconsin, knows more than his fair share. As a 10-year member of the International Club and a local chapter, the T-Totalers, Boyd has leeched plenty of information from Model T gurus over the years. According to him, that’s what hobbyists should do.

“If you’re in a hobby like this, the thing to absolutely do is join a club,” Boyd said. Furthermore, he added the hobby is relatively inexpensive after the car itself is purchased.

Many of the antique owners join the club for the hobby, but they stay in it for the friendships.

“There’s a group of people, they meet every year this way,” Boyd said. “It’s a big fraternity.”

Thursday, club members came from almost every state in the lower 48.

He added some members have been in the club for 30 years. Some have driven their Model Ts in 49 states, and some of them have driven across the country in one summer, including Boyd. Though Boyd didn’t ride in this event, as he is the local organizer, he’s driven plenty of miles in a T. He went from New York to Washington state in 2008. He owns 10 Model Ts of various styles and eras.

“I’ve got too many of them,” Boyd said. “I can’t drive them all.”

The T-Totalers club alone has about 280 members with about 700 cars. The wagon-train of Model Ts had a scorching week in the sun and humidity; but for the most part, their cars held up well. Of 245 cars on the tour, only 4 have been trailered back thus far. The only downfalls drivers have experienced is the all-black cars being hot to the touch and the only air conditioning being the front window popped open. However, all seemed to be in good spirits.

Friday, the cars head to Elba from Rochester, where the 2011 tour will end.