Model T club allows southsiders to relive the slower pace of a bygone era

By Garrett Kelly

When White River Township residents Todd Johnson and his wife, Kem, bought a 1921 Model T Roundabout pickup from his brother in 2001, they wanted to share their love for the car with other like-minded car owners. They joined the Indy 500 Chapter, a local Model T touring club, that same year, but by 2011, they were ready to move on and to form their own club. “The other club was getting so big that it was kind of hard to manage,” Kem says.

Todd is now the president of the West Central Indiana Model T’ers, and Kem serves as the club secretary. With 49 current members, the group has grown from its original 12. All Model T body styles are represented within the club, from touring models to pickups, and the vehicles were originally built between 1914 and 1927.

A big focus of the club is to educate others on the history and importance of these Fords, and the group does this by getting behind the wheel. “We’re a driving club,” Kem says. “We’re not much into going and sitting to show the cars. When the weather is good, we tour every month, sometimes twice a month.”

Todd says club members also like to get involved with community and school events. He says kids learn about Henry Ford and his assembly line in classrooms, but seeing and riding in the cars brings those history lessons to life. One of the reasons the Model T was such a success was due to its ease of customization; the wood-bodied units could easily be turned into taxis, mail trucks, delivery wagons and more. “What we’re trying to do is to educate people on what the Model T brought to the forefront of the industrial revolution,” Todd explains.

Jim Walker of Clinton is drawn to the Model T because the car offers a break from the fast pace of everyday life. Model T’s average just 25 mph while on the road, giving members more time to take in the sights. Walker, a Model T’er board member, says the annual tour of the covered bridges in Parke County is his favorite yearly trip with the group. “It’s a five-day tour,” Walker says. “We have people from all over the United States, New Zealand and the Netherlands there. (I enjoy) the camaraderie you have with the people.”

The Johnsons, too, love to slow down and enjoy the ride. Todd says while the cars top out somewhere around 35 mph, the club typically drives slower. There are no radios in the cars, so he and Kem spend their time talking with one another. Kem adds that the slower pace keeps the schedule on the trips flexible. “If we see something we want to stop to look at, we stop and look at it,” she says. “It’s just very relaxing.”

Recently, 10 members of the club ventured on their longest tour to date, covering over 1,600 miles in a span of 13 days, time that was mainly spent on back roads. A main goal of the tour was to take the Model T’s over Lake Michigan on the SS Badger, a coal-powered ferry that may stop operating soon, the Johnsons explain. The tour started in Indiana, went through Michigan and continued into Wisconsin. The members drove through Huron-Manistee National Forest, visited the Gilmore Car Museum and toured Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers.

According to Kem, club members aren’t the only ones excited about the tours. As the group journeys, other motorists honk horns, smile, wave and ask to have their pictures taken with the cars at stops along the way. “To see them (the Model T’s) driving down the road just makes people happy,” she says. “(We’ve met) old men who learned to drive in a Model T or rode in one as a kid, and it makes them happy to see and ride in them.”