Friday, August 1, 2014

Bouncing Betties and Leaping Lenas

Model T 1913 in Fillmore, CA
Lin Thomas's dusty 1913 Model T

The Model T Tin Lizzie by Janet Chester Bly

The last few months I have been hard at work on my WIP (work-in-progress), my first solo fiction attempt after losing my husband and writing partner. I needed an old car for a contemporary character in 1991 who could have lived in the times of the West’s last gold rush at Goldfield, Nevada, 1900-1919. At the peak of the gold mining, auto cars buzzed around plodding burros. Deputies chased speeders on horses.
I chose a 1913 Model T.
My daughter-in-law Michelle’s antique car buff father, Lin Thomas of Fillmore, California, happened to own one. But he hasn’t driven it in a while, so it’s pretty dusty (see photo). He prefers his Model A for parades and touring. But I grilled him for info for how to drive the Model T. I’m hoping for a drive soon, too, compliments of a local Crankers Club.
Ah, the fun of research!
1908 Model T

About the Model T

Conceived by Henry Ford, his Ford Motor Company built the Model T from 1908 to 1927.

About 1905, Mr. Ford proclaimed, “I am going to make a motor car that will be light and strong and clean so that women can drive it. And it will have enough power to do any kind of work called for, and will be sold so any man who can own an average horse and buggy can afford to own a car.”

Revolutionary at the time, Model Ts provided practical, affordable transportation for the common man. Low cost. Durable. Versatile. Easy maintenance. The T could grind through mud, snow or sand, climb steep grades and ford deep streams.

Assembly-line production allowed the price to be lowered from $850 in 1908 to less than $300 in 1925. Ford factories produced more than 15 million of them.

Ford wrote in his autobiography, in 1909 he told his management team in the future “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”However, grey, green, blue, and red original colors can be found too.

Popular nicknames for the autocar included Tin Lizzie, Flivver, Bouncing Betty, Leaping Lena, the Spirit of St. Vitus, and the Mechanical Cockroach.

Most models started with a hand crank. After 1920, some models included battery-powered starters. The transmission consisted of two forward gears and one reverse, controlled by foot pedals. A hand lever on the steering column controlled the spark and throttle.

A 10-gallon tank tucked under the front seat. Top speeds amounted to 40–45 miles per hour (65–70 km/h).
Model T 1917
1917 Model T
Because the reverse gear offered more power than the forward gears, the Model T often had to be driven up a steep hill backward, at fifteen miles per hour. Such deficiencies, plus its noisiness at higher speeds and its homely appearance made the Model T the butt of humor in innumerable jokes, songs, poems, and stories.

Q. Why did the salesman call his Model T "Baby"?
A. Cause it wouldn't go anywhere without a rattle.Q. Why is a Ford Model T like a bathtub?A. You know you need one, but really don't want to be seen in it.
Another told about the man looking sadly up a tree. When asked why, he said, “I was cranking my Ford and it flew off the handle.”

          Insufficient roads and lack of enough gas stations and hotels remained one of the main drawbacks to owning a Model T back in the early 1900s.
Author Janet Chester Bly and 3 sons: Aaron, Mike, & Russ Bly
From left: Aaron, Mike, Janet & Russ Bly

My Fiction Project

I’m thinking about my ninety-one-year-old character taking a journey from northern Idaho to Goldfield in his Model T. He’ll have to bump along on plenty of side roads to keep from annoying modern day drivers. But he should have plenty of gas stations and hotels, that is, if he can drive far enough up and down the hills each day.

Here's a video link that gives you a flavor of what's it like to ride in a Model T:
Another video showing the parts of a 1925 Model T, How to Start & How to Drive, a charming presentation done in Australia, about 17 minutes long:
Janet Chester Bly is the widow of award-winning western author Stephen Bly. Between them, they published over 120 fiction and nonfiction books for adults and kids. She lives in Winchester, Idaho at 4,200 foot elevation on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation and travels down the mountain to the river valley of Lewiston to visit her three married sons, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Janet and her three sons finished Stephen Bly's last novel, Stuart Brannon's Final Shot.
Stephen Bly's last novel, Stuart Brannon's Final Shot
Stuart Brannon's Final Shot

Click here to read about the story of this family project:


  1. So interesting, Janet, and I love the pictures!

    1. Susan: Thanks so much for the note! Blessings, Janet

  2. What a fun post Janet! And how cool to have access to one of these vehicles. And I almost spit out my drink when I read the nickname 'mechanical cockroach'. Thanks for my morning smile :)

    1. Winnie: Research is so fun that way. Never know what kind of adventure it will lead to. You're welcome for the morning smile! Blessings, Janet

  3. Thanks so much for your post and the pictures, Janet. So good to have this info on the Model T. I'm writing a novel in which the protag's father drives one. She wants him to teach her to drive his car. Having a lot of fun with the scene.

    1. Greetings, Pat: Glad this article could help with your WIP. Blessings, Janet

  4. Now that was interesting on several levels! The cost, color, reverse power, # of cars built and the cleanness, efficiency and ease-of-driving of the Model T Ford. I love it that Stephen Bly's wife and 3 sons finished his last project. That is outstanding! Love to win and read this book. sharon wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

    1. Sharon: Thanks so much for your note. Blessings, Janet