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Looking Back - John KinnearOn June 28th the Pass was invaded by 94 of Henry Ford’s turn of the century wonder cars, the Model T.  It was a spectacular day for all those who got to get close to this amazing gang of Tin Lizzie tourists as they rolled into Bellevue and took the underground mine tour.
The fact that cars made as early as 1908 are still on the road today is testimony to Mr. Ford’s vision of a dependable, affordable car for the masses. Henry said back then:  "I will build a car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise. But it will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one – and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God's great open spaces."
The fact that this many Ford Model “T’s” chose the Pass as part of their Cowboys and Coal Mines tour was great. According to Bill Kovach main street Bellevue looked like ” a step back in time”, the street being lined with all manner of touring cars, runabouts, coupes, trucks and sedans.
The story behind this remarkable car and why it is still around and loved so passionately has some pretty interesting factoids to it. It seems that Henry had occasion to observe some French racing cars before 1908 that were extremely durable. Their chassis were made with steel that had a special element added to it that gave them reduced weight and added tensile strength. That additive was vanadium which is now commonly used for axles, crankshafts and bicycle frames.
So Ford incorporated this steel design into a car body and after experimenting with several prototypes, starting with the Model “A” Ford, came up with what is now called the most influential car of the twentieth century.  The Model T.
Let’s take a closer look at this amazing machine. The Model T had a 177-cubic-inch (2.9 L) front mounted in line four-cylinder engine that produced a whopping 20 hp and a top speed of 40–45 mph (64–72 km/h). The Model T four-cylinder sidevalve engine was first in the world with a detachable head, making service like valve jobs easier. The engine could run on petrol, kerosene or ethanol and had what they called a flywheel magneto which was like a generator and produced the high voltage you need to get the spark for combustion. It had a timer (like a distributor) that sent voltage to trembler coils on each cylinder.  Ignition timing was adjusted manually using a spark advance lever mounted on the steering column. Eventually a battery was added as hand-cranking did not always give you enough current to start up a Lizzie. Original Fords had acetylene headlights but by 1915 the T’s had electric headlights and horns. After 1919 they also equipped them with electric starting which was a small round button on the floor.
I recall my father talking about having to manually retard the spark when hand cranking one as the engine could “kick back”. 
So you never grabbed the crank handle on the front of a Model T, you merely cupped it in the palm of your hand because when that sucker did kick back the rapid reverse of the crank handle could break your thumb or violently twist your wrist.
 
My father had a continuous line of curse words for an uncooperative T, most of which can’t be found in your Funk and Wagnall.
Most T’s had a choke operated by a wire that came out from the bottom of the radiator and you worked it with your left hand. If you did it right a half crank would generally start her up.  The gas tank only held eight gallons and was mounted on the frame beneath the front seat. The T relied on gravity to feed fuel to the carburetor (no fuel pump!), so a Model T could not climb a steep hill if the fuel level was low. The solution was to climb them in reverse. The Brocket hill was a classic example of this and you can still see the remnants of the old road that runs alongside the new highway up the hill. My dad recalled backing up that “son of a ##### hill” on occasion on his way to Calgary.
Model T’s had semi-elliptical springs for each of the front and rear axles and solid beam axles so they handled dirt roads pretty good. Again my father recollected as a kid a nasty little trick they used to play on Model T operators just for laughs. Those transverse springs had a lot of bounce so the trick involved covering a large rock with a cardboard box and leaving it in the middle of the roadway.  Now we all know that it is hard to resist flattening a cardboard box lying in the road when driving so imagine the surprise when the T driver finds himself airborne as those elliptical springs’ hits that hidden boulder and tosses him up in the air.
By 1918, half of all the cars in the US were Model T’s and while in the early years (1908-14) the cars were available in grey, green, blue and red, by 1914 there was only one color available. Ford apparently told his team in 1909 that in the future “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black”! 
The Model T was well regarded for its all-terrain abilities and ruggedness, could travel, ford or climb just about anywhere. It was not unusual to see one parked with one of its rear wheels removed and a pulley attached to the hub so a flat belt could drive a bucksaw, thresher, conveyor, baler, water pump or electric generator.  I recall reading about silent movies being shown in small towns outside of Cranbrook using a Model T to power the projector.
Ford mastered the assembly line process and in 1913 Model T’s came off the line in three-minute intervals and by 1914 it took only 93 minutes to assemble a car. Over 15 million were manufactured at a price of $240(1925). It was only in 1972 that the Volkswagen Beetle finally surpassed this production. 
An interesting connection there is that Ford was renowned as an anti-semetic and drew the attention of Adolph Hitler. Ford is the only American mentioned in Mein Kampf and Hitler “revered” Ford, proclaiming that “I shall do my best to put his theories into practice in Germany,” and modeled the Volkswagen, the people’s car, on the Model T.
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