Revving Up for the National Model T Tour

By Beacon Staff

Get your century-old motors running, and get ready to head out on the highway – the national Ford Model T tour is coming to the Flathead.

Dubbed the Montana Majestic Mountain T Tour, the international event brings 175 Model T enthusiasts and their classic cars to the valley from Aug. 1 to Aug. 7.

The drivers will be stationed at Whitefish Mountain Resort and venture out to new locations everyday, from the Tobacco Valley to Glacier National Park to around Flathead Lake, totaling about 900 miles, according to tour director Mike Cuffe of Eureka.

Model Ts first rolled out of Ford Motor Company in 1908 and were some of the first vehicles accessible to average Americans. The car was pulled from the assembly lines in 1927 after other companies started building more modern vehicles. In all, about 16 million were made, Cuffe said.

The Model T Ford Club of America usually sanctions two tours each year, one on each side of the country, Cuffe said. However, the Montana Majestic Mountain T Tour is the only one this year, Cuffe said.

“Once we came in and offered the Montana tour, there was great excitement throughout the (national) club,” Cuffe said. “It’s a real romantic kind of a draw.”

As members of the Rocky Mountain Model T Club, Cuffe and tour co-chairmen David Cooley of Kalispell and Rick Bonebright of Florence worked to bring the event to Montana after restoring the Montana club in 2008.

Connections with the national board of directors gave the local club a chance to pitch their idea of a mountain tour, Cuffe said, which apparently made an impression on the right people.

“Our fledgling little club all of a sudden became host of this tour,” Cuffe said.

Cuffe said he hardly expected to fall in love with a piece of machinery from the early 1900s. He assumed he would prefer a more modern model, a Ford Model A from the 1930s. However, the older model caught his attention with its distinctive characteristics.

“I happened to get a Model T Ford and came to understand them and like them,” Cuffe said.

The Model T has a 20-horsepower engine, which Cuffe notes is not exactly muscle-car material.

“Your lawn tractor probably has a lot more horsepower,” Cuffe said. “It’s a wonderfully designed engine. You can lug it down going up a hill; it will slow and slow and slow but it keeps pushing you along.”

The transmission is also unique, he noted. Instead of a hydraulic pump shift, the driver pushes a pedal to the floor to engage low gear. The pedal is spring loaded, and the driver just needs to let it out to put the car into high gear.

His interest in the cars piqued after several Eureka residents decided to spruce up the town’s annual Rendezvous Days parade with classic cars 12 years ago. After meeting other Model T enthusiasts from Canada and Missoula, Cuffe now owns three of the automobiles. His friend and mechanic Abe VanBemmel makes repairs as necessary.

Along with sharing his passion for Model Ts with the Flathead and Tobacco valleys, Cuffe said he wanted to bring the tour for another key reason: Money.

“This is my version of a stimulus bill. Because of this, we have 175 Fords traveling into Montana, spending a week here,” Cuffe said.

And, of course, along with the Fords come people. Cuffe estimates about 370 people coming from all ends of the country and Canada, and even some from New Zealand and England.

These tourists will spend money on gas, food, lodging and souvenirs, and Cuffe estimates a financial windfall of hundreds of thousands of dollars for Montana’s economy.

Eureka is also anticipating the excitement of Model T enthusiasts, with Mayor Ethel White proclaiming the day the tour rolls through town, Aug. 2, as “Model T Day” in the town.

White, also a classic car enthusiast, said she didn’t want to waste the opportunity to put a spotlight on her town.

“It’s just fun and Mike has worked so hard to bring the Model T tour here in Eureka,” White said. “I want to help him as much as possible and I want to help the town of Eureka as much as possible.”

For more information on the Model T tour and a look at the daily trip schedules, visit www.MontanaMajesticMountainTTour.com or call (406) 293-1247.

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