A Great Little Car

Wednesday, 01 September 2010
Epic Journeys In A ‘Tin Lizzie’ Are What Keep Larry Riches Going, As Julian Rees Found Out

In a 1903 ruby-red Cadillac I am bumping down a banked lawn in the grounds of Larry Riches’ Victorian manor house in Lincolnshire. Larry sits beside me. There is just enough room for the two of us on the leather-upholstered bucket seat. Larry turns off to drive up a straight tree-lined avenue. He shifts from the slow gear to the fast, the ‘putt-putt-putt-putt’ of the veteran engine changes to a much quieter, slower rhythm, the whine of the transmission moves up a note and we shoot off at something like thirty miles an hour. It seems twice the speed, a terrifying ride as trees and bushes dash past on either side.

Larry is a founder and long-serving charity steward of Lancaster Lodge, No. 9413 (EC), meeting in Estoril, Portugal, his second home. His whole life, it seems, revolves around veteran, vintage and classic cars. Among them all, he owns four Model T Fords, and last year he drove from New York to Seattle in a 1923 model, a ‘Tin Lizzie’, a distance of 4,680 miles, an epic journey that took him four weeks. When we meet, he has just returned from another journey with a friend, which started in Joplin, Missouri, and ended in Richmond, Virginia. ‘I’ve always liked a challenge,’ says Larry. ‘People often say to me, what happens when you’ve run out of mountains to climb? But a Model T. It is an icon; there’s a sound on a Model T that sounds like no other car. You’re going along, and it’s ‘ch-ch-ch-ch-ch’, a nice peaceful sound and you’re on a country road all by yourself.’

The Captain’s Log

Larry’s log speaks for itself: ‘We set off from Joplin in light rain. Today we crossed three fords, passing through the towns of Saginaw and Boaz (!) stopped for lunch at a nice mom-and-pop highway house café for a bowl of soup that was about a gallon! We ambled along at a steady thirty-five to forty mph and the car ran sweet as ever.’ Log 2: ‘A very nice ride covering another easy 200 miles before crossing the Mississippi by ferry; the Mississippi really is huge! Kentucky, and then into Tennessee: we ran all the day with the top down because the car’s much quicker, and also you’ve got a 360-degree panorama. A lot of interesting wild birds – blue jays, snipe, eagles and many water birds. In Tennessee we passed through Paris; saw their own 200 foot-high Eiffel Tower.’ Log 3: ‘The box that has sat on the running boards carrying our spare petrol, water, oil etc. finally started to break up, so we bought an old suitcase at a thrift store for $10.00. Today we arrived safely in Nashville; exhaust needed tightening up. Another ferry crossing of the Tennessee River; we had lunch in a 1954 diner, which was cute and the ladies loved my English accent. We did well to avoid almost all the big highways again; it’s scary with the trucks and the little Model T.’ Log 4: ‘The weather front arriving tomorrow means we have to move the car another 170 miles east to Athens, Tennessee. Today we passed through the mountains of eastern Tennessee, with wonderful views, some long five to tenmile climbs on switchback roads through huge forests. We followed parts of the Trail of Tears; this took its name from when the United States government moved the Cherokee Indians from their home in North Carolina in 1838, many of them dying from illness and being forced to walk hundreds of miles to a new homeland.’ Log 5: ‘Leaving Athens with moderate rain, flash flood warnings on television and in the newspapers; twelve deaths in the floods made us apprehensive of the day ahead. We had lunch at the Tannery Cafe in Greeneville, Tennessee, the birth town of Andrew Johnson, a past President of the United States. We eventually ended up in Boone, North Carolina, after a long drive up and over the Great Smoky Mountains; some of the hairpin bends were very hard on car and driver! The car ran much slower. ‘We are now around 360 miles from our final destination, Richmond. Although the car runs well, I am more worried about the possibility of a major mechanical issue and panic at every new noise!’ Log 6: ‘Today we really “drove the dream”, the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway; this special road was built in the 1930s and stretches from North Carolina to Virginia for around 496 miles. It was built during the Great Depression to create work and is now a national monument. We drove it for 170 miles, one of the world’s great scenic drives, in one of the icons of Automobile history, a Ford Model T! We had some very long inclines, with our speed being as low as eight mph at times. ‘Great views, landscapes, wild flowers, butterflies, and some wonderful people along the route, topping out at four thousand feet above sea level in places. We stopped for lunch at Fancy Gap, where there was an old wedding chapel across the street; the waitress explained that the county line once ran down the centre of the road, and the restaurant was in a “dry” county; the owner sold booze at the chapel and then they celebrated at the restaurant afterwards.’ Log 7: ‘We arrived safely in Richmond this afternoon: we have now covered a total of 1,321 miles without any problems, not bad for our eighty-seven year old Ford Model T! We changed the oil yesterday in Roanoke, Virginia, and the lube-bay did not charge us anything. People have been very generous on the trip. ‘We took the shortest possible route to Richmond, which involved several graded roads through huge woodlands. We stopped for coffee in Appomattox where the American Civil War peace treaty was signed in 1865. ‘It has been a great trip, the company, the people we met en route, the weather – we were lucky to miss the storms in Nashville. Our thanks go to all those who extended friendship and help but we have proved just how reliable these cars are if driven with respect and without pushing them beyond the limits set by Henry Ford. ‘So maybe the final thank you should be to Henry Ford for designing such a great little car!’

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