Twice the Fun at Half the Speed!
It was love at first sight. In a darkened room, hiding under a sheet, Trudy was waiting. She was old and sort of tired but there had to be some fun left in her.
"As soon as I saw her," said Frank Kelly, "I knew I couldn't live without her."
Trudy is a 1923 Model T Ford touring car that Frank Kelly found in a garage in the small Iowa city of Muscatine where he operated the local community foundation after many years in Fort Smith as an advertising man.
"A friend of mine from church had a friend who knew how to get it started and another guy showed me how to drive it," Kelly said. "After that, it was a thrill I couldn't quit."
Frank and his wife Diane whiz around in their flivver almost every day. They take their grandchildren out for ice cream, old friends for evening rides, they go to the drive-in movie, putter along in parades and just "go motoring."
"When our daughter Maggie married her boyfriend Jason Mott in Fayetteville, she wanted us to take her from the wedding to the reception in the Model T," said Kelly. "So we drove it from Eastern Iowa to Western Arkansas. It took six days and they had the time of their lives.
Model T Fords were intended to replace horses and so their speed is about the same as a trotting horse. Thirty miles an hour is a comfortable cruising speed and the car will run all day without complaint.
That doesn't mean Kelly doesn't complain at the end of a six-hour drive.
"It's sprung like a farm wagon," says Kelly. "And after a while, you begin to appreciate the upholstery in a modern car."
Diane has a different take.
"You know, up close and personal, and at 30 miles per hour in an open car, road-kill takes on a whole new meaning," said Diane. "But the smell of gasoline sort of overpowers everything. We had a ball and can't wait for another excursion."
He's now back in Fort Smith, working for the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith in their public relations department and says he never knew it could be so much joy to earn a living. The Kellys came back to Fort Smith to escape Iowa winters and they brought their old car with them. Diane splits her time between Fort Smith "with some fabulous friends" and Iowa, where the grandchildren live.
Time and travel had taken their toll on old Trudy and this year the Kellys brought their old car to Fayetteville for an overhaul under the care of Mike Walker, who restores Model Ts for a living. Walker told the Kellys they had "got all the good out that poor thing."
It still had its original pistons, crankshaft, transmission, valves and camshaft. And there was not enough compression in the engine to suck a fuel and air mixture into the cylinders. Walker did a mechanical overhaul but the body and upholstery are still very old.
"We're ready for another expedition," Kelly said. "Diane wants to see the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore. I'm thinking of the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn."
Wherever they go, Frank and Diane will be having twice the fun of everybody else on the road - but at half the speed.