Dozens of Model T Fords, more than most of us have ever seen, will converge on Fort Benton for Father’s Day weekend. Drivers from 18 to 80 will rendezvous with the vehicle that put the world on wheels, and they drive 500 miles the next three days in the 53rd annual Montana 500.
“Check them out the afternoon of June 16 at the stately Grand Union Hotel,” invites Mike Cuffe, president of the Montana Model T Cross Country Touring Society. “Check in, safety inspections and demonstrations will be taking place that Sunday, and rides may be available.”
Fort Benton Chamber of Commerce is helping arrange special events including photo ops and possibly a celebration during the Sunday check in. It could be a special Father’s Day that Dad, or Gramps, will always remember. Several previous Montana 500 champions will be entering this prestigious Model T endurance run, including Doug Langel, from Rudyard, who participated in the original event. He may drive in the touring class, and his son Brandon will be running under time.
“Watch us flag out Monday morning to start the 53rd running of the famous Montana 500,” Cuffe suggested. “Cheer us off to Havre at 8:30 am. We start on Highway 87 at the Fort Benton junction. Take photos along the way, but please don’t crowd us or drive close to us. Vehicles pacing just ahead of us or right behind us can be a problem. Pass us, but then pull on ahead.”
Monday morning takeoff will point the cars toward Great Falls. After a short break they reverse back past Fort Benton to Havre, Chester and home to the Grand Union Hotel.
On Tuesday Tin Lizzies roll south through Geraldine, through Denton and Lewistown then west to Stanford before turning north to Fort Benton. They finish the Tuesday loop at Jim Taylor Ford where a welcome is planned. Finishing time will vary, but Cuffe expects the leaders to gallop in on their 20 horses between 5 and 6 pm.
Wednesday Henry Ford’s favorite automobiles go to Belt and return by noon. The first three cars pull into NY Tire where engines are inspected to ensure they meet stock Model T Ford standards. Drivers and groupies that follow them will gather at the Fort Benton park pavilion for awards presentation.
Green starting flags signal “blast off” for each driver. Cars start at one minute intervals, and timers stop the clock as they approach the next community. These cars are among the best running Model Ts in the world. They are finely tuned and well balanced. Some 16 million were built, all of them basically the same with a few refinements, over 20 years. A hundred years ago Ts could run as well, but there were few roads smooth enough for top performance. Remember, mules were still pulling steamboat freight by the wagon load out of Fort Benton when the first Model was built.
Montana 500 participants come from all over the USA and Canada. Some are veteran Endurance Run jockeys, but for some it is a once in a lifetime dream come true. Occasionally, a father-son team pulls in unexpectedly from some far off place.
Jay Klehfoth, executive officer for Model T Ford Club of America (MTFCA) is slated to attend for the first time ever, and he doubles as editor of VINTAGE FORD, the classy monthly magazine published by MTFCA. Fort Benton and area will reap national publicity, perhaps even a magazine cover shot or centerfold photo.
Built by Ford Motor Co. between 1908 and 1927, all Model Ts run a basic four cylinder engine. Many lawn tractors have more power than the Model T 20 horsepower power plant. Model Ts use a planetary semi-automatic transmission with shifting accomplished by foot pedal. Montana 500 entrants run some of the finest tuned Tin Lizzies in the world.
This timed endurance run is based at a different location each spring. 2013 is first time ever for Fort Benton. Drivers enjoy being cheered off each day, and often photographers find a vantage point along the route or near the finish. Some rest homes bring out residents for part of the fun.
Fort Benton was the original hub of travel for a vast area as the uppermost navigable point on the Missouri River. It was the distribution point for people and freight. Two famous routes were the whoop up trail to Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta, and the Mullan Road leading to Walla Walla, Washington.
Cuffe, state representative from Eureka and Lincoln County, has promised rides to a variety of legislators along the route. His 1923 roadster was parked in front of the Capitol for the House Chambers Centennial this year, and last year Newt Gingrich spun the crank of this Tin Lizzie at the state Republican convention while Rick hill and Steve Daines cheered. At that time Cuffe and the cute little roadster were en route to Butte for the 2012 Montana 500. In 2010 he drove to North Dakota for the start of the 50th anniversary, than ran with the pack back to Missoula.
Henry Ford would be proud of this special fleet of Model T Fords and the happy guys and gals driving them. “Come to historic Fort Benton and join the fun,” says Cuffe. “Or give us a wave and a shout along the route.”
(Note to editor: The Rocky Mountain Model T Club will be driving the Missouri River Tour the week of June 10 with stops in Great Falls, Fort Benton, Lewistown and White Sulfur Springs. Tour director is Dave Cooley, of Kalispell. Seventeen cars are scheduled for that tour. Some will also drive the Montana 500.)
What are the dates for the 500.
June 17th-19th 2013
I'm getting excited and looking forward to driving a T in this years run!
See you guys there.
We should have something north of twenty cars in the trophy division this year, with cars from Montana, Idaho, Washington, California, Iowa, Florida and maybe a couple of other states.