105 Years of Road Tripping: A Slideshow of Car Travel Through the Decades

1950s Unlimited, Flickr

Today marks the 105th birthday of the Ford Model T. It was on October 1, 1908 that the vehicle was introduced, and how we travel has never been the same since.

Between 1908 and 1927, Ford would build some 15 million Model T cars, making it the longest production run until the Volkswagen Beetle came along. The car was meant for ordinary people to be able to drive every day, and so they did.But it was not just for driving to work. As cars became more and more ubiquitous they paired with the American spirit of independence and adventure, and the road trip slowly worked its way into American culture. There was freedom in the open road, and Americans wanted to experience it first hand.

Cars became the symbol of travel and exploration.

In honor of the 105th birthday of the Model T, and the trips that it inspired, here is a selection of vintage posters, maps and images embracing the spirit of the open road.

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Around Cuba’s Bay Of Pigs In A 1929 Ford Model T Convertible

Let’s play a quick word association game. I say “Bay of Pigs,” you tell me what comes to mind.

Fidel Castro? Communism? Failed CIA missions?

When I think of the Bay of Pigs, I think of crystal clear water stretching out as far as the eye can see. I think of black sand beaches and snorkel rentals. I think of a beautifully restored 1929 Ford Model T convertible, driven by a young man in a woven straw hat.

When my boyfriend and I traveled to Cuba last summer, we had few plans apart from exploring the cobblestoned streets of Havana. But after a few days in the capital, we felt the urge to escape. I wanted more culture and history; my boyfriend wanted nature and the beach.

We compromised with a trip to the Bahia de Cochinos on the southern coast of Cuba, better known to Americans as the Bay of Pigs. Guidebooks promised great snorkeling and scuba diving; I was more intrigued by the bay’s storied past.

The Bay of Pigs leapt to notoriety after an unsuccessful American CIA mission to invade Cuba in April 1961. Upon landing, the U.S.-trained troops were handily defeated by Fidel Castro’s forces in a matter of days. It was a turning point in the Cold War, proving the fallibility of the United States while reinforcing the strength of the Castro’s Communist regime.

Today, it’s hard to imagine the Bay of Pigs embroiled in anything but epic mosquito swarms. The bay holds the swampy Parque Nacional Ciénaga de Zapata to the west, the black sand Playa Larga in the center and the rocky Playa Giron to the east. We arrived via taxi from nearby Cienfuegos and stayed at the Casa Enrique Rivas Fente in Playa Larga, one of a handful of privately owned casas particulares that dot the sandy strip. The rooms were basic but clean, and meal offerings included fresh grilled lobster and squid. Since we arrived on a Saturday night, we were welcomed by a private chanteur, who played Cuban music for a troupe of Ukrainian salsa dancers staying at the casa next door.

Between mojitos, we asked our host for the best way to explore the peninsula. We had in mind bicycles, or perhaps a CUC$2 motorbike ride from stop to stop. Instead, our host recommended a taxi service run by her son. “This is the best way,” she assured us, a hint of mischief in her eye. We balked at the CUC$35 fee, but given the remote nature of the guesthouse and region, we had little choice.

The next morning, we arose to breakfast and the sight of a perfectly preserved 1929 Ford Model T convertible parked in the driveway. This would be our ride for the day, our host informed us. Budget concerns aside, it was difficult to protest.

We hit the road, bound for the Cueva de los Peces, an inland freshwater swimming hole formed from a flooded cave. The water is refreshing but deep, stretching 230 feet into the ground. Nearby is a stand where you can rent scuba and snorkeling gear, and across the road is a rocky bluff looking out onto pristine white-sand snorkeling ground. Beach chairs are available for hire, but the real draw is the water, with its clear visibility, bright coral and sprightly tropical fish. Our driver staked out a spot by the snorkel stand and traded car tips with his friends while we enjoyed the sea.

After working up an appetite from the ocean air, we continued to Punta de Perdiz, a popular spot on Playa Giron with an on-site restaurant and cabanas. A serving of arroz con pollo and a Cristal beer hit the spot. The cabanas at Punta de Perdiz were slightly more conducive to lounging and reading, so we alternated baking in the sun with more dips in the water.

At one point, I staked out a spot on a bluff and looked out onto the sea. I tried to imagine undercover sea craft entering the bay and helicopters dropping paratroopers into the jungle. I thought about America’s contentious relationship with Cuba, about the outdated judgments many still hold toward Cuba and about our trip thus far. There’s a widespread belief that once foreigners are freely able to visit and invest in Cuba, the island will become a wasteland of gringo tourists and McDonald’s. With travel restrictions continuing to loosen, it will require a serious commitment to sustainable tourism and development to ensure that Cuba can benefit from increased development, without losing what makes it so special.

A few hours later, we hopped into the Model T and headed back to reality, impressions of the bay forever changed.

[Photo Credit: Jessica Marati]

Want To Learn How To Drive a Model T Ford? This Museum Will Teach You

The Model T Ford was the most successful car design in history. From 1908 to 1927, more than 15 million were sold at a price so affordable that cars went from being playthings of the wealthy to a common item for any middle class household. For better or worse, today’s car culture is a direct product of the Model T.

Now the Collin County Farm Museum is offering courses in driving the Model T Ford. This isn’t just your standard stick shift. It takes up to fifteen minutes and a fair amount of strength to start, and has all sorts of peddles and cranks unfamiliar to anyone accustomed to driving modern cars. The license will allow you to drive the museum’s very own restored Model T, part of its large collection of vintage vehicles.

The Model T appeared at a time when paved roads were rare, and it was made tough enough to stand driving over fields and up steep slopes. They could take a lot of abuse, which is probably why there are so many left today. There’s a limit to what they can take, though. Don’t drive them like they did in this slapstick comedy or you’ll fail the course and probably get arrested.

Car art of the US landscape: Weird, wacky and wonderful

It seems fitting that car art has taken its place in the landscape of the United States. When Henry Ford was crafting his Model T, he probably didn’t foresee that his innovation would lead to another type of car creativity. Yesterday for Gadling’s day of Weird America, Jeremy posted about Detroit’s gigantic Uniroyal tire that was once used as a ferris wheel at the World’s Fair, and Sean posted about Mystery Hill, America’s Stonehenge. Car art brings these two together in a weird and wacky kind of way.

Drive along I-40 in Texas heading west from Amarillo (or east if you’re driving from the New Mexico border) and you’ll come across Cadillac Ranch. The first time I saw these 10 Cadillacs sticking up in the air in the middle of a field, their noses buried far enough down so that they’d stay in their upright angle, I was relieved. Actually, I think I felt ecstatic. If you’ve ever driven through this part of Texas, you know just how monotonous the landscape can seem. Flat, flat and more flat. Those cars have been a weird but wonderful visual treat for people traveling that highway ever since Stanley Marsh 3 put them there years ago.

Awhile back, I seem to recall, these cars changed colors with various paint jobs. These days, though, anyone can paint on them. Graffiti is the most common approach. Here is a blog by Alan Mizel who spent time basking in the wackiness of Cadillac Ranch as part of his current trip around the world. There are several photos that pay tribute to this creation.

Next up: Carhenge is more than just Carhenge. There’s the Car Art Reserve

We drove to Carhenge as part of our great American road trip from Ohio to Montana and back four summers ago. When we pulled up, our mouths open like a cliche, we came across a friend of Jim Reinders, the man who conceptualized the project. The friend was collecting the trash and was happy to give us background information about the place.

It was a surprise to see her since Carhenge is a bit outside of Alliance, the closest town. I was impressed to see that this attraction is one that has a method to what some might call madness. Next to this wonderfully weird car creation that was conceived of as a tribute to the artist’s father is a picnic area with tables and a parking lot. This is a regular must-see attraction surrounded by flat land. This outdoor sculpture park seems to say, “What’s your hurry? You might as well stay awhile because, heaven knows, the world is a mysterious place. Take a breather.”

Carhenge, a collection of 38 cars arranged in the manner of Great Britain’s Stonehenge, is only part of the 3-D exhibit set out in the middle of nowhere. The Car Art Reserve is included on the property where the creative spirit runs strong in other car artists’ work as well. One that I remember is “The Fourd Seasons.” Made of Ford cars painted different colors, this sculpture represents wheat growing during the four seasons of Nebraska. Part of the fun of looking at the art is to see what each installation is named.

Artists can still submit sculptures. There’s plenty of room. Carhenge’s Web site contains project history and how to become a part of it.

Here are two other examples of weird car art (of sorts) that I have yet to see.

  • At Wilkin’s Oklahoma Truck Supply south of Tonkawa, there’s an 18-wheeler that is perched on its cab with the truck bed straight up in the air. The truck boasts an advertisement for the business.
  • In Oregon Curiosities, the book’s author describes Yard-0-Fun near Fort Hill, Oregon. Located on Twarp Farm, the yard has a red, white and blue pick-up truck up in a tree. The truck is only one of the weird items on display. Supposedly, you can see the car from the highway between Portland and the coast.

And here’s a car art sculpture that no longer exists but may rise again if someone gets a hankering to reconstruct it.

Near Chicago in Berwyn, Illinois there was a car art shish kabob called “Spindle.” Created by Dustin Shuler, this artwork was made from eight cars skewered onto a pole. If you saw the movie, “Wayne’s World,” you saw this sculpture. Unfortunately, the town voted to get rid of the sculpture a few years ago. The top two cars were saved and stored, however, so someone looking to make Spindle 2 has a head start.

And finally, look for car art moving along U.S. roads and highways. In Columbus, Ohio, for example, several car art artists live here. Greg Phelp’s car with a “That Car” license plate is the one with all the doll parts. Here’s what it looks like in snow.

If you have any car art to share, let Kevin Mc at HubPages know. He’s interested. Thanks to his post on car art, I found out about the car kabob. A commenter of the post clued me into the pick-up truck in the tree.

Will Model T replicas replace horse-drawn carriages in NYC?

Animal rights groups have long been trying to put an end to the carriage rides offered in New York City. Essentially, they argue that the horses are mistreated and exposed to unsafe conditions. Supporters of the carriages maintain that the drivers care about the animals and treat them humanely. The issue has been discussed in the New York City Council and now ideas are being suggested for how to replace the carriages. One concept: Eco-friend Model T replicas.

The cars would be electric or hybrid and tour the city much like the carriages do now. Unlike the carriages, however, the cars won’t defecate on the street. But the cars will also lack the historical connection that the carriages have to the city (yes, I understand that Model T’s once existed in Manhattan, but no one waxes nostalgically about their Model T ride around Central Park).

Thankfully, the matter is being discussed by our esteemed local politicians and activists, who continue to raise the level of discourse. Take Carolyn Daly, spokeswoman for the Horse and Carriage Association, who said that “no one wants to replace clip-clop, clip-clop with chitty chitty bang bang.” Quite the wordsmith.

Councilman Tony Avella is trying to push a ban on the carriages through the City Council, but this fight has been going on for a few years now and promises to get even more contentious before any laws are passed or alternatives launched.

[Via Gothamist]