Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


JOHN STEINBECK said it best in his book, Cannery Row. “Someone should write an erudite essay on the moral, physical, and esthetic effect of the Model T Ford on the American nation. Two generations of Americans knew more about the Ford coil than the clitoris, about the planetary system of gears than the solar system of stars.”


Ford Model T, 1908-1927. Image of a 1910 5-Passenger Touring Car, by Harry Shipler, Salt Lake City, April 11, 1910.

Steinbeck continued, “Most of the babies of the period were conceived in Model T Fords and not a few were born in them. The theory of the Anglo Saxon home became so warped that it never quite recovered.”

Said another succinctly, anonymously and possibly apocryphally, “The Model T Ford did more than anything else to eliminate the village idiot.”


Model T Coupelet. c. 1914. Image from Floyd Clymer’s Motor Scrapbook Number 3.

I enjoy collecting Model T lore, the oddities that accompanied this most significant of mankind’s transportation means. Maybe you have some favorite tales as well?


Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley, Chatto & Windus, 1932. Both and list it in many editions. This image is of the First Edition.

Aldous Huxley’s look at the future, written in 1931, takes place in London of 2540 AD (described in the book as 632 A.F., “After Ford”). Intended as a social satire, the book evolved into a commentary of technology gone chillingly mad, with the word “Ford” replacing God in most every context.

There’s an excellent radio adaptation of Brave New World done by the CBS Radio Workshop, narrated by Aldous Huxley, with music by Bernard Hermann. It appears regularly on SiriusXM “Radio Classics.” Also, see for information and details on downloading a copy.


Neither snow nor rain…. This Model T resides at the Owls Head Transportation Museum, in Owls Head, Maine. See

The Model T is not a particularly small car, with a wheelbase of 100.0 in. and 2.9-liter inline-4. Despite its “Tin Lizzie” name, the car was constructed of state-of-the-art materials, including vanadium steels, aluminum and brass.

Riding the rails.

Riding the rails. This and images following from Owls Head Transportation Museum.

The Model T was sturdy and ubiquitous (by 1924, half the cars in the world were Model Ts). It’s no wonder they ended up in so many diverse applications.


Not quite riding the high seas, but marine conversions of the Model T’s 4-cylinder powered many a craft.

The Model T’s planetary gearbox gives it two forward speeds and reverse. Everything is controlled by three pedals and a floor lever, in a process completely unlike shifting a conventional layshaft gearbox.

The Model T’s right pedal is a transmission brake (there’s no wheel braking). Depressing the middle pedal invokes reverse. The left pedal is labeled C for “clutch;” the degree of its depression, together with lever position, dictates neutral, low or high gear.

saw mill

A Model T never really retired. This one was converted into a portable saw mill.

A last tale, possibly apocryphal: The Model T’s final drive has an assembly of a drive pinion gear, three-pinion differential and ring gear all encased in a two-part live rear axle. This casing is split down the middle. Indeed, for efficiency of production, its two halves are precisely the same, the right half merely inverted for the left.

An old timer once told me about a breakdown that necessitated disassembly of this rear axle and the help of a local blacksmith in fabricating a repair.

Reassembly mistakenly swapped the left-right orientation of the pinion and ring assembly. Everything fit. However, now this Model T had only a single speed forward—and two speeds in reverse.

To this day, I don’t know whether I was having my leg pulled. Either way, it’s okay. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2013

3 comments on “FORD MODEL T LORE

  1. Stan Ward
    August 25, 2013

    Dennis, in the late 70’s, I helped a friend assemble a 26 Model T roadster pickup he restored out of parts picked up from old barns and swap meets. He rebuilt all the pieces in his mother’s basement, and we carried it all up the cellar steps and assembled it in the driveway one Saturday. We got it running, but discovered that he had made that very mistake, with the ring gear on the wrong side. For a week it had one speed forward and two reverse, until he split the rear end and corrected it.

    I love your blog. If you like oddball Model T stuff, check out my “Model T oddities” page –

  2. carmacarcounselor
    September 5, 2013

    I think SEMA should create a special award for the Model T as being the car that made their industry possible. I doubt there has yet to be a car that had a greater variety of aftermarket accessories, improvements, and modifications, unless it’s the VW Type 1. In terms of speed equipment it’s right up there, although I suspect its descendant, the Ford flathead, and the Chevy Small block surpass it.

    • Stan Ward
      September 5, 2013

      With that same friend, I pulled a Model T engine out from a scrapyard. The block had been cracked, but I discovered a “racing” crankshaft in it – a 1928-29 “Sure-Mike” crank, with – *gasp* – counterweights! You could even buy an overhead cam setup for the T engine.

      The speed market was never as big as that of the flathead, the VW, and all that came later, but in overall accessories for the car the T had to be a serious contender. Remember, the T is what JC Whitney’s business was built on!

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