Going their way on the Lincoln Highway

National tour of 1924 Model T, Toledo presentation show road's significance

Nancy and Chuck Hathaway sit in the back seat of a restored 1924 Ford Model T at the AAA office in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Wednesday, June 12. Chuck is the son of Dr. Alan Hathaway, who took the car on cross-country trips in 1974 and 1999. The couple rode in it on their wedding day. PHOTO BY JEFF MORRISON

It’s been a century since the Model T Ford ruled the car market and the Lincoln Highway ruled the auto trails, but the influence of both on modern American transportation remains. Two events in eastern Iowa on Wednesday, June 12, brought them to life.

A restored 1924 Model T stopped by the AAA office in Cedar Rapids during a cross-country trip along the Lincoln Highway. Its home is the Museum of American Speed in Lincoln, Nebraska, as a representation of the 10 millionth Ford that made the trip from New York to San Francisco in 1924. The museum’s Facebook page is showing off photos of the car at historic sites in the “Sea-to-Sea in a Model T” trip.

The car previously was owned by Dr. Alan Hathaway of Davenport, who drove it across the country in 1974 and 1999 and died in 2016. His daughter, Anne (Hathaway) McAtee, is accompanying the car this year along with other family members. She loves how a trip like this not only helps people realize transportation history but brings generations together. Other Model T drivers/enthusiasts show up “and it’s awesome.” Centenarians at a nursing homesaw the car and talked about how it reminded them of their childhoods.

“It’s like driving in a parade all the time and when you stop it’s like a car show,” said Mike Vaughn, one of the two drivers/mechanics/navigators popping across the country. Vaughn spent nearly every day for five months transforming the vehicle from museum piece to working car. If the part moves, he replaced it. Spokes on the thin wheels are made of hickory. The biggest concession to modernity was upping the battery capacity to 12 volts for a USB port. This car tops out at about 45 mph.

Shortly after starting its trip, the Model T had mechanical issues in Pennsylvania, and unlike in 1924, the nearest Ford dealerships don’t have parts in stock. After repairs to the engine block, the car resumed traveling the Lincoln Highway, arriving in Iowa five days later than originally planned. The support trailer carries tires, repair tools, and oil for changes every 500 miles.

Mike Bender is the other driver/mechanic/navigator. He’s spent half a century working on Model Ts and figures he’s driven one in more than 30 states. A memorable part of the trip so far, he said, was meeting a 19-year-old so passionate about the old cars that he and his family waited three hours for the Model T to come by.

While it took going halfway across the country for the Model T to get to its Cedar Rapids stopover, local resident Randahl Cady only needed to drive a couple of miles. His car’s chassis and engine block (and up-to-date registration) is a 1926 Model T, but it’s built to look like a racecar one would see at fairgrounds in the late 1920s and early 1930s. “It’s more like a motorcycle with four wheels,” said Cady, who documented building the vehicle on his YouTube channel.

Also Wednesday, author and Iowa Writers’ Collaborative member Darcy Dougherty Maulsby brought her Lincoln Highway presentation to the Wieting Theater in Toledo. Her book about the Lincoln Highway in Iowa was published in 2022. She started out with the pre-history of the highway — the earliest cross-country attempts and an around-the-world race — and how everyone got bogged down in Iowa’s mud roads. Carl Fisher, a co-founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, came up with the concept of a “coast-to-coast rock highway” in 1912 and the Lincoln Highway was born a year later.

Placement of Iowa’s “Seedling Mile” in 1918 was a tug-of-war between Greene and Linn counties, with the latter winning out. “You find the muddiest, nastiest, grossest section” of mud, plop a mile of smooth concrete in the middle, “and it will sell itself,” Maulsby said. Each county along the route has landmarks and stories.

Maulsby, who also wrote “A Culinary History of Iowa,” highlighted historic and present-day eating places on the Lincoln Highway in Iowa, including

-the Candlelight Inn in Clinton, “home of the original Chicken George”

-the Ced-Rel just west of Cedar Rapids, which gained a reputation as a speakeasy, and whose liquor after being seized was distributed to hospitals

-Taylor’s Maid-Rite, Zeno’s (started when pizza was “extremely exotic”), and the Flying Elbow in Marshalltown

-the Lucky Pig in Ogden, winner of “Iowa’s best breaded tenderloin” in 2014

-Dairy Mart in Glidden, with its soft-serve lemon ice cream

-and not a restaurant but a recipe, Iowa native Mamie Eisenhower’s Million-Dollar Fudge.

The Model T was long ago supplanted by larger, more comfortable vehicles, and the Lincoln Highway supplanted by wider, safer roads. With the opening of about 7 miles of new U.S. Highway 30 expressway in Benton County on June 6, only 5 miles of construction remain to make U.S. 30 a four-lane road from Lisbon to Ogden.

For those who aren’t in a hurry, though, the Lincoln Highway still beckons.

Jeff Morrison is the writer behind the website “Iowa Highway Ends.” He grew up in Traer and now lives in Cedar Rapids. A version of this column was originally published in the Between Two Rivers newsletter on Substack, betweentworivers.substack.com. It is republished here through the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative. Please consider subscribing to the collaborative at iowawriters.substack.com and the authors’ blogs to support their work.