Environmental Echo is celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the National Park Service and our national parks by periodically posting stories about how much people enjoy these environmental assets with their natural beauty and abundant wildlife.
This story features the head of the St. Louis Model T Club and hits adventures driving his Model T through some of our great national parks.
By Don Corrigan (South County Times)
Forget all the new-fangled digital readouts lighting up new car dashboards like a Christmas tree. Steve Thum of Webster Groves is happy with just a steering wheel and a few pedals on the floor in his Model T Fords.
Thum did add turn signals and a better brake system on his 1925 Touring Model T, items which came in handy on a month-long vacation to visit America’s national parks from May 4 to June 7. The brakes really came in handy on the steeper grades in Yellowstone National Park.
Steve and Diana Thum towed their Touring Model T on the back of a 1996 35-foot Rexhall Aerbus Recreational Vehicle (RV). They cut their Model T loose for drives at several stops along their way west. They parked the RV overnight for rack time in Walmart and Cabellas’ lots on the way to their destination in West Yellowstone.
“When we arrived, we parked the RV in West Yellowstone before entering the park. We unhitched the Model T and drove it through the park for 7 days,” said Steve Thum. “I loved the park and just about everybody enjoyed seeing the Model T.
“There were international visitors to Yellowstone who wanted to take selfie photos with the car and we were happy to accommodate them,” added Thum. “Meeting people interested in your Model T is just part of the fun of owning it and taking it along on your vacations.”
Of course, it’s a sure bet that not everybody was happy with their Touring Model T. For example, the drivers behind the classic car when it slowed to 13 mph on some of the climbs on the way up to Mammoth from the south end of Yellowstone.
The park’s bison did not seem especially enamoured with the vehicle either. Bison will often lollygag on park roads and snarl up traffic. However, bison do not like the high-pitched noise of a Model T – they move out of the way and traffic starts moving again, according to Thum.
Steve and Diana Thum said they stopped the Model T at many of the park trailheads to hike and see the falls, geysers, paint pots, hot springs, mud pots and more at Yellowstone.
“Some visitors have gotten off the trails and been scalded in the hot springs and pots,” said Steve Thum. “I don’t know why they don’t heed the danger signs. We heard of a guy that fell into a scalding geyser hole and has not been seen since.”
Steve and Diana Thum heed all park danger signs, which is why they made it back alive. Their RV and two Model T’s, a 1926 4-door sedan and the 1925 Touring Model T, are safely ensconced behind their Webster Groves home. They have made it through such parks as Little Big Horn, Devils Tower National Monument, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore.
Model T Historian
Steven Thum is a bit of a historian and a statistician on the topic of Ford Model T cars. He noted that the first Model T was built on Sept. 27, 1908, with the last one coming off the line on May 26, 1927. He said 15,000,000 Ford Model T’s were manufactured and about 500,000 are still around.
“I can’t tell you how many of them still run,” said Thum. “Mine still does because I am constantly ordering parts for it from a place called Lang’s up in Massachusetts. I have to do an oil change about every 300 miles, because these cars don’t have oil filters to get rid of the bad stuff.”
Thum blames his Model T craze on his father. He said his dad, who lived in Arnold, went to southern Illinois to buy a 1966 Mustang convertible. He came back to his farm in Missouri with the Mustang, a Lincoln and a Model T.
“He later tried to sell his cars and I put my foot down when he tried to sell the Touring Model T. I said no way,” recalled Thum. “I bought it and I bought another one as well.”
“These are the most important cars in history,” said Thum. “They took us from the age of horse-drawn carriages to the age of the automobile. They had 20 horse-power, which was pretty impressive back then. There were years when fully half the cars existing in the world were Model T’s.”
Diana Thum proudly noted that their Touring Model T is a star. The spiffy auto appeared in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” at the Municipal Opera in Forest Park in 2012. The car received a big write-up in Occasional, the magazine of the St. Louis Chapter of the Model T Ford Club of America.
“The Muny wanted a real Model T onstage and, of course, we could help,” said Diana Thum. “We even got to sit in it during the production. We were told that we were ‘props’ and to look straight ahead. That was our job.”
New Job With T-Club
Steve Thum has a new job, now that he is retired from his old job as a computer consultant. In January, Thum became president of the St. Louis Chapter of the Model T Ford Club. There are four chapters in Missouri and more than 100 nationwide.
“We’re in classic car and Model T shows all over the place,” the club president boasted. “When Diana and I go, we allow people to touch our cars. We don’t understand collectors who won’t allow their cars to be touched. People need to be able to touch a piece of history.”
Close to home, Steve Thum noted an Indiana Covered Bridge Tour and a Hillbilly Tour in Cape Girardeau now on his calendar. The Thums may travel to these events to ride in their car and to allow a little T-touch. Even closer to home, Steve Thum noted upcoming events at Westport Plaza and the Kirkwood retirement community at Aberdeen Heights.
“The senior homes are great fun, because the cars jog some residents’ memories. They have great stories about their personal history with the cars,” said Steve Thum. “We’ve been told that residents will chatter about the cars for months after the events.”
President Thum is always on the lookout for new members for the Model T Club. He said you don’t have to have a classic car to be a member, you just have to have an interest in the old vehicles.
“We have chapter meetings once a month, lots of car events, and we put out the magazine, Occasional, occasionally,” explained Thum. “Our next meeting is at the Masonic Hall at 4557 Lemay Ferry Road. They’re always on the second Friday of the month.”