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Epic car day in Calistoga as Model T's make a pitstop

Epic car day in Calistoga as Model T's make a pitstop


As Steven Chase was describing the braking system on his 1912 Ford Model T, an image came to mind from the old Flintstones cartoons. The one where Fred brings his car to a screeching stop by using his bare feet.

The classic Model T is of course a far cry from Fred’s fictitious stone-age car, but as 22 of the open-air vehicles motored into Calistoga for lunch on a recent sunny afternoon, heads did turn.

Chase was leading the Gold Gate tour with the Model T Club of Southern California in his 1912 touring car. The Ford Motor Company manufactured about 15 million Model T cars from 1909 to 1927. 

This is the third year the club has come to Northern California to take a 6-day tour from Mill Valley to Healdsburg and out to the coast. They invite other Model T clubs, from Nevada, Arizona, Oregon and Northern California.

The cars can reach a maximum speed of about 40 mph and, no, the southern California club did not actually drive up north in the 4-cylinder, 20-horsepower vehicles, Chase explained. They were towed on flatbeds behind pick-up trucks. Last year, during the height of the pandemic, they even brought their own bathroom.

As for those brakes, by modern standards, the hand throttle and pulley and brake drum system are, well, from another century. The right foot pedal applied a band around a drum in the transmission, thus stopping the rear wheels from turning.

Many Model T owners have more than one of the cars. Chase, who describes it as “a passion” also has a 1915 speedster. But what he likes about the cars is “the people. The owners help everyone they can, keeping the cars running.” That means those 90 years old, who have the knowledge, and the younger folks who have the muscle.

Another cool thing, Chase says, is the way the public interacts. Wherever they go, “People, from Harvard graduates to street gangsters, they see the wood wheels and the brass, and everyone is ready to let you into traffic.”           

Calistoga High teacher Erik Parry tests CO2-powered cars built by his students, Nov. 21, 2011.

You can reach Cynthia Sweeney at 942-4035 or

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The Weekly Calistogan Editor

Cynthia Sweeney has been editor of The Weekly Calistogan since July, 2018. Previously, she was a reporter for the St. Helena Star, and North Bay Business Journal. She also spent a significant amount of time freelancing in Hawaii.

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