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Vintage Fords and the Kentucky Connection

Henry Ford’s Model T automobile was one of the most influential inventions in American history, and it still has plenty of fans today. Kentucky Life’s Dave Shuffett met up with a group of vintage car enthusiasts to explore the Kentucky connection to these early automobiles.

In June of 2014, Gilbert Russell invited Model T and Model A collectors to his home in London, Kentucky, to show off their cars and take an Eastern Kentucky road trip.

“This all started last year, and we started out with a few friends,” says Russell. “I thought I’d invite them here to my home, just have a little cookout, and we wound up with 156 cars. I’ve been dealing with these old cars about all my life and over the years I’ve met a lot of friends and made a lot of acquaintances with these old cars.”

In reading up on the original Model Ts and Model A’s, Russell learned that the Ford company sourced much of the lumber used in the cars from what is now the Daniel Boone National Forest in Eastern Kentucky. White Oak was used for the wooden spoke wheels along with the flooring and car frames.

A later Ford model showcased wooden accents even more prominently. The 1940s era station wagon, affectionately known as the woody, featured wood paneling on the side of the car body.

“That woodie deal is a thing that just the general public came up with,” explains Bill Smith of London, Kentucky. Smith is an owner of a 1940 Deluxe Ford Station Wagon. “Ford didn’t call these woodies, they called them station wagons. It went to the train station and it was a wagon that hauled freight. So that’s where the term station wagon came from.”

The Red Bird location that once served as Ford’s office for forestry still stands, and the building is now a District Ranger Office for the U.S. Forestry Service. The interior is accented with locally grown and harvested wood.

“The Ford Company actually built the house as a clubhouse,” says Lester Sumner, a retired member of the U.S. Forestry Service. “They used it for mostly for their surveyors, but there were people [who would] come from Detroit down and spent a night or two here.”

The road trip from London to Red Bird brought together a wide-ranging group of people with a shared love of automotive history.

“You’re talking to people who own these cars, and they’ve been there,” says Smith. “They were there. They’re telling you stories like your grandfather would tell you. You talk to them and immediately you have something in common. It’s a good thing and the cars are what brings the people together.”

This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2003, which originally aired on October 18, 2014. Watch the full episode.