KINGFIELD — On Saturday morning, holiday travelers in a hurry to get to campgrounds or cemeteries or cottages on lakes might be startled to see a scene from the early 20th century.

The Down East Chapter of the Model T Ford Club of America is having its annual Spring Dust-Off Tour around the lakes and mountains of western Maine. The Model Ts rarely travel at their maximum speed of 40 mph.

At least 100,000 of Henry Ford’s Model T are owned and driven by avid collectors around the world, according to chapter leader John Anderson. It was the world’s first mass-produced car, designed to be operated easily by those who had previously only driven a mule or a team or horses.

Ford was a tough businessman, according to Anderson, and although he has been lauded as the working man’s champion, Ford’s generosity had a darker side. The public’s demand for the car was high, but Ford paid his workers $2.34 for a grueling nine-hour day. He had to hire 1,000 men to keep 100, Anderson said.

Such turnover crippled his production, so the entrepreneur decided to try something that made history.

According to the PBS documentary “Henry Ford,” he began paying workers $5 for eight hours of work. It allowed him to operate three shifts and produce enough vehicles to meet the public’s demand.

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His assembly lines could build a car in half an hour, making the company the leader in the industry. Starting in 1908, Ford produced 15 million vehicles, with the last one leaving the assembly line in 1927.

“People could drive from Farmington to Waterville in one day, which was quite something,” Anderson said.

Model Ts had to share roads with traditional modes of transportation, so the highways were littered with nails from horse shoes, pieces of wire and others debris that punctured tires.

“You might get four flat tires on one trip, and those tires had to be repaired on the side of the road,” Anderson said.

This weekend’s tour group gathered at the Herbert Grand Hotel in Kingfield.  Friday night, they were served a Maine Guide’s dinner, with several traditional dishes.

After breakfast Saturday, they’ll start on their leisurely tour, and if drivers experience problems, they’ll be surrounded by helpful friends, many of whom have traveled together since the first tour group started in 1986.

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Anderson, who owns Trask Jewelers in Farmington, said he bought his Model T when he was 19, saving $1,400 to buy his dream vehicle from his neighbor.

“It was a trial by fire, because the motor quit after a week, and I didn’t have any idea how to fix it,” he said.

The Down East Chapter of the national Model T Ford Club members have added other get-togethers to share what they’ve learned. These 180 families make up one of the largest chapters in the country, Anderson said, and these tours bring people from all over New England. They plan a route and stops for picnics.

“On Saturday, we’ll travel over the scenic back roads to Phillips, Weld, Stratton, Rangeley and back to Kingfield, “Anderson said.

The group of approximately 25 stick to those back roads to accommodate the slow speeds of the vehicles without having a long line of irritated drivers behind them.

In the fall, the club will gather in Newport for more socializing and sightseeing on the annual fall Mainely T Tour.

“We’ve met people who have become lifelong friends,” Anderson said.  “We don’t do Facebook or have a Web page, and our Warren Kincaid, our secretary and treasurer, might not get back to you for a while, but we like it that way.”

For more information about the Down East Chapter, write to club secretary Warren Kincaid at 223 Broadway in Rockland, ME 04841. Anderson can be reached at 778-2725.


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