Page design and photos by Nikki Carlson
Story by Krista Corner
Several car clubs dot the Hi-Line, and each is unique. Most of the clubs are geared toward specific types of cars. One is even more singular because it has a specific purpose.
Doug Langel, Dave Warhank and Mike Wendland of Rudyard are three of several Montanans who particpate in the Montana Cross Country Model T Association's Montana 500 Endurance Run almost every summer. Sometimes, more than 30 cars enter the run and participants come from as many as 11 states. Langel, the 2003 Endurance Run winner, owns several Model T's and patiently explains the mechanics to the curious, as the old cars are built differently than any other vehicle. He'll even take people for a ride.
The Montana 500 Endurance Run officially started in 1961. The purpose behind the run included a chance for owners to get together and share the passion for Model T's, the run's Web site said.
The run became popular and soon included entrants from various states such as Florida, Illinois, Washington, South Dakota, Wyoming, Iowa, Ohio, North Dakota, Kentucky, California and Colorado. The event grew so big that some years the run included more than 30 cars, the Web site said.
The first run began in the western part of Montana and ended up by the North Dakota border - a jaunt of more than 500 miles. Members have simplified the course in recent years. The run is now hosted by a hub city, and the cars stop every so often to get gas and allow drivers to eat or get coffee. Typically, routes start and end in the same town every day, and follow three different routes during the run.
The first day, the cars begin at one-minute intervals. The second day, the cars finishing last the previous day begin first. The third day, the cars that were the fastest on the previous two days begin first. Langel participated in the first run, he said. Warhank's father participated in the first run as well, Langel said. Langel added that he participates almost every year, missing only a few runs.
Sometimes the top three cars get torn apart to be inspected and ensure that the driver complied with rules. The rules state that the Model T's in the event must be stock with the exception of two things: the cars can have aluminum pistons and reground cams, and the heads and blocks may be milled. The committee governing the association's run provides a restrictor plate, which drivers must install between the carbeurator and the intake manifold. Langel also said the cars get fitted with seals on various parts of the engine to ensure no changes are made to the engine during the run.
Langel shares his passion for Model T's with anyone who asks. He currently owns three Model T's: a 1925 roadster, a 1926 roadster and a 1926 two-door sedan. Ford did make a four-door version of the sedan as well, he added. His sedan boasts original interior. The upholstry and seats, he said, are exactly the way they were when the car rolled out of the factory.
Langel said he may be taking the newest purchase, the '26 roadster, with him this year, if he is finished working on it in time to compete. He is in the process of rebuilding the car, and if he cannot get that roadster ready in time, he said he'll take the '25. The '25, he added, helped him win the 2003 run. Langel finished ninth with an average speed of almost 49 mph. The competition every year increases, he said.
“It's getting tougher,” he said.
Langel offered to take a Havre Daily News reporter and photographer for a ride Wednesday. Before the journey could begin, he had to spend about 10 minutes tinkering with the engine.
“I've got to put it together a little bit,” he said. As he drove, he explained the mechanics of the Model T, which are different from modern cars, he said.
Two levers on either side of the steering wheel control the spark and the gas, he said. The lever on the right distributes the gas, and the lever on the left ignites the gas so the car continues running. Three pedals on the floor of the car control the gears and the brakes, he added.
The pedal on the left shifts the car from high to neutral to low gear. The middle pedal shifts the car into reverse and the pedal on the right applies the brakes, he said. Model T's also feature a crank-starter, though Langel chose to install a modern starter in his. He said the car isn't harder to start with the crank, though. Model T's, he added, typically top out at 50 mph.
Most Model T owners paint the cars in standard colors of the era such as brown, black and gray, Langel said. Some of the paint jobs, though, can get kind of wild, he added.
“Last year, there was a purple car and pink car,” he said. “But they were both owned by girls, so I guess, it's OK.”
This year, the run begins in Dillon. The drivers will travel west to Wisdom and drive in that area, Langel said. The starting point changes from year to year to give participants many views of Montana.
Langel also owns an extensive collection of other classic cars, from Lincolns to Cadillacs. He doesn't consider himself a consisseur of classic cars, though.
“I've just got a bunch of junk,” he said.
On the Net: www.montana500.org/