Tea With A "T"

Tea With A "T"

7 women attending a tea service with a restored Model T car in the background

Road trips are a part of summertime. Route 66, families, luggage, often pets, and neon hotel signs are all included on the quintessential road trip. For me, air conditioning is a must, along with a mug of tea.

The (Tea) Scoop On the Model T 

A Model T car painted black with the door open. Caption reads 'The center door open on a Model T'.

To me, summer time means road trips in a car to see extended family, and explore new cities. Driving gives me freedom to stop whenever and wherever I choose. Lately I have had to put my road trips on hold until I get the air conditioning repaired in my car. I timed my driving for early or late in the day to avoid the hottest part of the day. I also had a travel mug of water and one of iced tea in my car.

I prefer hot tea over drinking iced tea. There have been very few times that I have consumed iced tea and this past week, driving a car without air conditioning, has been one of those times. Iced tea helped me stay hydrated and cool.

During this air condition-less time in my car, I was afforded the opportunity to dwell upon how long ago car travel did not include air conditioning. Old time cars came to mind, and how people stayed cool (or warm) during the extremes in weather. I imagine they were selective in where they drove their cars but also the time of day that they would drive their car. At the turn of the century the cars that were built had short range fuel tanks, and no heater or air conditioning. I decided to research how drivers back then stayed cool and if tea was perhaps involved.

A Model T car painted black with the door open. Caption reads 'Notice how the windshield opens up for ventilation'.

I interviewed Joe, a Model T owner while visiting him this past spring. He had painstakingly restored his car to showroom quality. Come to find out, the model T club he belongs to has an annual spring tea with the T’s before the weather gets hot. Indeed, tea and Model T’s can be an actual pairing!

The model T that Joe beautifully restored is a 1922 Ford Model T. The exterior and interior were spic and span, not a speck of dirt anywhere on the car. His car looked as if it drove straight off the pages of an early 1900’s novel. The only catch… it did not have air conditioning.

Joe informed me that he was around 10 years old and, while visiting his uncle’s farm, saw a Model T engine mounted to a pole and retrofitted with a saw blade to cut wood. Being a future chemical engineer, he thought that was an ingenious use of an old car engine. He took the interest in the old car motor as a sign and felt he would eventually, some day, own and restore an old car. Fast forward to 1995, when he retired from his 9-5 job, and focused his attention and time into restoring his newly owned Model T. Having a voracious appetite for reading and tinkering with his hands, Joe learned how to restore the car mainly through reading and trial and error. His chemical engineering degree had aided in the research and experimentation of car restoration. But Joe emphasized that while an engineering degree is a bonus it is not a requirement to owning and restoring a Model T.

An up-close view of a Model T window

The first Model T rolled out of the Michigan manufacturing plant in Fall of 1908. The production of the Model T was transferred to the Highland Park, Michigan plant several years later. Highland Park was groundbreaking with the moving assembly line. The assembly line allowed for fast mass production and kept the cost of the cars at a price ranging between $260 - $850 per car. The car color was a standard black. Henry Ford is quoted as stating “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it’s black.” The end of production occurred in the Spring of 1927. The Model T topped out at speeds of approximately 40 miles per hour, and had a four cylinder, 22 horsepower engine. The car was built without heat or air conditioning. Joe explained that if someone wanted more air, or to let trapped hot air escape, all a person would need to do is lift the windshield or roll down the windows using a hand crank on the inside door. The door configuration on the Model T is unusual. There are two doors on the car, one on each side and they are placed in the center of each side, making it easier for passengers and drivers to enter, exit and become situated in a seat. 

The wheel of a model T car

Joe’s 1922 Model T has a center placed door and he installed a hydraulic lift step at the passenger side door for easier entrance in and out of the car. He informed me that it took over 10,000 hours to painstakingly restore the car. Joe took artistic license and added roller shades to the interior of the car for aesthetic and temperature control benefits. Everything on the car, from headlights, upholstery, to engine parts have been replaced, repaired, or refreshed.

One interesting point of difference between today’s manual, or stick shift car, versus the Model T’ manual transmission is the extra pedal. The 1922 Model T has three pedals on the floor board. Basically, the far right pedal is the brake pedal. The center pedal pushed down allows for the car to go in reverse. The left pedal, half way pressed in, is considered a neutral gear. The left pedal pressed down farther places the engine into a low gear, while pressing the pedal all the way to the floor engages the engine into a high gear. To complicate matters further, to actually reverse the car requires pressing down on the center pedal while simultaneously pressing half-way down on the left pedal. There was no gas pedal on the car. I was informed by Joe that the right throttle on the side of the rudimentary dashboard area was used to get the car up to speed. His car could be started with the left heel depressing a start button on the floor of the car. Prior to 1919, the car was started by turning a hand crank that extended out from under the front grill of the car. 

The red, white, and blue tanks (originally painted black) on the front side of his car were used for oil, gas, and water supply tanks. Driving out on open roads back in the 1920’s gas and service stations were few and far between. Joe reminded me that a safe traveler was often a prepared traveler. Which brings me to a question I asked him… was the water tank ever used for tea to have on the road. He laughed and said “I don’t know about that, but there were stories of the water tank being used for alcohol, outlawed during the prohibition.” Well, who knew!

While I was fascinated to learn the procedures for starting, driving and stopping the car, I was glad I had my tea mug with me. My mind was a muddle of information and the caffeinated tea I was drinking helped me stay alert and focused. Perhaps next time I visit Joe, I may be courageous enough to attempt to drive what appears to me, a complicated machine.

Tea and Model T’s 

7 women attending a tea service with a restored Model T car in the background

Joe’s partner in his Model T excursions as well as in life, happens to be a consummate party and event planner. Bernice is an active member of their local Model T club. She recently coordinated an outdoor tea with Model T’s parked around the pack of the tea tables. I chatted with her regarding the outdoor tea. She felt that it was an event that the ladies of the club might enjoy, and the emphasis could be on socializing without necessarily discussing car refurbishment, repairs, or engine part replacements. Bernice informed me that there were over a dozen ladies who attended the tea. Hot tea was served in china tea cups and poured from china teapots. The greatest challenge for Bernice regarding the tea party was what type of tea to serve. She wanted a tea that would be enjoyable for all types of tea drinkers. English breakfast black tea, a classic blend of black tea, was a guaranteed hit with the ladies in attendance. The favorite tea time moment for Bernice was the social time the tea afforded. During club meetings, it is business and car talk which leaves little room for socializing and getting to know members. The tea party was the perfect vehicle (pun) and the perfect avenue (pun) for getting to know guests and members better. Bernice’s tea tips for planning any tea event is “to have fun, enjoy it, and don’t stress over the details.” I couldn’t have stated the advice any better! The whole point of tea is that it is a relaxing beverage, most frequently consumed in a relaxing and social manner.

A red mug of tea on a step below the car door

Whether on the a road trip or driving around town, remember to enjoy your tea, and may you have safe travels,

Leslie

Addendum: It was about 5 days of waiting for the mechanic to have an open spot on their schedule in order to fix the air conditioning. I am now able to drive around with the windows up, and the cool air blowing while sipping hot tea from my travel mug.

For Model T Club of America membership inquiries, please visit www.MTFCA.com.

About The Author

A photo of Leslie on the patio wearing a pink cardiganLeslie Sundberg is a World Tea Academy Certified Tea Specialist, a World Tea Academy Apprentice Tea Sommelier, a Specialty Tea Institute Level IV trained Tea Specialist, and a Tea and Business Etiquette Specialist. On any given day, Leslie can be found teaching, speaking or sharing in the joys of a cup of tea.  No matter what Leslie is doing or where she is, one thing remains constant: 4:00 in the afternoon is tea time!

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