A 1926 Model T Ford that transported the Gypsy Coeds, the name given to a group of young women from the Bradford area who toured the country in the 1930s and early 1940s, will be displayed at the Wheels O’ Time Museum through the month of July.
John Butte, author of “Darlene’s Silver Streak and the Bradford Model T Girls,” is the Dunlap resident who, along with wife Carmen, owns that car now. He’ll be on hand at the museum from 1 to 2 p.m. on Saturday, July 10 to speak and answer questions about the car and the girls, said museum spokeswoman Bobbie Rice.
“It’s still drivable,” said Butte of the Model T. “The car is in the same condition it was in when it came off the road after the last trip in 1942. But we don’t take it out very often other than parades. My wife and I view it as a piece of Americana,” he said.
To understand why the car is so important to Butte, you have to know where he’s coming from.
“I grew up on a farm seven miles outside Bradford and went to schools in Bradford. I consider myself a son of Bradford,” said Butte, 71.
The Silver Streak represents a road trip of a bygone era, an era when towns like Bradford were part of a small-town America of the 20s and 30s when farmers and their families came to town on Saturday night to buy groceries, get a haircut, and meet their neighbors. The street would be packed, said Butte, recalling one of his favorite Bradford memories, Dorgan’s soda shop, owned by Bill and Daisy Dorgan.
It was Darlene Dorgan, their daughter, who owned the Model T, and organized those road trips that spanned eight summers between 1934 and 1942.
That’s when as many as six female passengers – along with luggage, camping gear, and supplies – bundled into the Silver Streak, a car with a top speed of only 45 mph.
“The women traveled 71,500 miles between 1934-42 without the benefit of air conditioning, radio, cruise control or elbow room, and they did it at a time when ‘unaccompanied’ travel by a group of co-eds was extremely rare,” noted Butte, who wrote his book about the Bradford adventurers in 2015.
Aside from coming from Bradford, Butte has another connection to the Silver Streak. His mother, Regina (Fennell) Butte, was one of the six women who traveled aboard the Model T to the New York World’s Fair in the summer of 1939. His aunt, Eleanor Butte, also took part in some of the summer trips.
The summer touring came to an end shortly after Pearl Harbor. With the U.S. entry into World War II, it was a time of national rationing—both tires and gas. The girls took their last trip in the summer of 1942, a modest excursion to Wisconsin, Michigan, and Chicago, said Butte.
You have to remember that road trips the Gypsy Coeds made more than 80 years ago were not like the highway trips made today, said Butte.
Roads of the day were often unpaved and cars needed a lot more care and attention than the turbocharged automobiles of the present, he said. Butte recalled the trouble he had in operating the vehicle after he secured it in 2012.
“On one trip they got 13 flat tires,” said Butte.
With long-distance travel something of a novelty in that era, the coeds got plenty of media attention once they started traveling, he said.
They also got the attention of Henry Ford who met up with the girls when they visited Detroit.
It was through correspondence between the girls and Ford, obtained through the Ford Museum, that Butte was able to learn more about some of the exploits of the Silver Streak.
The Wheels O’ Time Museum located at 1710 W. Woodside Dr. in Dunlap is open from noon – 5 pm Wednesdays through Sundays. Find more details here.
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