By Cheyene Miller
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Laurel County welcomed back some of its oldest residents in the form of early 20th century automobiles on Friday as more than 100 classic cars packed into the home of local car guru Gil Russell.
“They're coming back to where they started,” said Russell referring to the classic Ford cars that were built using the lumber of local industries. The event featured about 20 Model T and Model A cars, the original innovations of Henry Ford.
“He had a hard time getting the lumber he needed for his cars, and that's when he came down here,” said Dan Kinnie, who brought his Model T down from Cincinnati to mingle with other classic car enthusiasts. Kinnie has studied the history of the Model T and A cars, which is a history rooted in southeast Kentucky and the London area.
“He bought 120,000 acres,” said Kinnie, who said that Ford deforested enough land to make a lumber mill and an air field in which he would fly in different business materials. Ford used wood from white oak and cherry trees for the door panels and other parts of the vehicle.
The land once owned by Ford now belongs to the Daniel Boone National Forest.
Kinnie pointed out that there are significant differences between the classic Ford cars and the vehicles we operate now.
“The transmission and the electrical system is completely different than any commonly known vehicle,” said Kinnie. It turns out that on Model T cars the throttle is on the steering column, similar to a tractor, and the car featured three transmission controlling pedals rather than the single clutch pedal seen on modern muscle cars.
Kinnie said that driving a Model T car is a difficult challenge, describing it as “the hardest thing I ever learned how to drive.”
The Model T was produced from 1908 to 1927, and was called the first great success of the Ford Motor Company. The second great success, the Model A, was produced from 1928-1931.
The event on Friday featured a display of the Model T and Model A cars, as well as dozens of other classic cars. Food and music were offered to guests, and Saturday morning the car owners were given a police escort through Clay County and into the Redbird area.
Despite the fact that many of the featured Model T and A cars were made from the lumber of local trees, many London residents don't realize the history. That is what Russell is trying to change.
“There's a lot of forgotten history,” said Russell. “There are people that have lived here all their lives that didn't realize that this was going on.”
Russell said that Ford created a lot of jobs and helped many businesses, from lumber to mining. He also said that it's important to retain the history of the automobile, not just for Kentucky but America in general.
“The automobile is what built this country,” said Russell. “The automobile industry played a big, major part in this country.”