Her paint is chipped, her fender dented, her underside a little rusty. But the “Silver Streak, ” a 1926 Model T, still has plenty to say. She has traveled thousands of miles, all over the United States, as well into Canada. She has traversed the salt flats in Utah, she has driven down the avenues of Manhattan, and visited with movie stars and had two rendezvous with her creator. On a Sunday afternoon, she came to Knoxville.
Each year from 1934 to 1942, she carried a load of college-age girls for a special trip. Owned by Darlene Dorgan of Bradford, she was allegedly painted silver to spite Dorgan’s father, who sold her previous car.
On May 7 at the Old Knox County Courthouse the Silver Streak was on display, accompanied by her new owner, John G. Butte and his wife Carmen, of Dunlap. Butte, whose mother, Regina, was one of the 20 girls who took the various trips, wrote a book about the girls’ experiences, “Darlene’s Silver Streak and the Bradford Model T Girls.” It is available at Amazon.com.
Giving a presentation, he first described the group’s 1934 summer camping trip to Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin. The next year they went on a weekend camping trip to White Pines State Park, and on the way back, while driving at night, the headlamps went out. Two of the girls held flashlights and rode on the fenders, calling out when to turn.
The year 1936 saw another trip to Devil’s Lake as well as Michigan, before 1937 took the women to Canada to see the Dionne quintuplets, where they also had a rare meeting with the doctor who birthed the quints, who were a worldwide sensation.
The 1938 trip to Devil’s Lake led them to Dearborn, Michigan, where Henry Ford was celebrating his 75th birthday. They lucked into a meeting and lunch with Ford, who would have his picture taken with the girls and the Silver Streak. In 1939, they drove through Canada to New York and the World’s Fair, at the invitation of Ford himself.
1940 saw a new paint job, and the addition of slogans called “Lizzie labeling, ” with slogans such as “don’t laugh, you’ll be old yourself someday, ” and “pray as you enter, ” in red letters, which still remain.
That year also saw Patricia Moffett of Knoxville go along for the ride. They would travel farther than before, all the way to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Moffett’s son, Joel Bjorling, was on hand Sunday.
“She said that it was so cold passing through the desert at night, they had to put on ski suits, ” he said.
“She visited family in Los Angeles, and was so sunburned that they made her take the train home, ” said Butte.
Moffett would attend Monmouth College and Brown’s Business College before working as a secretary at Admiral. She was known in the Knoxville area for her quilting.
“She made such beautiful needlework, ” remembered her son. Patricia passed away in 2013 at 91.
While in California they dined with producer Darryl Zanuck, and stars such as Don Ameche, Peter Lorre, and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson signed their names on the silver paint.
The 1941 trip took them to New Orleans, Washington, D.C., New York City and more. They visited four military bases along the way and multiple signatures of soldiers past remain on the Model T.
Ray Zeran, who is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, signed while a member of the 64th Bomb Squadron at Langley Field, Virginia. Numerous other names and places are etched, such as Katherine Thorp of Odella, Maryland; Richmond, Virginia; Lodi, Nevada; and the Signal Café of Pismo Beach, California.
The Silver Streak took one more trip to Wisconsin and Michigan in 1942, and was in storage for many years after, eventually making her way to Oregon after Darlene passed away.
After his mother passed in 2011, John Butte went looking for the car, hoping it still existed. He found the car, and eventually baught it. Now, her motor runs once again, allowing her to ride in the Labor Day parade in Bradford.
While she won’t last forever, as nothing does, for now she still tells her story. But those trips of 80 or so years ago still are alive, as the diaries and photo albums of the girls reveal the repeated phrase, “and what a wonderful time we had.”
Image by Hans Benn from Pixabay