Retro Rumblings – Vinny Skandunas’ 1,200 Mile Road Trip in a 1924 Model T
When he was a kid, Vinny Skandunas’ grandfather would regale him with stories of when the family migrated from Milwaukee to California in the 1920s in their brand-new Model T Ford. Vinny was mesmerized when grandpa would tell him about rattling along plank roads and having to back up hills in the Model T to prevent fuel starvation.
Vinny Skandunas not only became fascinated with Model T Fords, he developed a fondness for the Great Depression era. He started collecting memorabilia, clothing, and everything he could get his hands on from the ’20s and ’30s. Definitely not typical for a millennial, but nothing about Vinny is typical. He’s a talented sheet metal fabricator welding up marine fuel tanks for a living in San Diego in addition to his nostalgic pursuits.
In 2016, Vinny put his passion for Model T Fords in motion with the purchase of a 1924 T truck which served time as a vegetable hauler nearly a century ago. He tinkered with it, freshened what he could, learned all about the Epicyclic transmission, and got familiar with it by taking the creaky old wooden-wheeled machine on short jaunts around the neighborhood. The only modification to the vehicle was the addition of a 12-volt alternator. Other than that…bone stock!
Just a week after getting it fully functional he got a bee in his bonnet. His vision was to travel from Oregon to San Diego in the truck, some 1,200 miles. With a little 177ci, 20 horsepower four-banger and a top speed in the neighborhood of 30mph, any kind of freeway travel was out of the question. He plotted the course, choosing Hwy 395 as the main thoroughfare due to its open space, wide shoulders and, of course, incredible scenery. He roped his friend Jeff into going with him on this intimidating yet epic adventure. Pretty darn cool. What’s even cooler is Vinny and Jeff decided to do the whole trip in ’20s-era clothing. Vinny chose a World War I era wool suit.
Vinny’s dad trailered the Model T up to the Oregon border and dropped them off. Then it was into the abyss. “The first day of the journey we made it about 80 miles as we got a late start,” Vinny recalled. “Being the middle of spring, it was pretty cold in southern Oregon. In fact, it ended up snowing on us. We froze our ass off. We pulled into a campground just before dark. The reaction of the families was one of wonder. ‘What is this thing?’ They asked with slack jaws. When they understood what we were doing we became quite interesting to them. They invited us to their campsites, made us meals, and even churned up some homemade ice cream. That pretty much happened at every campground we stopped at throughout the trip. The bonds and relationships we made were actually what stood out the most. The car, our clothes, Jeff’s dog – it created a great platform for human interaction.”
In addition to more campground family bonding and countless thumbs up as they poked along (they averaged just short of 35mph), they were stopped three times by authorities. The Sherriffs weren’t looking for violations, as Model Ts are 100-percent street legal. Instead, they simply wanted photos.
Continuing the journey, the duo averaged 150 miles a day. They took 395 the entire way south through Northern California, snaking through Nevada, back into California all the way down to Kramer Junction. At the junction they went east over to Barstow, down through Borrego Springs, Ranchita, and eventually on in to San Diego. Up hills, down hills and along flatlands sometimes baking over 100 degrees the further south they got. “One of the coolest moments of the trip was one warm evening we went through a canyon,” Vinny said. “It was so quiet – nobody around. Hearing the engine puff and echo off the canyon walls was surreal.”
The 1,200-mile journey took six days total. “The feeling of actually making it to the end was one of victory” Vinny said with a smile. “I had never done anything close to it in my life.
“We broke down twice but were up and running pretty quick both times. The biggest failure was when I smoked the brakes coming down a steep grade near Lone Pine, also losing first gear. I was pulling on the brake lever so hard the engine damn near came out of the frame. I took the transmission apart and took the reverse gear band and put it on the first gear loop. So, then I didn’t have reverse or any brakes. I drove it like that 150 miles to Barstow.
“My dad came out to the desert with some extra gear bands, we swapped them in and continued. Later on, we stopped at an old abandoned building along the side of the road for the evening. A lady drove by and asked what we were doing. We explained the situation. She drove off. About an hour later she came back with her entire family and brought food. We all sat down and had a picnic. The people we met were like that. Everyone was so giving.”
The Oregon to San Diego adventure only deepened Vinny’s obsession with Model Ts and old-fashioned travel. He now has five Model T trucks that run and are fully functional. It took nine vehicles to get five up and running but he now has a choice of which truck to poke around in. Vinny and his wife Esther take the trucks out and travel as much as they can, visiting old ghost towns and other western U.S. destinations. Maybe a trip across the U.S. will happen one day.
When asked about club affiliations Vinny was candid. “I’m 41 years old. I don’t fit in with the Model T Ford Club. I just do my own thing. I can tell you that Instagram has a been a great way to connect with other Model T enthusiasts that are more my age. There aren’t many but they are out there.”
Amazingly, Vinny never had hot rods or fast cars prior to purchasing his first Model T truck. His fascination with the Model T has fulfilled his old car bug just fine. He’s never had a need for speed, just stories and visions of what life was like in a different time. Bringing that era to life is about as retro as it gets. You can look up @1924modeltford on Instagram to follow Vinny’s journeys.
Photos courtesy Vinny Skandunas