Road trip to remember

Stratford minister takes trip to Alaska — in Model T

— Daily Freeman-Journal photo by Billie Shelton The Rev. Brian McNamera stands beside his 1927 Model-T truck that took him 7,250 miles to Alaska. He and a traveling partner took the trip north beginning on June 1. They returned on July 18. McNamera is the pastor of Calvary and South Marion United Methodist Churches at Stratford.

If The Rev. Brian McNamara had to write a report on what he did on his summer vacation, the title would be “Iowa to Alaska in a Model T.”

That’s some 7,250 miles, which McNamara did it in a 1926 model T Ford pickup, traveling at an average speed of 25 miles per hour. McNamara, pastor for the Calvary and South Marion United Methodist churches in Stratford, left Iowa on June 1 and returned from his adventure on July 18. The congregations agreed to give him two months off this summer so that he could take his unusual trip.

He and Dr. Lee Kilmer, his traveling partner, drove a 1927 Model T pickup. They drove pickups so they could carry parts and tools the antique vehicles might need for such a trip. But they were never delayed by major mechanical issues, even though the generator in Kilmer’s 1927 model T quit on the eighth day out.

“But for what went wrong, there were no spare parts,” McNamara said during a recent visit in his church office. “These are really incredibly versatile machines. For being 91 years old, my car performed beautifully.”

The pair rolled along in their pickups covering 150 to 170 miles per day for six hours a day, bouncing in their seats all the way, McNamara said. The Model T has a rough ride, by today’s standards. It also has no radio or tape deck or CD player, and each man traveled alone. “I had a lot of time to think,” McNamara answered when asked how he passed the time while driving.

Reactions from other drivers on the road provided diversion, though. “Other drivers always smiled when they saw the cars, especially motorcyclists. And not one person flipped us off or was angry at us because we were driving 30 miles per hour on a two-lane highway,” the minister recalled. “But we could drive on the shoulders, and we tried to be courteous and sensitive to the traffic behind us.”

The two men, who both live in Story City, traveled together. According to McNamara, they were good friends before they left on the trip and are still friends. A year ago they toured to New York in the antique pickups and spent last winter making sure the vehicles were sound mechanically when they left for Alaska. McNamara said he has had a Model T for 25 years.

Overnights were spent in campgrounds along the way, where the antique vehicles attracted plenty of attention. “We got so we wished we had a sign at campgrounds because we heard the same questions over and over,” McNamara said. “But we met some very interesting people who were keen on what we were doing.”

As for just why they were doing the trip, the minister’s answer is quick and easy. “Why? Why not? This was a personal challenge, and I haven’t done anything silly since college.” In the ministry for forty years serving United Methodist churches in Iowa, McNamara, 64, has been the part-time minister for South Marion and Calvary United Methodist for two years now.

Considering difficulties on the trip, McNamara noted that “there were some challenges getting up the mountains, but it was easier coming back. We took the mountain passes at five miles an hour. And being able to trust your vehicle takes away a lot of the angst.

“The mental challenge was to get up each morning and do it again,” he continued. It took 22 days for the pair to get to Alaska, but only 16 to come home, when their longest day traveling was 314 miles. For ten hours of that day, the temperature was 97 degrees.

Now that he’s had a few weeks to recover, rest, and regroup from the trip, McNamara is proud of his accomplishment. “Few drive to Alaska in a modern car,” he stated. “Even fewer in a Model T. It’s nice to know that we did it.”

And in a special summer, too, since this is the 75th anniversary of the Alcan Highway, the 100th anniversary of Denali, Alaska, and the 150th anniversary of Canada.

Would he ever do such a trip again? McNamara has another quick and easy answer: “No. Once in a lifetime is enough.”