Home » Here’s Why Michigan Still Uses A Ford Model T For Official Government Business

Here’s Why Michigan Still Uses A Ford Model T For Official Government Business

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Just because a vehicle’s old doesn’t mean it’s strictly a museum piece. The State of Michigan still uses a Ford Model T in a professional capacity, and we aren’t talking parades and festivities. No, the Michigan Department of Transportation uses a Tin Lizzie to audit the shoulders of rural roads, and the reason behind it is rather sound.

See, Michigan is home to strong Amish and Mennonite populations, and the both these groups get around by horse and buggy. As it turns out the Ford Model T features a similar axle width to that of most northern-built buggies since, oh, the 1800s. This makes the Model T pretty much the ideal vehicle for make sure the shoulders of rural roads are safe for horse and buggy travel, which is why the DOT still uses it today.

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Not only is the Model T an enduring symbol of Michigan, driving the car down the shoulder instead of taking a horse and buggy removes a potential traffic conflict between vehicles and animals. Plus, a Model T seems like it would be cheaper to store than a horse, so perhaps the taxpayer saves some money thanks to the Model T decision.

Now, this whole story might seem farfetched, but MDOT put out a video earlier this week of exactly how it’s done, and I’ll be damned. They’re actually out there on state roads like M-91, whipping a Model T down the shoulder to see if there’s enough space for everything to get along. It’s an important task, because the price of getting it wrong can be herculean.

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Michigan Model T Dot 1

Unfortunately, fatal horse and buggy crashes happen from time to time. There isn’t a whole lot of structure to a buggy, horses can spook if so much as a wheel of a buggy drops off the shoulder, and the consequences can be terrible should there be a passenger vehicle alongside, let alone a semi truck. This Model T is out there doing some real good, a whole lifetime after production ended.

Michigan Model T Dot 3

Just because something’s outmoded for general use doesn’t mean it’s not still perfect for specific use. Fit for purpose is fit for purpose, especially when it comes to special jobs. It’s likely we’ll still see Michigan using Model Ts for shoulder surveying for decades to come, bringing a little bit of the past into the present and brightening the day of anyone lucky enough to see them out working.

[Hat-tip to Dante Casali!]

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(Photo credits: Michigan Department of Transportation)

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Ted Fort
Ted Fort
13 days ago

As horrible and immoral as the Amish are, this is a neat little tidbit.

Phuzz
Phuzz
13 days ago

Fully Leapback compliant!

Also, the story doesn’t make it clear, but it sounds like they might have more than one Model T in the fleet.

Ben
Ben
16 days ago

This is clearly excellent in every way and I have no idea why some commenters insist on trying to find a different method.

Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
15 days ago
Reply to  Ben

Thanks for the heads up, will not dive into this comment section. This is indeed excellent, anyone criticising the idea of a Model T still being on active duty in 2024 is in the wrong website.

Last edited 15 days ago by Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Ben
Ben
13 days ago

Overall it’s not a bad comment section, I was just mystified by the people well-actually-ing the Michigan DOT with mostly silly suggestions on how they should be doing this instead.

Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
13 days ago
Reply to  Ben

I’m very happy to not enteratain well-actuallies 🙂

Last edited 13 days ago by Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Hotdoughnutsnow
Hotdoughnutsnow
16 days ago

Now that they have called attention to it, someone is going to find a way for AI to do this job.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
17 days ago

Fun fact. Even though there was no horse, you were required by law to equip them with a buggy whip and bridal. The guilds of the day had a lot of power…

At least you didn’t have to shoe the tires.

MikeInTheWoods
MikeInTheWoods
17 days ago

How on earth did they find the software update to operate all the screen controls from 100 years ago?

VS 57
VS 57
17 days ago

A VW dealer I worked at sold a new “74 VW bus to a local Mennonite family. The bus had been in the showroom and was tarted up a bit. We had to remove the radio and turn the whitewalls to the inside before delivery.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
17 days ago
Reply to  VS 57

I used to visit a client near a Mennonite community (St. Jacobs, Ontario). I would often see a stripped and fully blacked out newish S-Class around. Long before the ‘murdered’ thing. The seats were covered in horse blankets. LOL

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
16 days ago

The ol’ black bumper Amish! They don’t have a problem with technology, but it can’t be ostentatious. So they cover the chrome.

Jack Beckman
Jack Beckman
17 days ago

Model T is also one of the few vehicles that has a suspension that can handle our craptastic roads here in Michigan, so they are more likely to make it back to the garage.

Toecutter
Toecutter
17 days ago
Reply to  Jack Beckman

Leaf springs are simple and rugged. When the Model T was available for sale, most roads were made of dirt, necessitating this setup.

Jack Beckman
Jack Beckman
16 days ago
Reply to  Toecutter

Right – and our roads are rapidly hading back to needed it again.

Dangerous_Daveo
Dangerous_Daveo
17 days ago

This is a crack up… There are many better ways of doing this, such as trailer/tray mounted radar/survey set ups. This is just some dude who has somehow found a way to justify having an old car and going for slow drives. Like props to them and all, its amazing they got it across the line. But come on!

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
17 days ago

I dunno. The T is a lot closer to horse and buggy than a modern trailer setup, plus it gives the DOT a better feeling for the vulnerability of a horse and buggy than a F350 towed trailer.

Kody Dagley
Kody Dagley
17 days ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Also, I bet the ‘T’ is WAY more fuel efficient than a huge pickup hauling a very expensive trailer covered in radar / survey gear. And it’s already been purchased. Even base model trucks these days are like…$40k. The T’s cost would have LONG been amortized by now…even if it was only purchased 5 years ago.

Also, possibly more importantly – I would think, culturally, this would far be less offensive to the Amish / Mennonite populations. Yes, they are anti-car, but the government showing they are willing to meet halfway by using an incredibly basic car from 100 years ago in a far more similar vain to horse & buggies compared to modern cars…that says a lot. The government maintaining that classic ‘T’ with NO features other than ‘it goes’ would be far less insulting in being used to keep the Amish / Mennonite buggies safe than saying ‘Look! We’ve got this 2024 truck loaded with lasers and radars and lidar and shit! Look how great technology is! It’s keeping you safe!’

Last edited 17 days ago by Kody Dagley
Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
17 days ago
Reply to  Kody Dagley

Model Ts get 16-20mpg, which ain’t bad, but it is in line with what a half ton pickup slowly pulling a small trailer would get.

Not sure what made you think that a 100 year old car with 4:1 compression is WAY more fuel efficient than anything.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
13 days ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

Only if that pickup is very modern. It does raise the question however how efficient that T COULD be, especially as an EV.

Gerontius Garland
Gerontius Garland
16 days ago
Reply to  Kody Dagley

They probably take it to the Amish when it needs new wheels. That’s what Jay Leno does.

Dangerous_Daveo
Dangerous_Daveo
13 days ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Yeah, fair on the vulnerability point, and as someone else mentioned the pandering to a community is also very valid. Any other reason I honestly think is pointless.

The trailers though can do a full survey inc slope, ride quality (ie bumps), potholes, where the lines are, high def video etc, and get a picture of the whole road. They can pretty much do this at highway speed. Hell, we can do ground penetrating radar to check where services are at highway speed now.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
13 days ago

I think it would be more difficult to gauge the quality of the shoulder from the right travel lane though. Probably not a good idea to drive the shoulder at highway speeds in a full sized pickup with a heavy trailer.

I think what you are suggesting might be done in a separate survey for regular traffic on the regular traffic lanes.

Alexander Moore
Alexander Moore
17 days ago

I mean my neighbor dailies one when the weather in Arizona isn’t terrible so they’re really quite fine to use as cars. Completely different to drive from a ‘normal’ modern automobile, but plenty tractable and decently reliable for being over 100 years old.

Gubbin
Gubbin
17 days ago

Having gone to Model T driving school, I used to think about doing this when I lived in the city. But I live off a 55 MPH highway now dangit.

MGA
MGA
18 days ago

I love this. I hope the car has a name.

Gene1969
Gene1969
18 days ago

I want this job.

Toecutter
Toecutter
18 days ago

To think, I have a pedal trike that can be pedaled to a top speed faster than that of a Model T, without electric assist installed yet.

Some Amish woodworking skills could build a similar vehicle. It wouldn’t fit the Amish aesthetic, but depending upon their community, such a vehicle might still conform to their moors.

Also, behold, The Amish Porsche:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5iN465xZ7w

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
18 days ago
Reply to  Toecutter

Should that be Amische?

Last edited 18 days ago by Canopysaurus
Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
17 days ago
Reply to  Toecutter

Front wheel drive? Cool!

Roofless
Roofless
17 days ago
Reply to  Toecutter

Lord, that’s insane. Don’t do that, but if you do, at motorcycle speeds you need to be wearing motorcycle gear.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
17 days ago
Reply to  Toecutter

That seems to lack all modesty.

Toecutter
Toecutter
17 days ago

Compared to a car, a velomobile is very modest. In terms of resource use and ability to remain off-grid, it remains modest, even when compared to a horse. I suspect only a fraction of Amish communities would accept them, none-the-less.

Last edited 17 days ago by Toecutter
Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
13 days ago
Reply to  Toecutter

Or get a 1970s era racebike and a friendly semi to draft.

https://vimeo.com/50872582

Jdoubledub
Jdoubledub
18 days ago

The Amish are cheaters! I recently read an article about an Amish machine shop that makes axles for buggies. Went into the article thinking they had some awesome pre-electricity technology or cool techniques.

Turns out they just run a fully modern CNC machine shop off generators. Not being connected to the main power grid is their loophole.

James Davidson
James Davidson
18 days ago
Reply to  Jdoubledub

That is not something most parishes will allow. Diesel-powered pneumatic or air tools are much more typical. They do not use electricity.

Toecutter
Toecutter
18 days ago
Reply to  James Davidson

The angry pixies are actually demons.

Drew
Drew
18 days ago
Reply to  Jdoubledub

Depending on the community and the strictness of the beliefs, the generator could be seen as fine for two reasons:
It’s being used for work only, and not something more worldly. You’ll even find that some Amish businesses go far enough to take credit cards, but they don’t bring that technology home with them.
By not being connected to the grid, they are not reliant upon the power company and public utilities (though the diesel for the generator comes from somewhere, it’s different from a constant metered connection).

IanGTCS
IanGTCS
17 days ago
Reply to  Drew

This is correct. There is also the confusion between Amish and Mennonite. Amish generally avoid all modern technology (and limit interactions with the outside world) while Mennonite is a much broader group with some living very close to what outsiders think of as Amish while others being “integrated” into modern society. I lived in Waterloo for years which has a large Mennonite community so learned a lot about the differences and spectrum of beliefs from various friends and colleagues.

Toecutter
Toecutter
16 days ago
Reply to  IanGTCS

There are Mennonite communities where murdered-out economy cars are a common vehicle of choice.

RedR58
RedR58
14 days ago
Reply to  IanGTCS

I’ve seen Mennonites sitting in the stands watching Phillies baseball games at Citizens Bank Park. The Amish around here (Philadelphia and suburbs) tend to wear less colors than the Mennonites do. Amish apparently play lots of softball and especially volleyball, which I’ve seen when they happen to be at a local state park that I sometimes visit.

pizzaman09
pizzaman09
17 days ago
Reply to  Jdoubledub

Nothing wrong with this. If I remember correctly, something like 80% of the Amish in Ohio have solar on their houses in some capacity.

Rusty S Trusty
Rusty S Trusty
17 days ago
Reply to  Jdoubledub

Apparently, depending on the community, there are varying degrees of strictness regarding the use of technology. The Mennonites I know are allowed to use technology but not allowed to own it. They will often come to an agreement with a farmer or some other business that gives them access to vehicles and machinery. For example, a Mennonite group bought some land from my uncle and they helped a farmer build a barn in exchange for the use of a backhoe to dig a foundation for their house.

Roofless
Roofless
17 days ago
Reply to  Jdoubledub

As I understand it, the primary rule is to avoid worldly attachments, not technology – to “be in the world, not of the world.” If you can do it without signing a contract or in some way binding yourself to the world, it’s not strictly forbidden. Obviously that’s going to vary by parish and by practice, but a lathe is a tool and a buggy is a vehicle too.

Gabriel Jones
Gabriel Jones
17 days ago
Reply to  Jdoubledub

Lots of good answers here. The biggest thing is to live a “community sufficient” lifestyle; i.e. don’t DEPEND on things that have to be constantly brought in from the outside world.

John Galt
John Galt
16 days ago
Reply to  Gabriel Jones

Then I say, as a mining geologist, they shouldn’t use metal tools.

The whole Amish/Mennonite idea is of “community sufficient” is rules lawyered all to hell.

Humans, especially those who hail from Europe, have been trading with each other for millennia. EVERY community depends on trade with other groups. Unless you have a very special coincidence of available natural resources and population density.
None of these groups have it.

Their, frankly horrible, strict hierarchical and patriarchal practices should not be viewed through some cutesy lense of “aww they escew ‘modern’ technology and are self sufficient.”

They use whatever technology that pleases the elders and, more importantly, keeps them in power.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
18 days ago

The Model T has always been as much a power tool as an automobile, and tools can last a very long time if taken care of.

Its like how the Army still has some M2s with 1930s serial numbers

Roofless
Roofless
17 days ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

It’s a fantastic vehicle when you start learning more about it – first mass produced, etc, but also incredibly well designed. If you’ve seen the videos about its suspension, it’d embarrass most modern trucks off road, and there were a whole slate of tools designed to make use of the motor – just jack the car up, take the wheel off, and replace it with a pulley, and you’ve got a power saw/mill/whatever you could need. It really was an excellent work vehicle.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
17 days ago
Reply to  Roofless

The vanadium alloy was a big part of the genius, it flexes without cracking so it let’s the frame bend and twist, improving articulation and helping soak up rough terrain.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
13 days ago
Reply to  Roofless

As was the original Jeep.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
18 days ago

Do Sylvester and Tweety get to ride along?

Eslader
Eslader
18 days ago

What a great find. My favorite story of the day.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
18 days ago

Neat!

AlterId
AlterId
18 days ago

They were forced into the Model T after their Curved-Dash Olds was orphaned.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
18 days ago

My favorite part is that they’re both, ala Homer Simpson, wearing the appropriate hat.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
18 days ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

I wonder if period-correct attire is mandatory.

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
18 days ago

At the very least, purposeful goggles!

SegaF355Fan
SegaF355Fan
16 days ago
Reply to  Jack Trade

“The goggles do nothing!”

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
16 days ago
Reply to  SegaF355Fan

No need for profanity

Take your upvote for such a cromulent comment!

Kaiserserserser
Kaiserserserser
18 days ago

“it’s about the right track width” seems like a weird reason to use a 100 year old car. Like I get most current cars aren’t going to fit, but a quick google says Model T track width is 56-60 inches. You could use Geo metro, smart car, any TJ/YJ/CJ jeep and they would all fall in that same range and be a lot more comfortable/safe/efficient.

I feel like the motivation is probably more of a “pride in being the home state of the big 3 auto makers” and track width is just an excuse they use to appease the bean counters.

VanGuy
VanGuy
18 days ago

The only counterargument I can offer is that the tires themselves are also thin like a carriage’s, so any bumps may translate better through a Model T than a vehicle with wide, modern, cushion-y tires.

Amberturnsignalsarebetter
Amberturnsignalsarebetter
18 days ago
Reply to  VanGuy

The Model T suspension is a lot more buggy-like than a Metro or Jeep too – overall I’d say it’s a pretty good proxy for riding in a buggy itself, just with equivalent (rather than actual) horsepower.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
17 days ago
Reply to  VanGuy

It is certainly easier to put skinny tires on a Jeep than to acquire and maintain a 100 year old cae

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
18 days ago

I’m all for any loophole that gets around the bean counters in order to do something cool.

JaredTheGeek
JaredTheGeek
18 days ago

It’s not just track width as he said in the video it’s also the suspension is very similar, and I would imagine the tires are very close as well, so the overall experience is similar enough for them to gauge it.

Eslader
Eslader
18 days ago
Reply to  JaredTheGeek

There’s also the part about seeing the wheels. Sure, the Metro might have a similar track, but you can’t see the wheels when you’re driving. The Model T’s fenders make it very obvious where the wheels are, and you can see them from the front seat.

Gerontius Garland
Gerontius Garland
16 days ago
Reply to  JaredTheGeek

A Model T also uses wood wheels, which is another factor to consider. Someone driving a modern car isn’t going to worry about their wheels exploding into a pile of splinters if they hit a pothole wrong.

Gene1969
Gene1969
18 days ago

Michigan went to war with Ohio over Toledo. No way will Michigan allow a Jeep be chosen over the Model T.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
13 days ago
Reply to  Gene1969

How about a Ford jeep?

Data
Data
18 days ago

So how do you go about getting the job of Model T driver?

Paul E
Paul E
18 days ago
Reply to  Data

The Gilmore Car Museum, northeast of Kalamazoo, MI, has a “Model T Driving Experience”, complete with driving lessons on a Model T. I didn’t have time to try when I was there for a meet last month, but there were people there getting lessons when I was there.

JaredTheGeek
JaredTheGeek
18 days ago
Reply to  Paul E

My local car museum does that as well.

Jeff Marquardt
Jeff Marquardt
17 days ago
Reply to  Paul E

I’ll be taking my 03 BMW Z4 there to the European car show (DeutscheMarques) in a few weeks, I am hoping that I can get to try it out! Interesting side note, I am currently in Beijing China and just went to a museum that has 2 model T’s!

A. Barth
A. Barth
18 days ago

I figured they made a mistake and accidentally amortized the purchase of the vehicle over 100 years.

Take that, EBITDA!!

Data
Data
18 days ago
Reply to  A. Barth

Sleazy buy here/pay here lot suckered them into a 1,200 month loan at 18%. They’ve been upside down forever.

Amberturnsignalsarebetter
Amberturnsignalsarebetter
18 days ago
Reply to  Data

Sounds about right for a government contract.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
18 days ago

If the tool for the job still works, use it! These will probably get converted to electric at some point to spare the operator having to learn controls very different from a modern car.

Kleinlowe
Kleinlowe
18 days ago

The Model T’s controls are already completely alien to a modern setup! About the only control that works as you might expect it is the steering wheel, in that turning it left and right points the front wheels in those directions. It’s worth looking up a video on how weird they were. I’m surprised they aren’t using a Model A (similar dimensions but a modern control layout).

Last edited 18 days ago by Kleinlowe
Cryptoenologist
Cryptoenologist
18 days ago

I’m very curious whether it uses the original power train or if they’ve done any kind of engine swap over the years.

Frankencamry
Frankencamry
18 days ago

Still has both stalks and still sounds like a Model T, so I’m guessing it’s original, if not original to the car.

Because of their relatively loose tolerances these engines were very tough to kill. One of the old guys from my church that has since passed was a Model A & T collector, which included a delivery truck that had an engine rebuild every 4 years according to the log book he had with it. I forget if it was 8 or 10 rebuilds, but still the original block.

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