10 Degrees Cooler
Tin Lizzie Returns To Wilacre Park
By Joann Deutch
Feb 28, 2014 - 11:36:02 AM

LAUREL CANYON—“Keep your thumb out of the way” he yelled!  I was being coached on the fundamentals of crank-starting a Tin Lizzie.  Boy, giving that crank handle enough force beyond a 1/4 turn was tough going.  It took me a few times and determination.  After planting my feet, I managed to turn the hand crank clockwise from 8 o’clock to 3 o’clock sputtering the 1915 Model T Ford to life.


We were at the base of the Betty Dearing Trail at Wilacre Park (off Laurel Canyon). Gary, the owner of the Model T had agreed to meet me at the park.  The Model T was making a return visit to the hills of Wilacre Park; Gary had told me stories of his teen years when he would fly over the rutted roads in the Santa Monica Mountains in his Model T. I doubted his tales - thinking how can a car fit on what, at best, was narrower than today’s fire roads?  So of course I said “show me.”  That’s how we arranged to meet at the park.  Him with his rusty 1915 Tin Lizzie, not the same one he used “back in the day,” but this more recent acquisition. 


I hopped in for a short tour, taking a right up Iredell.  Yes, we turned heads everywhere we went in the rusty convertible. We toddled along at a modest speed, coughing and puttering.  The door latch had been a tricky operation. Gary had to help, although I doubted a closed door would provide any additional safety.  The gear shift was on the left side of the driver. A straight pole with a clamp on the top making me think there was a release mechanism.  Three peddles on the wooden floor boards.  Gary told me that the motors often go hot enough to set the wood on fire!!

Model T Tin Lizzie at Betty Dearing Trailhead.


I was still skeptical about being able to drive in the hills when there were only sheep trails. I’ve since learned that the Tin Lizzie was built for exactly those treacherous conditions common in the Santa Monica Mountains which Gary had described. Bumpy rutted roads are its forte.  Remember that this car came before roads were laid out. Indeed today’s modern roads make driving the Model T tough work.


After my jaunt with Gary I came across a Los Angeles Times article dating back to 1924 which described a group’s outing up Cold Water Canyon and across Mulholland in an “Overland.”  That’s when Mulholland was no more than a dirt road.  While the article didn’t say what an Overland was, at first I thought it referred to the local Overland Stage Coach service, but stagecoaches had been gone for 70 years, so that couldn’t be right.  After some digging it turns out that an Overland refers to a Willys-Overland, a popular touring car of the times.  For the antique car buffs - the Willy was the precursor to our Jeep. If you think about it, the name Overland was apt.


Gary’s stories of wandering up and down Fryman Canyon makes him an expert on the area.  His 1915 Model T with a 29 inch axel made it possible for him to wander just about anywhere following the rutted paths dotting the hills overlooking Studio City land which is rumored to have once belonged to the silent screen actor William Acre.


So Gary has shared his adventures, now he wants you to tell him what the stone gateway at the 11901 intersection of Iredell. All I could find out was that it was a 35 acre parcel dating back to 1926.

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