It’s the summer of 1939 and six young women are packed into a silver, 1926 Model T—what little luggage they have is loaded onto the side of the car and they’re ready to hit the road. Over the next four days this band of intrepid females will drive over 670 miles to cross the Canadianborder, reaching one of their first stops on a long journey. This point is only the beginning of a trip that will last a month and will take the group to at least 20 different towns and cities throughout Canada and the eastern portion of the U.S. Before this venture, there were four others just like it, and afterwards, there will be three more to look forward to. These women, and more who joined other trips, reached 44 states as well as Canada and Mexico. They came to be known as the Gypsy Coeds, their car as The Silver Streak.
Darlene Dorgan, owner of the ’26 Model T, and an interchanging group of approximately 19 other women, took 8-9 total trips between 1934 and 1942. They visited such locations as the Wisconsin Dells, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Quebec, Washington D.C., the New Mexican Carlsbad Caverns, San Francisco, Chicago, New Orleans, and even the New York World’s Fair, among many others. One unexpected town that they frequented was Dearborn, MI in order to see Henry Ford, the creator of their beloved automobile. Because of the nature of their trips and the fact that women traveling so extensively on their own was not common, the Coeds received much publicity, lots of help, and many outstanding opportunities. John Butte, Coed Regina Fennell’s son, recalled that he had three favorite bits from his mother’s stories about the ’39 trip. 1. “We always laughed when our mother told us she slept in a jail.” 2. When the coeds got to New York, they were stopped by police at a tunnel only to end up with “one car in front and back of them…escorting them through [to New York City].” 3. On a hill in the mountains west of Washington D.C., a man “loaded [their] Model T onto [his] car-hauling truck with [the ladies] sitting inside of it and drove them the rest of the way to their destination” because their car had had trouble making it to the top. These anecdotes are only a small portion of the countless stories that came from every adventure.
After the last trip in 1942, each of the girls' lives went on in different directions. During the three reunions they held over the years--the first in 1972--it was obvious that no one had forgotten the wild times they all shared in The Silver Streak. Upon Regina’s death in 2011, John Butte became determined to find the car and“make sure that whoever owned it knew the rich history of it,” as he said. In 2012 he succeeded, having tracked it all the way to Oregon. And, now, Richmond is honored to have this historic treasure on display at our very own Model T Museum in the Depot District. In addition to the car, there is a small exhibit that contains information about every Gypsy Coed and every trip they took, as well as Butte’s own book about it all: Darlene’s Silver Streak and the Bradford Model T Girls.
Mr Butte explained for this blog: “I wrote the book for these women who were very adventurous, not willing to take no for an answer. It is a tribute to those women and the exhibit itself is meant to be a tribute to those women. It’s incredible what they did.”
The Silver Streak is on display from now until August 7, 2016. Be sure to stop by and see this amazing piece of Americana history, and visit www.gypsycoeds.com for the rest of the captivating details.
Model T Museum:
Open Tuesday-Sunday 10 am-5 pm. 309 N 8th Street, Richmond, IN. 765-855-5248