Report of the 2001 Texas to Alaska Model T Adventure

Last Revised: November 15, 2003


Tuesday, July 17, 2001

Texas to Alaska

Model T Travel Report


Today's report

sponsored by:

Texas T Parts



Day 42 - July 17, 2001 - As I write this, we are sitting alongside the road on the Dalton Highway, about 100 miles south of Prudhoe Bay. Ross Lilleker's car, which has run perfectly the entire trip, has had a wheel bearing seize up and has come to a complete stop. They are trying to fix the wheel, in the rain and mud and mosquitoes but I don't know whether they will be able to do so or not.

It has been a good drive, up until now. It has rained on us, off and on, and the road has been rocky and pitted. But the drive has gone well. We made the Atigun Pass (a 12% grade to a 4800 foot pass with little difficulty. We made a 10% grade about five miles earlier (the Chandalar Shelf). Those two were the worst climbs; the others were not so steep or not so long. The scenery has been quite beautiful, ranging from the scrubby tree covered hills, to extremely rugged mountains, to miles and miles of tundra with the majestic Brooks Range in the distance. The biggest problem we faced were the mosquitoes, which are huge and aggressive. As I sit in the car, the mosquitoes are banging against the windows of the car trying to get in. When we stopped for lunch, Ginger prepared sandwiches in the car for the rest of us in an effort to keep the pesky things out of our food. They are having a feast on Ross, Steve, Jennifer, and Ben as they work.

It is now several hours later than when I wrote the message above. A passing motorist reminded us that there was a Department of Transportation location just a few miles back. Ross and the others had managed to break the wheel free so it would turn and we drove slowly the three miles back to the DOT station. The DOT on the Dalton Highway is there to maintain the roads; they do not have services for the public. However, when three Model T's pulled in at 3:30 pm and asked to use their shop to fix a wheel, they agreed to let us in. Ross had considered just trying to oil the wheel and keep running but since they had a dry shop with equipment and a concrete floor, we decided to try to fix it. In the process of removing the bearing, the axle shattered. There was a moment of silence and then Steve turned to the T and started removing bolts necessary to pull the differential. We had joked about the fact that everyone's car had broken down except Ross's and he predicted it was waiting for Prudhoe Bay. We were 100 miles short, about 400 miles inside the Arctic Circle.

I'm writing the rest of this a few days later. I'll tell you the end of the story - we made it to Prudhoe Bay and back. But now, let me finish telling you about what happened on the 17th. We wound up working on Ross's car until nearly 10:00 pm. The DOT shop closed at 6:00 pm but they let us stay. Todd Schallock, who was a supervisor (I think) stayed with us and saw that we had what we needed. He was so kind, offering me the use of his desk and seeing that we had coffee and access to the bathrooms. We had most of the tools we needed but he made it possible for us to do what we needed to do. Todd and his superiors could have easily apologized and shut us out into the night at 6:00 pm but he stayed with us until we were done. They were all worried about us starting out toward Prudhoe that late at night but, after discussing it among ourselves, we decided to give it a shot. If one car broke down, we would pile people in the others and go on.

The next 60 miles were the worst road you could imagine. We had expected gravel, ruts, and potholes. What we found were large rocks, deep soft surfaces, and sinkholes. When we passed some construction workers out during the night, they must have thought they had entered the twilight zone. The sun never went as far down as the horizon and, with the cloud cover, we weren't certain if we were seeing a sunrise or a sunset, but it allowed us to keep driving. We could not have made that road in the dark.

We arrived at our motel in Deadhorse at 4:00 am, pulling up next to the office. Directly in front of us, less than 50 feet away, was a grizzly bear. I shouted, "My God, it's a bear!" The bear probably shouted, "My God, it's a model T" and bolted. The others were disappointed not to get to see the bear and started to gather what they needed from the cars. Suddenly, the bear walked around from the other side of the motel and ambled off toward the post office/general store in the same parking lot. Ross and Steve whistled and called to get the bear to look at them until the desk clerk hollered out the window at them to stop provoking that bear. The bear glanced back at them in boredom and disappeared around the building. We got to bed around 4:30 am and set the alarm for 8:00 am.


717a - The smaller trees as we go north make the pipeline more visible. In many places, it cuts underground for miles. Occasionally, it will make a small dip underground and then rise again, only a few feet away. These "sag dips" were put in at the insistence of environmentalists who wanted a place for the large animals to cross.


717b - We stopped here for a short break from the rain and the bad road. We just thought we had seen bad road! You can see the mud and rough surface. This was the good part. Left to right, the cars belong to Nancy and Ben Hardeman, Ross Lilleker., and Jennifer and Ginger Hardeman. You can't see it from here but we were getting ready to go up Chandler Shelf, a 10% grade.


717c - Ross slowly climbs Chandler Shelf. The road became so steep so quickly, that Jennifer had to back down and get a running start. Ross frequently remarks that there is no road that a Model T cannot climb if the driver is mentally prepared. We all had to go into Rackets low, Ford low (which means something only to people with Model T's) to make the hill but we all made it. You could probably have walked faster if you were foolish enough to try.


717d - Jennifer's muffler came loose over one of the bumps and, on the climb up Chandler Shelf, the nut worked itself loose. We had to stop and fix it or the girls would have gone deaf. Cindy Hudgens watches as Jennifer and Ross screwed the nut in place. Cindy's parents, Joyce and Ken, had gone back from Coldfoot but Cindy went along with the rest of us to Prudhoe Bay.


717e - Ross and his Model T toolkit: a hammer and chisel. By putting a small dent in the nut, the vibrations can't cause it to back off again. There is something a little scary about seeing him take a hammer and chisel to your engine.


717f - Steve Markowski spotted two caribou walking along the pipeline and we all jumped out to get a better look. Several in our group waded through the shrubbery to get better pictures and they got pretty close before the caribou decided we didn't look all that harmless after all. We actually saw several caribou and moose along the drive, although none this close. A reindeer even ran across the road directly in front of Jennifer. The later it got though, the less we cared.


717g - Ginger Hardeman at the pipeline on her 20th birthday. She says this was a wonderful birthday, even though she had no cake and we were hundreds of miles from anywhere.


717h - We had been warned about Atigan Pass ever since we entered Alaska. If you look closely on the hillside behind the sign, you can see the road, cut into the edge of the mountain. That is still the approach. The road rises 4800 feet, the highest pass in Alaska, and has a 12% grade. The road surface was better on the Pass than any other place on the day, however, the guardrails had impact damage on every curve. We took it seriously.


717i - The view near the top of Atigun Pass. Note the roadway. I need to mention something about the truckers on the Dalton Highway. Everyone has stories about cracked windshields and smashed headlights due to the truckers sweeping past and throwing gravel from their tires. We heard about them crowding the motorists and barreling down on other cars from the hills. We could actually see the drivers slowing down when they realized we were in their path, both coming toward us and from behind. They would hug the shoulder to give us room and wait until we got out of the way before they would come down a steep hill at us. I don't doubt that the stories we were told were true but that wasn't our experience. We received a lot of thumbs up signs and friendly honks.


717j - The pipeline snakes its way across the tundra.


717k - The last 150 miles was tundra, which looks like a green meadow. Sometimes we saw lovely, but very tiny wildflowers. Sometimes you could see what should have been tress but were stunted. We saw a sign at one point that said "Farthest north spruce tree - do not cut". The tundra was dotted with small lakes, especially as we got closer to the coast.


717l - The breakdown: 105 miles from Prudhoe Bay, Ross's wheel just stopped turning. You can see the road surface (this was still not the worst road surface), the rain, the concern. What you can't see are the mosquitoes that were about to drive them to distraction. They aren't scratching their heads in dismay; they are swatting mosquitoes.


717m - The DOT shop. I can't emphasize how valuable it was to us to have a place to work that was warm, dry, flat, and mosquito free. (We need to import the stuff they use to Texas!) Once again, the fact that we have done this several times helped. When Jennifer's differential broke at Temple, TX, it took us two days to get back on the road. We pulled and repaired this differential in five hours.


717n - While one group worked on Ross's car at the DOT, we did checked out the other two cars to be certain we didn't have anything loose that would give us trouble down the road. Can you see how dirty these cars are? The white layer is some sort of calcium substance they put on the road to keep down the dust. The other layers are the dust what sticks to the white stuff.


717o - We started back on the road at 10:00 pm. This is the road. Fortunately, the sun never really sets so we never lost the ability to see the size of the holes and rocks in front of us.


717p - After reappearing in the parking lot, the bear lumbered off in front of the post office and general store. Ginger, who was not trying to attract the attention of the bear, snapped this photo of him. He wasn't as big as the ones you see in movies but he was bigger than us. And they can move at 40 mph. He would have beaten us to the porch.

For Further Information Contact:

Ben or Nancy Hardeman
Texas T Parts
1820 Gray Stone Drive
Bryan, Texas 77807
Tel: 979-361-0271
e-mail: or

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