Spring in North Idaho brings a wealth of colors, sounds, and smells that brighten our lives after the long, gray winter. Golden dandelions bloom exuberantly in lush green lawns; robins and chickadees noisily proclaim their territory; and lovely lilacs, lavender, white, and dark purple, perfume the air with their fragrance.
In Sandpoint, there’s another way we know that spring has finally arrived: the vivid colors, often loud noises, and occasional smell of exhaust from hundreds of old cars. For us, it’s the annual Lost in the 50s parade and car show that signal the official arrival of spring with its warm weather and fun and all that goes with the beautiful but all-too-short spring and summer seasons here in the Far North. We just celebrated the 33rd Lost in the 50s weekend (http://sandpoint.org/lostin50s/) when gray skies and cooler temperatures did not dampen the love of old cars for the thousands of people who flocked to town to admire the cars, model their poodle skirts, and bop to Buddy Holly blaring from speakers at the main downtown intersection.
While Lost in the 50s today features all makes and models of old cars, Fords dominated the market a century ago. The Model T, introduced in 1909, accounted for one out of every two cars in 1927, the last year that Model Ts were made. Much of the T’s success was due to rural Americans who appreciated its reliability on poor roads, the ease of repairs, and the availability of spare parts.
Sandpoint celebrated the beloved Model T in 1922 with Ford Day. The event on June 14 coincided with the Flag Day holiday and the downtown merchants’ big Sales Day. The planning committee hoped to draw large crowds to all of the events, and they lined up prizes for dozens of contests, a car parade, and a slow race. Ford day would be “the most unique celebration ever staged in the history of Sandpoint,” the Northern Idaho News promised, with a touch of hyperbole. “The flivvers will own the town that day. There will be old flivvers and new flivvers, quiet flivvers and noisy flivvers, modest flivvers and loud flivvers–all kinds of flivvers in fact–and prizes for the best of each kind.”
Weeks of advertising paid off and Wednesday, June 14, found more than 3,000 people thronging the streets of downtown Sandpoint. As the Fords chugged into town, their owners were urged to register in order to qualify for prizes to be awarded later on. Unfortunately the Sagle family with 11 members squeezed into their Model T failed to register and thus lost their chance to claim the prize for the largest family. It instead went to the Thomas Moran family of 7 who claimed their first prize — dinner at the St. James Cafe and a tire.
The parade of Fords through downtown provided a chance for their owners to claim a prize, although many of the categories might not be acceptable in today’s climate of political correctness. For instance, the oldest woman in a Ford won a sack of flour, 3 pounds of coffee, and a can of pineapple, while the oldest man got a hat. The fattest man (F.H. Rundell of Bonners Ferry, weighing in at 202 pounds) claimed his gallon of ice cream, and the fattest woman (Mrs. Hannah Folden, 230 pounds) took home a fancy cake. Mrs. Elmer Dreisbach drove a Ford with the 5 girls deemed to be prettiest, winning a box of candy for each of the girls. The noisiest car in the parade (William G. Phalon) was given a 6-month pass to the Gem Theater. Henry Samuels, owner of the oldest Ford (1911), claimed his prize of a quart of auto enamel, any color, and a pair of brushes. William Derr, from Clark Fork, with the most dilapidated Ford, won a haircut, shave, and bath at Dad’s Shop.
Following a break for lunch, people gathered for the slow race over a 75-yard course on First Avenue. The winner would be the driver who took the longest time to finish, without stopping or interfering with other drivers. The excitement was so great that bystanders crowded into the street around the cars, making it hard to see the vehicles inching their way along. Although the judges disqualified several cars for stopping, they eventually proclaimed Fred Bartlett the winner. He had taken 15 1/2 minutes to finish the course, idling along at a rate of less than 15 feet per minute!
While the parade and slow race were the highlights of Ford Day, merchants hoped to draw people into downtown stores for shopping. To ensure success, they built up excitement ahead of time with the announcement of a Mysterious Man and Mysterious Woman who would be mingling with the shopping crowds. Nobody knew who these two people might be, but all were well prepared for meeting them. “If you think you have the right person you should ask this question in just this way: ‘Are you the Mysterious Ford Man’ or Woman if it happens to be the woman,” instructed the Northern Idaho News. “If you are right a question will be asked you and you are to reply in these words exactly: ‘Because nobody knows what makes you ramble around.'” If this was indeed the Mysterious Man or Woman, the lucky questioner would receive a coupon for one of the prizes which included a fountain pen, a 5-pound pail of lard, or a 2-year subscription to the newspaper.
Ford Day ended that evening with a patriotic celebration for Flag Day, led by the Elks Lodge and the Boy Scouts. Nearly 1,000 people filled the school grounds to sing songs, hear speeches, and enjoy music performed by the city band. All in all, people deemed the day a grand success and they rambled home happily in their Ford Model Ts.
“Prizes for Ford Day, June 14,” Northern Idaho News, 30 May 1922, 1:2-5; “Town Prepared For the Fords–June 14,” Northern Idaho News, 6 June 1922, 1:3-4; “Tomorrow’s Big Flivver Show,” Northern Idaho News, 13 June 1922, 1:3; “Over 3,000 Brought In For Day’s Events,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 16 June 1922, 1:3; no title, Northern Idaho News, 20 June 1922, 2:4; George E. Mowry, The Urban Nation, 1920-1960 (New York: Hill and Wang 1965), 13; Peter Hugill, “Good Roads and the Automobile in the United States, 1880-1929,” Geographical Review 72 (July 1982): 336-337; Michael L. Berger, The Devil Wagon in God’s Country: The Automobile and Social Change in Rural America, 1893-1929 (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1979), 49.
Ford emblem (http://myautoworld.com/ford/history/ford-t/ford-t-5/ford-t-6/ford-t-7/ford-t-7.html); Ford ad (http://myautoworld.com/ford/history/ford-t/ford-t-5/ford-t-6/ford-t-7/ford-t-7.html); Flivver headline (Northern Idaho News, 13 June 1922, 1:3); Mysterious Man and Mysterious Woman ad (Northern Idaho News, 6 June 1922, 7).