Sightseeing Yosemite in a Tin Lizzi

David Woodworth and his wife Sheran are the owners of Drive A Model T, and the Tin Lizzie Inn, located near Yosemite National Park.

A family stops for pictures in a black Model T touring car during a
trip with Drive a Model T near Fish Camp, Calif.

“We’re kind of like Avis,” Woodworth says, “only we use Model T’s.”

Woodworth started the business 10 years ago by renting only Model T’s and now has eight in his stable at his Fish Camp, Calif., location. Model A’s, of which he has three, were added five years ago.

The southern entrance to Yosemite is just two miles away, and there are miles and miles of country roads in and out of the park to make the experience authentic. “A lot of people will use the Model T’s to travel the dirt roads and ford the rivers outside the park, then rent a Model A to take a ride in the park,” Woodworth says.

“Yosemite is absolutely beautiful,” he continues. “It’s an incredible, incredible park. And people come to see the park, and this is a neat way to see it.”

The Yosemite offers spectacular views, which can be enjoyed in a
Model A roadster like this one, or, if prefered, in a Model T.

If you want to tour with a group, you can. If you want to go it alone, you can do that, too. Rentals are typically from a half-day up to three days and a driving instructor helps get the uninitiated driver on the way.

When it comes to the cars, no concessions are made for creature comfort. “They’re original in every detail,” Woodworth says. “Everything we do we try to make era-appropriate. There’s no seat belts, because they never had seat belts, and they still have the six-volt system.”

What has been added for comfort is the Tin Lizzie Inn. “We got so busy we needed a place for people to stay,” Woodworth says. It was built three years ago as a replica of a Victorian cottage and is perched 5,200 ft. in elevation and surrounded by trees. Many of its more elegant details are made from architectural salvage: brass doorknobs, stained glass and leaded glass windows. There’s even engraved porcelain in the bathrooms from the 1800s.

“We’re a very small B&B,” Woodworth says. “We only have two rooms [to rent], but the largest suite is 26 x 24 feet with a 14 x 14 bathroom, heated floors, walk-in shower…”

Three-course meals are served on Havilland China with sterling silverware.  The list of amenities goes on and on.

How Woodworth came to create such an unusual business is, you might say, business as usual for Woodworth: he’s always made a living, as he says, “playing with toys.”

“I’ve always enjoyed old things,” he says. He also claims that two character flaws have served him well. “I’ve been fortunate and moderately successful and it comes down to two things I have an abundance of: ignorance and overconfidence.”

But making a living from old things happened by accident, and it all began with his first Model A and a camper.

“I had a Model A that I fixed up to show in an exhibition,” he recalled. “At that time I didn’t know anything about restoring a car, and I thought I had to make everything glisten, so I replaced everything with something shiny, and it was just beautiful.

“But when I went to show it, the judges said, ‘Now this has to look like it just came off the showroom floor.’ And, of course, mine didn’t look anything like what you could buy: it was better.

“So I decided I’d forget about going to shows with the Model A and take my young daughters on a trip across the United States with it.   

“Someone saw me at a gas station and told me about a tent trailer they thought would look good pulled behind my Model A. It was a tent trailer with wooden spoke wheels, made in Bay City, Mich. I ended up buying it for $200.

“But I didn’t have the money to fix it up, so I found a place and told them, ‘If you fix it up, I’ll show it for you at an RV show.’ And that’s how I got started. I went to RV shows, fairs… I became a national spokesman for the RV industry. I was always involved with old campers and I was doing it when nobody else was.”

One camper led to another, and before long, he says, “I owned the largest private collection of campers, model homes and RVs dated from 1914-1937.”

His collection was so unusual that Woodworth became the “go-to guy” when it came to camping history in this country.

“I’ve done things for the Smithsonian, the History Channel, the Travel Channel. I’ve set up historical tent displays,” he says. “Ford Motor Co. once hired me to create a display. I’ve had companies pay me to drive across the U.S.”

For profit, pleasure, or both, the Anchorage, Alaska, native has now driven six times across the United States in Model A’s and has participated in the Great American Race twice in a Model A.

Today, however, Woodworth has settled down a bit. Most of his camper collection is now privately owned by someone else and on public display at RV/Motor Home Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind. He has kept only a few pieces of his collection, including an Anheuser-Busch Motor Home made by the company during Prohibition when the beer company was not allowed to brew beer.

He also maintains a collection of boats and boat motors, and, of course, his collection of Model A’s and Model T’s, including one Model A with the serial number 1225. On his wish list is a 1929 Model A cabriolet.

The Woodworths are open for business from May 1-Oct. 31. Call 866-4T-TOURS or visit www.driveamodelt.com for more information.

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