It was a night that honored the Tamiami Trail. Guest speakers Keith Pershing of Island Automotive and Bob DeGross of Big Cypress National Preserve each lectured on the wonders of the era of the automobile to a full Rose Auditorium at the Marco Island Historical Museum on August 7.
Special Guest Speaker, Keith Pershing, owner of Island Automotive on Marco, spoke about his efforts “Restoring Life to the MIHS 1922 Ford Model T Truck.” Donated to the Society by The Naples Daily News in 2009, the truck didn’t run until Christmas of 2011. Thanks to the 133-man hours put in by Keith and Chuck Lynn, the Model T made its working debut in last year’s Christmas Island Style Parade. As a token of appreciation, Jerry Masters of the Historical Society presented an award to both Pershing and Lynn for “restoring the Model T to perfection.”
Pershing then discussed the history of the Model T and the process of fixing it. He explained how Henry Ford’s Model T was produced between 1908 and 1927 and with the advent of the assembly line, they could produce one truck every 93 minutes. A symbol of the American automotive industry, the accessibility of the Model T brought about an increased need for roads, including the Tamiami Trail.
Moving onto the Historical Society’s 1922 Model T, Pershing joked about the difficulties in getting it up and running. “We volunteered to fix an 89 year old car and had no idea what was wrong with it.” They quickly found that the main problem was the rear axlewhich had been completely stripped and needed to be rebuilt. But it wouldn’t be cheap. Pershing called on some business friends within the community who responded with donations. Bald Eagle Towing, Marco Ace Hardware, Marco Island Fitness Club, Auto Craft, Guzzo Electric and Lang’s Old Car Parts all came to the rescue. Pershing extended his gratitude stating, “the people in business on Marco Island are the best in the world.”
Donations of time and money had the Model T ready in the nick of time for the Christmas Island Style Parade. An added bonus came in February 2012 when the refurbished truck took home first place at the Kiwanis Car Show in the 1921 to 1939 category.
Pershing ended his presentation reminding everyone to, “support our local merchants as they represent the American dream,” and to, “choose American. After all, the Model T was made in America and it’s what got us to where we are today.”
Bob DeGross of Big Cypress National Preserve was up next to discuss the history of the Tamiami Trail. “One of the things I like to think of is Florida being the last frontier,” he stated. Explaining that the west was declared “won” in 1890, he went on to say that, at that time, Miami didn’t even exist yet. The largest city in Florida at that point was Key West. Miami came about in 1986, thanks to the rail road development which reached the area in 1985.
With developments in transportation, air conditioning and mosquito control, South Florida suddenly became viable land. The need to connect the statewas in part due to Henry Ford, as DeGross explained. Increased production of automobiles meant more need for roads and in 1915 a road network was laid out for the state of Florida.
The Chevalier Group began the Tamiami Trail from Miami in 1917 but “the project was incredibly difficult. They had to blast rock to create gravel to build a road bed. They made it from Miami to Pine Crest, about 50 miles, and the company went bankrupt.” It took them five years to make it 50 miles.
The road was at a stand still until Barron Collier came along. Collier offered to finish the trail if the state would name a county after him. Thus, Collier county was born and in 1928 the Tamiami Trail was completed. Collier began his side of the trail in Fort Myers, with crews using 40,000 pounds of dynamite for every mile of road. The trail was the largest consumer of dynamite at the time.
When the road was finally opened, DeGross explained one glaring omission. They forgot about gas stations! Constructing six stations all within Collier County limits, the only one that still remains is Monroe Station. Due to its historic ties with the trail it has been registered as an Historic American Building.
The Tamiami Trail and Monroe Station are “tied closely to a time of great change in the country,” stated DeGross. Before the automobile, the average person didn’t travel far from home, but roadways such as the Tamiami were what changed communities and opened up Southwest Florida. “It’s not just a road, it’s something that changed America extensively.”