SCOTTSBLUFF — Bob Johnston has participated in the Sugar Valley Rally for 30 years and will again be the navigator for his son, JJ Johnston as they travel in their 1919 Model T.
The car is featured on the rally’s promotional information along with the Scotts Bluff National Monument as both the car and monument celebrate centennials.
Bob Johnston began his Sugar Valley Rally journey in 1988 along with his friend Jack Des Enfants in a 1919 Model T called Maude.
Des Enfants purchased the car in Lusk, Wyoming, from a woman named Maude. He decided to name the car after the owner.
The car does not have a title, since titles did not start until a couple decades later. But on the bill of sale, it lists the car as a 1920.
“Henry Ford called whatever year the vehicle was bought was the model,” Johnston said.
The first rally included four classes where the cars traveled at speeds of 35 miles per hour. That has since changed with the speed of travel based on the class.
During that first rally’s Friday practice run, Johnston said he experienced something that gave him a funny feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“Several times you would have a flat tire,” he said. “One time we were at the stoplight on Overland, Jack and I had a tire go flat and pass us up as it came off the rim.” Even though they were completing a practice run, Johnston said, “That’s a funny feeling when you see your tire pass you up.”
As they traveled around the area, they finished in second place within their class and won $300. Johnston said that’s the most money he ever won in the rally.
“We got second in the first rally,” Johnston said. “Jack and I won 300 bucks.”
After the conclusion of the race, the cars go through a photo finish area, so the 1919 Model T crossed the line first and received cheers as the public thought they won the race.
The gas tank is located under the driver’s seat and only holds 10 gallons, which allows the car to travel roughly 150 miles. Sitting on top of the gas tank is a paint stirring stick that they use to measure the gas level inside the tank.
While serving as the navigator, Johnston said his experience as an accountant made calculating speed and distance easy.
“I could do more good being the navigator than I could as a driver,” he said. “I could help (my son) down the road.”
Ahead of this year’s rally, Johnston adjusted the vehicle’s brake bands.
His son, JJ explained that driving Maude is nothing like driving a stick.
“There’s no gas pedal,” he said. “Your timing changes on all your newer cars, but this (lever) is how you change timing on Model Ts.”
The three pedals are the clutch, reverse and brake. While the car was groundbreaking as Ford released the first ever electric start. Prior to 1919, cars had to be started with a hand crank, located on the front grill of the vehicle. The Model T was also a forerunner of the automatic transmission.
The hardest part about competing in the rally, Johnston said is being on time, but he has a rule for his family when they participate.
“JJ says the first rule is you have to have fun,” Johnston said. “Second you hope to complete the rally and third, if you win any money fine, but in that order.”
Maude’s top speed is around 40 miles per hour, so ahead of hills Johnston puts the car in low gear. As they ride up the hills, it’s not uncommon to have to stop several times to fill the car with water to keep the engine cool.
For new participants to the rally, the Johnstons encouraged participants to visit with people who have previously competed and attend rally school.
With four generations of family preparing to compete in the rally, Johnston said it is special because everyone has a good time.