A joy ride in an antique automobile reached a milestone this summer for Andrews residents Tom and Sharon Laupp after they logged the final states visited to complete the map of the 48 contiguous continental states in the United States.
It took a number of years – starting in 1996 after the couple first obtained their 1930 Ford Model A they nicknamed “Abigail” – but more than 20 years later they found themselves standing in the famous “Four Corners” of the U.S. and crossed the final four states off their bucket list.
Sharon Laupp says they first took Abigail to Wisconsin and Kentucky to visit relatives. Then they joined the Old Fort Model A Club and made longer trips with the group, adding more and more states to the list.
“We made several tours in the past. After we went to the Hudson Valley tour two years ago in upstate New York, by the time we got back we had covered 40 of the southern United States,” Tom Laupp explains. “We started thinking, that, gee, it would be nice if we could get all of the 48 of the lower 48 states. We thought about it and thought about it, and said yes and no and yes and no. This year we started thinking a little stronger, because we’re both getting up in weeks.”
With some seed money from their sons as a Christmas present, the Laupps enlisted the help of a friend, Steve Brigham Jr., to plan the route, and they set out on July 19, headed west.
“We got a map of the United States and laid it out in increments of 300 miles per day,” Tom says. “We figured about 300 or so miles per day would be good driving times.”
Driving their 89-year-old Model A Ford at its high speed of 55 mph and 23 mph going uphill in high second gear, the Laupps primarily followed the interstate highway systems through 15 states to reach their goal, making few stops to take in any sightseeing or tourist traps along the way.
One exception was a stop at a Pony Express marker posted along the route they drove. Most of the pictures they took were from inside the car as it was in motion.
However, they did make a planned stop in Wilderville, OR, to visit one of Sharon’s childhood friends, rekindling their 74-year-old friendship since they were in kindergarten together.
During their time on the road they drove through some forest fire areas. They saw fire trucks and emergency vehicles parked along the side of the highway, but the terrain was too rugged – and smoky – to visibly see firefighters battling the blaze.
“People out there keep masks handy by their back door,” Sharon says. “That was the one day we had to wear masks, when we were visiting with (her friend).”
The couple passed “high-wheeler” cyclists peddling high atop old- timey two-wheelers as they drove along. They passed through massive wind farms planted in great open expanses. And they also noted, with some sadness, the large number of homeless people they saw out on the West Coast.
Most people waved as they passed the Laupps, with only one motorist expressing his aggravation at their car’s reduced speed.
“All the rest were either thumbs-up or waving at us, and there was a real camaraderie there,” Sharon says. “They’d pass us up, then they would stop somewhere, then we would stop somewhere, then they’d pass us up again and we’d pass them up. And they were just waving, and as the day got along the waves got longer and longer.”
People they talked to often expressed how they’d like to have an old car like theirs, one man in New Mexico saying he envied them taking a “Senior trip.”
“‘But I’ve got the kids. I gotta worry about them. I gotta worry about everybody!’ he said,” Sharon recalls. “You just kind of got connected with them.”
Abigail also suffered two breakdowns during the trip, sparking adventures of a different kind. The first happened in Lincoln, NE, after a large overnight rainstorm put her out of commission.
“The engine was soaking wet and it had no spark,” Tom recounts. “Turns out that we had a fault inside the distributor and possibly from the rain or possibly from a pump, we got water in the gas tank. I spent all day Sunday trying to fix it.”
Tom retrieved a roster from the car that directed him to local car club members. One of them threw tools in his car and made a trip to the disabled Abigail, helping Tom fix the faulty distributor. Another man, a bystander observing the operation, suggested they drain the cloudy sediment bowl, clean the carburetor and clear the gas tank out. The Model A then started right up, and the Laupps were back on the road, having made a couple of new friends.
“It was a blessing that we happened to be in an area where there was somebody that knew a lot about what our problems were and how to fix them,” Tom adds.
A second breakdown occurred in Phillipsburg, KS, as the Laupps were making their trip back home. Tom changed the set of points but the engine wouldn’t turn over. There happened to be a Chrysler dealership next door to their motel. The mechanic directed the couple to a local man who has restored more than 30 Model As, as it turned out – and had owned a parts store located about five miles down the road. He knew right away that Abigail needed a new ignition switch, and there happened to be one at the store. He got it, installed it, and sent the Laupps back on their way again. That was Miracle No. 2, Tom says.
The Laupps made sure to drink plenty of water so they themselves wouldn’t break down during the trip, especially since there was no air conditioning in the car. At times, the high elevations – one place they stayed was situated at 8,000 feet in the mountains – played havoc with Tom’s respiratory system, leaving him gasping for air and resorting to a rescue inhaler. Sharon, who is a registered nurse, thought they might have to take him to a hospital and give up making it to the Four Corners.
“I thought well, if we don’t get there, we don’t get there. He’s more important than that,” Sharon says. “But he was able to sleep and we left as soon as we could in the morning. … The next elevation at the next summit was 5,000 (feet), which was a lot better.”
The Laupps culminated their trip at the Four Corners, where Sharon and Tom stood in two states each and took pictures to mark the accomplishment. They had succeeded in adding the final eight states to their map – Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico.
“On our journey down to the Four Corners we actually turned 300,000 miles on the car,” says Tom, adding the trip alone logged 5,985 miles at an average of 49 miles per hour, using between 8 and 9 miles per gallon in the mountains and up to 17 miles per gallon on open roads. They carried two 2-1/2 gallon containers of gas on board in case there wasn’t a gasoline station along some of the more desolate stretches of highway.
During the trip Sharon took notes of what happened, and plans to compile them and write a book about the 20-day adventure.
“It’s going to be like a travelogue. I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to do. At first I thought I’d call it ‘A Journey in Miles and Blessings’ or something like that,” she says. “Part of it might not be so interesting to other people. I just wrote different things down of where we went ... Of course it was memorable, and I’m going to write a book about it.”
Both Tom and Sharon pontificate their journey was comparable to those made by travelers of a different era who ventured west.
“There aren’t too many people in the country that have cars like ours that made that type of a trip,” Tom says. “A lot of people thought we were stupid; they thought it was awful foolhardy, like the early pioneers. ‘Why would you want to take a mule and an ox and a cart and go out there? You’ll never come back!’ Our success on tours in the past on long-distance tours has not been the greatest … but overall, the car has run pretty darned good.”
Although the Laupps’ Model A travels have now taken them to a total of 48 states and two provinces in Canada, Tom says they will not attempt to visit Hawaii or Alaska to make it to all 50 states.
“We’ve accomplished something, and we feel pretty happy about it,” he says.