Cross-country trek in Model T opens SUNY Fredonia travel film series

A film chronicling a trip across the United States in a 1926 Ford Model T Roadster will open the 2013-14 World Travel Series at SUNY Fredonia on Saturday, Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m. in King Concert Hall.

Rockefeller Arts Center presents “Sea to Sea in a Model T” with filmmaker Don Van Polen, who will be on hand to personally present his full-length color documentary.

Van Polen and his wife, Fran, made the cross-country trek in 2006 in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Henry Ford’s iconic automobile. Their journey begins in Puget Sound, Wash., and ends in Maine with many iconic sights of the American landscape highlighted along the way.

The main character in this film is “Rosie,” the Van Polens’ very own 1926 Model T. Designed to be a “car for common people,” more than 15 million Model T Fords rolled off the production line between 1908 and 1928, putting America on wheels.

In addition to being a travel/adventure film, “Sea to Sea in a Model T” also proves to be a history lesson on the car and its maker. Prior to setting off on the trip, Mr. Van Polen offers some insight on both.

Mr. Van Polen said Rosie cost $340 when it rolled off the production line at Ford’s Rouge River plant in 1926, but now has a value “50 times that.”

The fact that Rosie came in a shade of maroon made the car somewhat unique. The majority of Model Ts, Mr. Van Polen noted, came in black. The reason for this had to do with the speed of production. While black paint dried in about three hours, other colors could take up to 17 days to dry.

“Henry Ford never meant his car to be fancy,” Mr. Van Polen said. “He meant for it to be simple. It was a car for the common people.”

As for Ford himself, Mr. Van Polen notes among the facts that the automaker was a pacifist who actively campaigned against United States participation in World War I.

The film also points out that Ford believed in reincarnation and believed a Union soldier who died in the Civil War had been reincarnated in his body – a belief that led him to pacifism.

After setting out from Puget Sound, Mr. Van Polen allows nature to become the focal point of the film. Lighthouses, covered bridges and National Parks, including Yellowstone, are center stage in the film.

With the top speed of a 1926 Model T being 35 mph, Mr. Van Polen said the film is a way to “see the country from the slow lane.”

Here, the “history lesson” shifts from Ford to the United States itself. The film offers details on events ranging from The Battle of the Little Big Horn during a stop at the battlefield site in what is now Montana, to the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington to the worst forest fire in U.S. history: the Wallace Fire of 1910 in Idaho.

Mr. Van Polen graduated from Calvin College and later attended the University of Arizona taking graduate courses in the field of criminology and abnormal psychology. After completing his studies, he became a math/science teacher and school administrator.

After 10 years of teaching, he became smitten with photography – and travel. With his wife, he began a filmmaking career that has taken him from the steaming jungles of New Guinea, the ancient streets of Jerusalem, the slums of Calcutta to the grandeur of a North America.

A highlight of their career was when one of their productions, “Autumn Across America,” was selected as the feature program at the World Convention of the Photographic Society of America in Seattle. They received a standing ovation at the conclusion of the presentation.

Their presentations have been shown in some of the largest churches and auditoriums in North America from Edmonton to San Diego; from The Harvard Club in Boston to Seattle Center in Washington State.

Their presentations have also been shown at numerous Photographic Conventions along with the Kodak Cavalcade and National Geographic Presentations. DVDs produced by the Van Polens are distributed by Fox Records throughout Europe and the United States.

Tickets are available at the door for this general admission event.

They may also be purchased through the SUNY Fredonia Ticket Office in the Williams Center, by phone at 673-3501 or online at One child 12 and under is admitted free with each adult ticket purchased.

This event and series are sponsored by Fredonia Place as part of the Lake Shore Savings Season.