A classic journey

Texas man drives Model-A Ford across country
Apr. 05, 2013 @ 06:01 AM

Eighty-three-year-old Leroy Palmer is on a journey pursuing two of his passions: driving his 1931 Model-A Ford and discovering his ancestry.

Two years ago, Palmer drove his classic car across the country from his hometown of San Angelo, Texas and 3,900 miles later after several stops, he arrived in Rutherfordton.

"In high school I drove a car just like this one when I dated the woman who is now my wife," Palmer said. "I look for places to drive my car in the spring, and every spring I take a cross-country trip in my Model-A Ford."

Palmer has taken trips from Texas to a number of cities and towns including Charlotte, Augusta and Plains, Ga.

To his Model-A Ford he attaches a small pop-up camper, complete with a bed, fold out tables, small portable stove and enough dry food to last him for weeks. He designed and built the camper himself and he uses it to stay at campsites and caravan parks during his travels.

Palmer estimates this year's trip to be around 3,200 miles round-trip.

Occasionally, he encounters minor car troubles during his travels. Two years ago he had trouble with the brakes due to a pin slipping out of the car's braking mechanism.

"This year I asked, 'Which one of us is going to break down first? Me or the car?' And it was me," Palmer said.

While lifting equipment included in his camper, he pulled a neck muscle. As a result, he spent seven extra days in Louisiana recovering.

Palmer enjoys coming to Rutherford County to visit the Genealogical Society of Old Tryon County to research his ancestry.

During his last trip to Rutherfordton, he discovered that his great-great-grandfather, Harvey Carrier, built the Carrier Houses circa 1835. The Carrier Houses are a bed and breakfast establishment in downtown Rutherfordton currently owned by innkeepers Dan and Lynn Hegeman.

"I've never stayed at the Carrier Houses and this time I thought, I'm going to spend a few nights in the houses my kinfolk built," Palmer said.

During this year's visit to Rutherfordton, Palmer is trying to locate the headstone of John Shepard Ford, his other great-great-grandfather.

Palmer has already located his great-great-grandfather Carrier's grave site in the city cemetery. He hopes to document Ford's headstone in his collection, just like he did with Carrier's.

"My purpose for doing this genealogical work is because I want to leave my five grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren a little bit about their family," Palmer said.

Palmer finds his past intriguing and, while he makes most of his cross-country trips solo, he does not mind because he enjoys the open road and treasures his discoveries.

"What I enjoy about driving and making these trips is the people I meet along the way," Palmer said. "And the Model-A Ford is always a conversation starter."

Last year while he was traveling he met a woman in Mt. Vernon, Ga. who helped him work on his classic car. It was Easter weekend and she generously invited Palmer to church and brought him to her family's Easter lunch.

Before Palmer set out on his trip this year, the same woman contacted him and asked if he would be traveling through the area and once again invited him to join her and her family on Easter.

"I enjoy the kindness of the people I meet everywhere," Palmer said. "And for the past seven years, I've encouraged and inspired others to drive their antique cars and camp along the way to their destinations."