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Welcome to the home of the Gypsy Coeds of Bradford, Illinois, and their famous Model T, the Silver Streak! It is a timeless and amazing story of friendship, coming of age, and life in the 1930′s and early 40’s in small town America as a group of young women venture out into the world in a series of summer vacations by automobile.
Bill and Daisy Dorgan ran the popular Dorgan’s Confectionery, a landmark establishment on Main Street, in Bradford, until it was destroyed by fire in 1974. Legend has it that Bill bought a six year old 1926 Model T touring car for his daughter Darlene in 1932. She would organize a summer vacation and invited several girl friends to join her on a trek to Devils Lake Wisconsin in 1934. Seven more summer trips in the years 1936-1942 that would take these “twenty-something” year old girls through 44 states, Canada, and Mexico. In all, 20 different gals would travel in that 1926 Model T from 1934 through 1942. The car was nicknamed, “The Silver Streak”. Most of the girls were from the community of Bradford, Illinois, or the surrounding farming area. In the early years of their travels, they were called The Bradford Model T Girls. Later the name “Gypsy Coeds” is a name they gave themselves, and it seemed to fit them well. Darlene was the only voyager on all of 8 trips. Her sister Verna traveled on 2 trips and sister Margie joined Darlene on 6 trips. Some friends went on multiple trips and some only on a single adventure.
While you might think all Model T’s were black, the Silver Streak definitely was not! Darlene had painted it silver, and on each trip, hand painted signage, “Lizzie Labeling,” adorned the hood, fenders, and doors telling the story of where the car and the gals had traveled or would be traveling. And oh the trips that car made! Bradford, Illinois, to Devils Lake Wisconsin at 35 mph was nothing! Following trips would include Toronto and Montreal Canada, Niagara Falls, Detroit, New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Atlanta, Norfolk, Washington D.C., and Mexico. Along the way the girls and the Silver Streak would make the acquaintance of movies stars and moguls, dignitaries and corporates leaders. There was a special enduring relationship that developed between the girls and Henry Ford, who met with them more than once.
Like an old toy that ends up in the attic, the Silver Streak all but disappeared as the Gypsy Coeds married and moved on with their lives during and after, World War II. The car sat in storage beside a garage at the Dorgan homestead in Bradford for many years. There was a strong kindred spirit among the girls and an equally strong love for the old car that carried them on their road adventures. The girls kept in touch and gathered for 3 reunions over the years. It is known that the Silver Streak came out of “mothballs” for a Parade in Bradford, in 1982, when the gals held their last reunion. With the passage of time, most future meetings of the coeds found them together honoring the passage of one of their own, biding farewell to a dear friend.
The Silver Streak would make its way from Bradford to Portland, Oregon, staying in the hands of descendants of the Dorgan family that had owned it since 1932. In 2011, after several months of searching, the Silver Streak was tracked down and in early 2012 was purchased by John Butte and his wife Carmen and returned to central Illinois. John’s aunt (Eleanor Butte) went on trips in 1936 & 1937 and mother (Regina Fennell Butte) went on the 1939 trip. Remarkably, the Silver Streak exterior has never been restored and looks very much like it did after its last trip. Equally remarkable….it still runs!
The Silver Streak and the legend of the Gypsy Coed’s lives on in Central Illinois! And, you must see and read the wonderful connections that have been made since the car returned to its home in 2012. The Gypsy Coeds ride again, and the legend continues!
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