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Silver Streak to be on display at historic Knox County Courthouse, Sunday, May 7

May 6, 2017


Knox County Historical Sites, Inc. to sponsor Gypsy Coed Presentation, book signing and historic car exhibit

“Illinois Girls Like Jalopy Jaunt” read the headline of the Saturday July 13, 1940 Oklahoma City Times newspaper. “Fifth Annual Argosy Takes Venturesome Quintet to Pacific Fair (They Hope)”, it continued. The California trip would be the most ambitious yet for the fiercely independent girls who called themselves Gypsy Coeds and traveled in an old Tin Lizzie. One of those Illinois girls was actually from Knoxville, Illinois, and the faithful old Tin Lizzie was a 1926 Model T Ford the girls affectionately called “Silver Streak”. Author John Butte will make a presentation about the Gypsy Coeds, conduct a book signing and have the Silver Streak on public display May 7 at the Old Historic Knox Courthouse, 33 Public Square in Knoxville. The car has never been restored.

   The story of the Bradford Model T Girls (or Gypsy Coeds as they were more famously known) had all but slipped into obscurity in 2011, when author John Butte began an emotional search for the 1926 Model T. It had carried these single girls mostly from the farming community of Bradford, Illinois on summer vacations filled with hilarity and adventure for nine consecutive summers from 1934 thru 1942. The passing of his mother, who was one of these Gypsy Coeds, stirred a fervent desire within him to know what had happened to that old car, often referred to as a “fugitive from a junk heap!” The trail had gone cold. The car had not been seen around Bradford since the 1980’s. Not only would John find the car, buy it and return it to Central Illinois in 2012, over the next three years he would research and knit together the wonderful story of the 9 historic trips and the sisterhood of girls who went on those trips. In 2015, he published the book, Darlene’s Silver Streak and The Bradford Model T Girls.

While the “Silver Streak” is a key part of the story, it is much more the inspiring story of the antics and adventures of the group of gutsy single girls who traveled in the Silver Streak on all those trips. Darlene Dorgan, a “twenty something” beautician from Bradford owned the car and began organizing summer vacations at a time when young single women usually didn’t venture out on such camping trips. Their travels would become legendary as they crisscrossed the continent from New York to California and Mexico to Canada searching for adventure and seemingly finding it at every turn. Their Depression era travels included sleeping in country schoolyards, churchyards, and jails by night, and by day meeting celebrities, movie stars, and even Henry Ford…twice!

John Butte and his wife Carmen will be bringing the Silver Streak, a true piece of Americana to Knoxville as a tribute to one of those Gypsy Coeds who actually hailed from Knox County! Her name was Patricia Moffett, and she grew up in Knoxville, married Maury Bjorling and spent her adult life in rural Gilson. Patricia, now deceased, was a Gypsy Coed on that 1940 trip to California. Many in the area will recall her exquisite quilts, several of which were displayed over the years at the Knox County Courthouse.

The Silver Streak will be on display in front of the courthouse starting at 3:00 pm Sunday, May 7. The presentation will start at 4:00 pm in the Henry Knox Room with the book signing immediately following. This program is being sponsored by the Knox County Historical Sites, Inc.

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