A Publication of WTVP

The incredible cross-country journeys of a group of young women from small-town America…

In 1934, a young Bradford, Illinois resident received the gift of a lifetime from her father: a six-year-old 1926 Ford Model T automobile. That summer, Darlene Dorgan set its wheels in motion, planning a trek to Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin with several girlfriends. It was the first of eight summer road trips that would take this group of rural Illinois girls—known as the Gypsy Coeds—through 44 states, as well as Canada and Mexico.

Most Model T’s were black, but not this one. Aptly dubbed the Silver Streak, the car received a silver paint job and custom hand-painted red signage, known as “Lizzie labeling,” on its doors, fenders and hood—annual updates signaling the scenes for the girls’ next adventures. Forging unlikely friendships along the way, the twenty-somethings met movie stars, business moguls, dignitaries and even Henry Ford himself—with whom they developed a lasting relationship.

After World War II, the old Ford sat in storage near the Dorgan homestead in Bradford until 1982, when the Gypsy Coeds reunited to drive it in a Bradford parade. But shortly thereafter, the car disappeared. After an extensive search, the Silver Streak was tracked down in 2011 by John Butte, son of one of the Gypsy Coeds, who purchased and returned it to central Illinois.

The Model T, which still runs, is part of the Gypsy Coeds Ride the Silver Streak exhibition, on display at the Peoria Riverfront Museum through mid-January. a&s