Classic travels

ttuell@sierrastar.comJuly 9, 2013 

David Woodworth should have been a junk collector — at least that's what the 74-year-old owner of Yosemite Model T Tours and the Tin Lizzie Inn says about himself.

David's passion for collecting unique, antique items is apparent in the bed and breakfast he and his wife, Sheran, built in Fish Camp. The finest details, from embossed door hinges to ornate toilet bowls, are throughout the inn.

"I like the ability to decorate the Victorian," Sheran said. "I do interior decorating as a hobby, and I like cooking and playing house. The inn allows me to do that and it also allows David to have fun while I work."

David's most popular collectibles are his cars. David and Sheran have been offering the public a bygone experience through their Model T tour company since 1999.

Before the Woodworth's bed and breakfast was built, David would deliver his Model Ts to tourists at Bass Lake. However, after a few years they decided to build the Victorian-style home that later became the Tin Lizzie Inn. David designed the home with a basement large enough to house all eight of his Model Ts and Model As.

"I just collect things, so I built everything around what I collect and like doing," David said.

After three years of construction, the inn was finally finished in 2006.

"We never planned to have a full bed and breakfast, just a place for guests to stay," David said.

However, their elaborate inn is almost always full of guests who are served a three-course breakfast on fine China.

"Our goal is to make this the nicest experience our guests have ever had," David said, adding that the reviews they receive confirm their efforts are paying off.

"That proves you can do something and be successful, even if you don't know what you're doing," David said, laughing.

Guests can choose from a number of packages that include room and board, activities, the opportunity to rent a Model A or Model T — even a massage at Tenaya Lodge can be fit into the package.

"We do it all inclusive — like a cruise on wheels," Sheran said.

All it takes to rent one of the cars — besides a credit card — is a driver's license and insurance. Also, drivers must be 21 years old — four years younger than is required by most car rental businesses.

Over all the years, David said they've had a clean driving record — not even a dented fender. He said the biggest problem they've encountered was a ruined engine, because most people are used to driving cars with high RPMs and these older cars run on low RPMs.

The cars are all originals and are running with all the car parts they were built with almost 100 years ago.

"We try to provide a unique experience no one else will provide, and I know no other place in the U.S. that rents original antique vehicles," David said.

The cars can also be rented for weddings, and David makes himself available to chauffeur brides and grooms wherever they want to go on their special day.

"Since we're really small, we can do that," David said. "We will give everything we can to make the experience good."

David bought his first Model A 47 years ago. Since then, he has driven it across the United States six times and also used it to participate in the Great American Race.

David said he unintentionally started collecting random things when he first got out of the military. He found a mousetrap he'd never seen before and was so intrigued by it that he bought it. Now his collection includes everything from unique apple peelers and toilet bowls to stained glass windows and muzzle guns. He also likes antique boats and at one time had the largest collection of antique recreational vehicles — 50 of them built between 1914 and 1937. He even provided displays of them for the Smithsonian, he said.

"I just like gadgets and am not smart enough to figure out new gadgets," he said. "If it's old I can probably figure it out, because it's simple enough to figure out."

An eighth grade graduate from San Luis Obispo, David decided to join the Coast Guard after seeing how easily they could attract girls. Since then, his professional career has included everything from Baptist preacher to national spokesperson for the RV industry.

However, what David enjoys most is meeting new people and his favorite topics of discussion are religion and politics. Being the owner off the Tin Lizzie Inn and his Model A touring company affords David the opportunity to meet a variety of people to talk to, learn about, and share ideas with.

Some of the people David has met includes Jimmy Carter's right hand woman for Habitat for Humanity and one of the 12 men that set up the World Bank. He even drove Maria Shriver and her two daughters around while she was on her California tour and later she also drove one of David's cars herself.

"The people that we have here have enriched my life immensely," David said. "If you take time to get to know people, they are different for different reasons. They all have a story to tell, but we're so superficial we don't take time to know their real story. The key thing in life, all our lives we try to fit in, but the interesting people are the ones that don't try."


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