2 millionth E-ZPass finds home on Gatsby-era car

Highway Administrator Frank DePaola (left) checked out Michael Barnes’s Model A Ford.
Highway Administrator Frank DePaola (left) checked out Michael Barnes’s Model A Ford.(Sara Lavoie/Department of Transportation)

Every cloud has a silver lining, as the saying goes, and sometimes, that silver lining comes in the form of an E-ZPass.

Earlier this year, state legislators voted to reinstate tolls between exits 1 and 6 on the Massachusetts Turnpike to shore up funding for the state's transportation system, and Michael Barnes, a 59-year-old resident of Westfield who seldom ventures east of Springfield, was none too pleased.

After years of holding out, he decided he would finally need to invest in an E-ZPass. Make that four E-ZPass transponders, one for each of the cars in his household. He trekked to Chicopee and dutifully waited in line to sign up for an account.


A month later, Barnes picked up the phone at his home. It was the Massachusetts Department of Transportation calling, and they wanted to congratulate him: He had purchased the state's 2 millionth E-ZPass transponder.

"At first, I was confused," Barnes said. "I thought: 'Is this a scam? What's going on?' "

To honor Barnes and his 2 millionth transponder, the department planned to deliver a gift basket with all kinds of goodies from companies that work with the transportation agency: $500 in gift cards to Dunkin' Donuts, D'Angelo, Papa Gino's, Boston Market, UV3 Sunglasses, McDonald's, and Gulf gas station, as well as a box of saltwater taffies.

The bag of goodies was a pleasant surprise for a motorist still smarting at the prospect of paying more tolls.

But Barnes had his own surprise for the transit agency: One of those four E-ZPass transponders would reside on his antique, fully restored 1929 Model A Ford, a car that looks as if it had arrived straight off the movie set of "The Great Gatsby."

Highway administrator Frank DePaola, who recounted the story Wednesday at the MassDOT board of directors meeting in Worcester, said he was delighted to learn that the agency's much touted gadget would live on such a historically significant piece of machinery.


"Even a 1929 Ford has a transponder," DePaola beamed. "He actually drives this car on the Turnpike!"

But when Barnes was contacted by phone, he corrected DePaola's assumption that his was the only 1929 Ford with an E-ZPass. Barnes is a member and committee chairman of the Western Massachusetts Model A Ford Restorers Club, and he knows that others in the club have also purchased transponders for their cars.

"I'm not the first," Barnes said. "But I'm one of the few."

Of course, the Model A is not exactly well equipped to handle speeds on the Mass. Pike. It can barely push 55 miles per hour, and the distance between Barnes's home and his restorers club meetings in Chicopee, the 10 or so miles from Exit 3 to Exit 5, is about as far as he feels comfortable traversing the Pike in the Ford.

Though he drives significantly more slowly than other cars in the highway's right-hand lane, Barnes said his outings always elicit smiles and waves from passersby in more modern vehicles.

And, he said, he is not worried about the plastic white transponder ruining the car's old-timey aesthetic.

"If you go to a show that's really nitpicky about judging, you just take it off," Barnes said.

Barnes also owns a 1969 Ford Mustang (Meadowlark Yellow in color), and that car now has an E-ZPass transponder, too.


"It's just a lot easier than stopping at the tollbooth, even if it's only four or five trips per month," Barnes said.

Martine Powers can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.