May 9, 2021
Whole Number 31
TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF THE EARLY-DAY MOTORIST
by Oral A. Sparks from Clio, Iowa
In this day of modern equipment in our homes, time and labor-saving methods and machinery for our various avocations, improved thoroughfares and airlanes to accommodate today's increasing transportation and many other conveniences undreamed of fifty years ago, memory takes me back to that day when, as a young man, I, like many other young men of the present day, became possessed of a desire to own an automobile.
I studied the auto ads in our newspapers and other publications as this was the chief source of advertising at that time since radio was in its infancy and T.V. was unknown. After a thorough study of these ads I was able to name all the various makes on sight, including the Oldsmobile, Ford, Buick, Rambler, Maxwell, Columbia Electric, Stanley Steamer, Cadillac and many more.
My next; problem was how to get it. My parents were farmers of moderate means, and, under these circumstances, my chances for a car appeared rather slim indeed but, being their only child and with a more or less convincing attitude in my arguments, they finally, though reluctantly, consented to help me get the car; in fact, I think they later rather liked the idea.
The next step was the choice of a car. After a very careful consideration of many makes, models and prices, our final choice was a Maxwell model AB runabout, priced at $600.00 without windshield.
For the benefit of those interested in the specifications of this car, and to give you an idea of the problems and complications which might arise from a oar with such a make-up as this, I offer the following:
Motor: 2 horizontal opposed cylinders developing 16 h.p.
Carburetor: Standard float feed, single adjustment type.
Ignition: Double, battery for starting and magneto for running; Nonvibrating coil.
Oiling: Compression oiler on front of dash wider hood oils the engine automatically. Sight feed on dash in view of
Cooling: Honeycomb radiator, natural circulation, no pump.
Transmission: Planetary type, 2 forward, 1 reverse adjusted by setscrews extending through side of case.
Drive: 2 univ. joints, bevel gear to differential.
Frame: Pressed steel.
Control: Right-hand steering; foot throttle, also spark and throttle levers on steering post.
Wheels: 28 inch, wood, artillery type.
Tires: 28 x 3 inch standard clincher type, high pressure.
Wheel base: 86 inches, tread 56 inches.
Springs: Full elliptic in front and rear.
Breaks: Double-acting on rear hubs.
Body: Metal, runabout type, divided seat, open deck in rear with metal tool box.
Tank capacity: Gasoline, 10 gals. Water, 2½ gals. Oil, 2 qts.
Weight: About 1100 lbs.
Equipment: Magneto, soft top with side curtains, gas generator, gas head—lamps, 2 oil side lights, 1 oil tail light, horn
with tube and bulb, jack, tire pump, set of tools, tire repair kit.
Color: Red with black fenders.
How do these specifications compare with the modern cars of today? Who would consider driving a sixteen-horsepower, two-cylinder car in these times? I have a six-cylinder car made several years ago which sometimes gets down to five, but should it get down to two I fear something would have to be done, With left-hand drive I also suspect we would have more wrong-side-of-the-road drivers than we have now. Another problem would be how to dim our gas head-lights when we meet other cars.
Also, before making a night-time drive, it was necessary to check the head-light generator for carbide and water and the two side-lights and tail-light for kerosene; then, before starting, all must be lighted by match. It was also necessary to oil most places of friction by hand as there were very few automatically lubricated.
As for gasoline, I ordered my gas by the barrel from a distant oil distributing station which was shipped to me by freight as "filling stations" as we know them, were very few in those days. I had no windshield wiper as I had no windshield. In case of a "flat tire" I jacked up the car on the spot, wet or dry, snow or dust, and patched the tube, replaced it within the casing on the wheel as we then did not have demountable wheels nor even demountable rims; I next pumped it by hand pump to sixty lbs. pressure, replaced my tire-repair tools and material in the tool box and then proceeded "happily" on my way because the job was done and I was still physically able to go.
I only offer these facts in the hope that at least some of my readers will sympathize with me in those, my early days of motoring; and those who do not, well, they weren't friends of mine anyway.
After making the selection of the car best suited to our needs and circumstances, the next question: was I capable of driving and repairing an automobile? After due discussion of this with my parents, we decided that, since I had no experience in either of these activities, also, considering the unimproved road conditions plus the lack of auto mechanics at that time, I should learn something of them before buying a car. So, in November and December of 1909 I attended and completed a sixweeks course in automobile repair and driving. What I didn't know was that there was a lot they didn't tell me that I found out later.
Now that the Automobile "Education" was completed, the tuition paid and my diploma in my possession, I was now ready for the car, or, at least I thought I was.
In March of 1910 I ordered the above-described Maxwell Runabout from The Hayes Auto Co. of Corydon, Iowa, who were just starting their auto business in that city, and which I believe was the first car they sold. I ordered my car license directly from the Secretary of State at Des Moines, Iowa. I still have the receipt dated April 7, 1910, for the $5.00 fee which, at the time, was considered good for as long as I owned the car, and signed by W. C. Hayward, then Sec'y. of State, giving me the number 14528-IA. I had to furnish my own plate which I had a harness-maker make for me, from a slab of thick leather, with this number riveted to it, which I hung on the rear of the car. However, this ruling was changed before the next year, and I have been buying a new car license each year since that time.
My first tribulation came the day I bought it as I drove it home from Corydon; I met a man driving a team of horses hitched to a buggy. I stopped, and as he passed the car the team became frightened and ran away. This experience cost me the price of a buggy tongue but, since neither man nor team was hurt, I felt that we both were fortunate that we came out of it as well as we did.
In my ten years of driving this car, I had many other experiences both comical and serious. Many times during the spring thaws I became stuck in the mud ruts which were common and frequently quite deep from the team and buggy or wagon travel which was the chief source of transportation over the country roads at that time.
Another problem was in meeting or passing folks with restive teams. The automobile laws of that day required the driver of a car, upon meeting a team of this nature, to stop, offer assistance to the driver of such team or otherwise help him to get by. Some teams did not mind while others caused considerable trouble in passing and sometimes the drivers were more excited than the teams.
I remember one instance in which I came over a rise at a railroad crossing and met three ladies with a team and wagon; they were quite some distance away when they first saw the car; two of them jumped out of the wagon and the third, the driver, held the team. One of the two opened a field gate nearby and the driver drove the team and wagon some distance into the field and one hastened down the road toward where I had stopped the car after crossing the railroad. She very agreeably accepted my invitation to ride back to where the others were while they displayed considerable annoyance at her acceptance of the ride, but I believe either of them would have done the same as most folks who did not have a car in those days seemed to enjoy their first ride in one.
Another instance took place at a Fourth-of-July celebration at a neighboring town. As I drove into town at possibly fifteen miles per hour and neared the place where the folks were assembled for the occasion, the town marshall mounted my runningboard and directed me to a parking place, instructing me to "drive carefully." I think even he enjoyed the ride.
I might mention many more such experiences but, fearing they might make my story too long, I will allow your imagination to furnish the rest which, in many instances, perhaps, would be correct.
They also had strange styles and customs then as in the present day. For example, a chauffeur's cap and a lady's broad- brimmed hat tied down with a veil were considered necessary "head-gear" for' such "fast" driving or riding. Also, goggles were needed, especially in the absence of a windshield, as a protection for the eyes from wind and insects at the "terrific!' pace of twenty miles per hour which was the speed limit at that time. A duster and a heavy laprobe proved quite beneficial in an open car without a heater as pagesion for the clothing in the summer and for comfort in the winter, respectively.
Another problem of those days was the condition of our roads as very little work was done for road-improvement since, presumably, horse-drawn vehicles did not require such; but, as more autos came into use the need for better roads increased.
The first road improvement was done by farmers with nome made road drags pulled by two or four horses over their respective roads, which proved quite effective, and later some counties furnished drags for farmers who would do the work. This led to more road grading and surfacing and finally to the excellent road system which we now have; but in those early days of motoring the unimproved roads were quite a problem because of the dust in summer, the snows in winter and, worst of all, the mud in spring as the soft ground created deep ruts from wagon and buggy travel which, when filled with water or sticky mud, could and did produce a real car-trap which, in many cases, required the assistance of a team of horses to free the car from the mire.
Those days which we remember so vividly are past and gone, but, in spite of all these handicaps and many discouragements which we experienced at that time, our "Early Motoring" also had its pleasures and satisfaction, and, with. the passing of time and the increasing number of improved cars and better road and driving conditions, we, as "Early Drivers" can now look back into those days as pioneers in the Motoring Profession.