Everybody remembers those old cars!

June 17, 2014

J'ever notice? Sometimes you catch yourself saying something real "old". One cold morning I told Frances, "I think I'll go crank my pickup." They haven't made pickups that you had to crank since before I was born. I have, however, cranked a couple of welding machines and remember tractors that the grown folks cranked. All of this made me think of stories I have heard about cars "back when."
My daddy was a car person from way back. He was born in August of 1905 and was driving by the time he was about ten years old. It was kinda like the kids now that have "come up" and progressed with the computers. Sometimes when people were talking about cars Daddy would really laugh and say, "Well, I think they're here to stay." He said this because he had remembered when some people believed that automobiles were just a fad that would go away and everyone would be back to horses and buggies. He told a story that happened when he was about fourteen years old. A Mr. Bonner came to get him, someone took them to the train in Longworth, and they rode it to Hamlin. Mr. Bonner bought a new car and they were going to drive it back to Palava. Daddy said that during that time you just picked out a car, paid for it, and drive it off. There were no papers, registration or anything. When he was telling this he said, "It was just like when we bought that cultivator the other day--you just bought it and left with it." Daddy drove until they got about halfway to McCaulley, and then Mr. Bonner decided it was time he learned to drive. Daddy said that old man was holding the steering wheel so tight his knuckles were white!
As you know, cars today have manuals of about two hundred pages. I have to get mine out to set the clock and anything else. Back then, though, they had one piece of pasteboard that showed where to put the gas, oil, and water; how to start it, change a flat, and work the little lever (manually) that moved the windshield wiper. One day after Mr. Bonner got his car, Daddy looked up and saw him coming horseback. He said his car wouldn't start, that he couldn't turn the crank. It seems he had been looking at the card and had seen where to put in the oil, so he filled it up until it was running over and the engine didn't even have room to turn!
Most of the old car stories were about people trying to crank cars or fix flats. There were all sorts of off-the-wall ideas about how to get a car to crank. Daddy used to laugh about some company that advertised these big pills about the size of eggs. The car was supposed to crank real easy if you put one in the radiator before you started cranking on it. There were more stories of people having unChristianlike fits, getting down on the ground and cussing, throwing the crank out in the pasture, and beating the car with the crank. There were also theories that caught on, such as "Give the crank two quick jerks and then spin it three times," etc. Daddy's favorite was about a smart alec that drove up and stopped when he saw a man trying to crank his car while all his family sat in it waiting to go somewhere. This man was all worn out and out of patience and snuff, too, and then this smart alec said, "All you have to do is spin it until the water boils and then give it a couple of quick jerks," and then he drove off in his car that was already running. Sometimes folks got cranks chunked at them that way!
There were always lots of stories about cars having flats all the time. It was common to carry extra "casings" (tires, for those of you who don't know) and tubes as well as patching and air pumps (like bicycle pumps now). You could lift the car up with those jacks, but they wouldn't let down, so somebody had to push the car off. Mama said the talk of the county was when a man from Eskota left home in his car one morning, went to Roby and took care of some business, got back to Eskota before dark, and didn't have but three flats!
I heard another story about a family at Moody that was getting ready to go to town on Saturday afternoon. The girls were fixing their hair and telling the boys that even if it was hot they were going to leave the windows rolled up so their hair wouldn't blow. After the daddy of the family had listened to this for awhile, he walked down to the barn, took a cultivator footpiece, and beat the windows out of the car. Then he said, "The arguing is over." I guess it was! I was talking on the phone to a friend of mine, and he told me a similar story. He said this man came home from town with a brand new 1926 Model Ford. At supper that night the girls and boys were arguing about who was going to get to use the car first. The daddy got tired of listening, walked outside, shot the radiator full of holes with a shotgun and beat the motor with a sledgehammer. Then he came back into the house and said he didn't guess any of them would use the car that night. Some of those old men back then were DADDIES with all capital letters and weren't much given to lengthy speeches.
One more story--Daddy told of a man at Palava that was waiting for his family (probably girls) to get ready to go somewhere and got to thinking about how the brakes on his car had been squeaking. He got his squirt can of oil and gave them a good oiling. He didn't have to use his brakes all the way from Palava to Sweetwater, but when he got to town, he pulled into a parking place on the south side of the courthouse square, stepped on the brake pedal, and found out it didn't work! Both his front wheels ran right up into the horse trough!

Stan Johnson lives and works in Nolan County. Comments about this column can be emailed to editor@sweetwaterreporter.com.

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