Viewing PreferencesViewing Preferences

Albert Maywood Courtright II

Reminiscences of Maywood Courtright

The First Motor Cars

Before we ever saw a real automobile Raymond and I and the two Neeley boys caused a runaway riding in the yellow two-seater which my dad had bought in 1903. Cordon and I were squeezed into the front seat with Raymond and Arthur in the rear when we passed a team of horses tied to a post. With four of us operating the pedals we were going at a good clip along Jackson Street, rattling and clanking over the pavement. The horses suddenly reared up and broke the strap which tied them to the post then took off at a gallop down the street with the wagon behind them. Someone caught them a block away at the post office.

One of the principal problems a driver of one of the newfangled motor cars had to contend with was how to get by a horse drawn vehicle when he met one on the road, especially if his car had only one or two cylinders, and probably no muffler. The sight and sound of such a contraption moving toward it would scare a horse out of its wits and all it wanted to do was get out of there. If the car driver were courteous he would stop his car before he reached the horse and wait for the driver to get our of his buggy or wagon, go to the horses head and get hold of the bit, then lead the horse slowly past the car. A reckless car driver, however, who tried to drive right on without stopping was likely to cause a runaway, with the driver of the horse sawing on the reins and searing at the motorist, doing his best to regain control of his animal. The automobile was not very popular with the farmers around Paulding when it first appeared.

I must have been in the first or second grade when I saw my first car. It was parked in front of Burgner's clothing store across from the National Bank as I was on my way home from school and was surrounded by a crowd of men and boys looking it over. It had two seats in front and three in the rear, the middle one being the door to enter from the back. The engine was under the front seat so there was no good, just a dashboard like a buggy. The body was made of wood and was lacquered a bright green. I don't believe it had a windshield, few of the first cars had them as they couldn't go fast enough to make them necessary. I found out later that the car belonged to Charlie Burgner. He never did learn to drive it; always got a friend of his to take him where he wanted to go.

I had my first ride in the car when Floyd Donart, who had married Rose Straw, Uncle Will's daughter, bought an Oldsmobile runabout and came by Grandma Bashore's to show it off. I happened to be there so he took me for a ride too, over to Uncle Will's and back. The Oldsmobile runabout had a curved dash and, instead of a steering wheel there was a curved handle coming up from the floor which the driver pushed sideways in the opposite direction from which he wanted to turn. The driver sat on the right. Most of the first cars had the driver on the right, if I remember correctly. Three levers on the side of the car by the driver's right hand controlled the gasoline, spark and high gear. The bulb horn was fastened to the steering handle. Squeezing the bulb was the only was of sounding a warning until the hand operated klaxon was invented. It was some years before the electric horn was invented. The back seat of the Oldsmobile faced backwards and that is where I rode. I was cautioned to be careful and not fall off. There was nothing to prevent it except a small iron armrest.

The president of the Paulding National Bank, John Mohr, lived across the street when we lived in the Lowenthaw house on north Cherry street and his son Russell, who was in high school at the time, had charge of keeping their car, a Rambler two-seater, clean and in good working order. Tho Russell was considerably older than I, we played together a lot, mostly in our yard which was bigger and if Russell had to take the car out for any reason he would take me along. There were no gasoline stations yet. The livery stable on west Perry Street was one place where Russell would go to fill the gas tank which was under the left front seat, the steering wheel being on the right. The gasoline was kept in an ordinary steel drum set on end with a hand pump attached to the top. Filling the gas tank was not as simple as it is today. I had to take my seat cushion off and unscrew the cap then put a funnel in the opening and cover it with a chamois skin. Russell would pump a gallon of gas into a gallon measuring can and bring it over them pour it slowly thru the chamois to remove the water and dirt. It was hard enough to keep the motor running without having to contend with tater and dirt in the gasoline. The same procedure had to be followed, of course, for each gallon so it was a slow process.

There was no compressed air to be had anywhere so everyone had to pump up his own tires with a pump which was furnished as part of the equipment along with a set of tools which were usually kept in a tool box fastened to the running board. It was hard work as the pressure was 60 lbs instead of the 28 to 30 common today and had had to be done often. You could rarely drive more than 10 or 15 miles without picking up a horseshoe nail or having a blowout. The science of building automobile tires was in its infancy and there were very few paved roads, none around Paulding. We did have three or four bricked streets. If a tire went flat for any reason you had to get out the tire tools and take the tire off the rim, put a patch on the inner tube, put it back in the casing and remount the whole thing on the rim - it wasn't easy - then get busy with the tire pump. That was one reason Russell liked to have me along when he went anywhere in the car.

The first cars I remember had a box fastened to the dashboard in front of the driver and containing several dry batteries. The batteries furnished the spark in the cylinder, or cylinders, if there were more than one, when cranking the motor. After the engine got going the magneto took over. The Rambler, like most early cars, had the motor under the front seat, crosswise, a hole in the side of the car allowing you to insert the crank into the end of the crankshaft to start the engine. A wire came thru another hole and was connected to the carburetor so you could flood (or choke) the engine. If you didn't choke it before cranking it wouldn't start. Another think very necessary before trying to crank the engine was to set back (retard) the spark by means of a small lever placed next to the lever which controlled the fuel (the accelerator). It wasn't till later that the accelerator was placed on the floor and controlled by pressure of the foot. If you forgot to retard the spark the engine would kick backwards and the crank could break your arm or you let. One bad bang on the shin was enough to teach me to get away from the swing of the crank when I tried to start the car.

The minute the engine started you had to work fast to keep it going. You pushed back the choke wire, then jumped for the spark lever to set it ahead and finally adjusted the gas lever. Both levers were held in the position they were set by notches. After the motor was removed from under the car and placed at the front of the car under the hood, the crank, of course, was at the front, below the radiator and was left in place instead of being removed and usually thrown on the floor near the driver's seat. It was a longer jump to get from the crank to the spark lever after the engine was started. Often the motor died before you could make it.

Headlights and taillights were not very important on cars in the beginning as no one drove at night. A kerosene lamp like those used on horse drawn carriages was sufficient if you were caught out on the road at dark. There was practically no traffic. The first headlights developed especially for automobiles were carbide lamps. Lumps of carbide kept in a container on the running board next to the tool box threw off a pungent smelling gas which was piped to the headlights when water was allowed to drip on them from a small tank. To light your headlights you had to stop your car at the side of the road, turn a key on the tank so the water would drip on the carbide, then go to the front of the car and open the front of the headlights and light the gas with a match. Carbide lights gave a bright white light much superior to the former kerosene lamps. There were better than the electric lamps which followed but, of course, more inconvenient. Kerosene lamps continued to be used for the taillights until electric lamps were adapted for automobiles. Headlights and all trim were brass, tho there was some nickel plating, and required a lot of polishing to keep it shiny. Chrome plating came later.

Table of Contents
Religious Revivals
Our First Cars

Last modified on 14 June 2009 @ 10:09