It must have been between 1910 and 1912 when we got our first car. It was during the summer an my father had taken me to Cecil where I was supposed to work around the elevator. However I did more playing than working and was practicing throwing stones with my left arm in the drive in front of the office when my father came out and announced that the man who came from Antwerp for a conference had bought a new model automobile and had made him a gift of his old one. A few days later he went to Antwerp on the train and drove it back to Paulding. He had never driven a care before but I presume his collegue [sic] had give him a few lessons before he started home. Anyway he arrived without mishap.
I don't remember what make of car it was but it was already out of date. It had no windshield, bumpers or top, and seats for only the driver and one passenger sitting beside him. The engine was underneath and the steering wheel came straight up (vertically) out of the floor. My dad had been taking the morning train to go to his business in Cecil every day but after he got the car he decided to drive. The next morning I got into the driver's seat while he started the car and as soon as he sat down next to me I put the car in gear and started for Cecil. He raised no objections. I had learned to steer with my pedal powered car and the gas, spark and brake were simple to operate. There were only two forward speeds, a pedal for first and a hand lever at the side of the car for high. Driver's licenses hadn't yet been thought of.
We didn't own or first car more than a year or two. The second was a small red Maxwell runabout with two cylinders one of which was cracked so you could hear it a mile away. It ran well tho, most of the time. The timer, or commutator, moved back and forth on a pivot and the wire connected to it would periodically break off due to the constant movement. When the engine stopped we knew at once what was wrong. All we had to do was strip a little more of the insulation off the wire and reconnect it and were on our way. The Maxwell had electric lights which were powered by the magneto so that the faster the engine ran, the brighter the lights were. Conversely if you hit a bad road in the dark, in a rain storm for example, and had to crawl along from one mud hole to the next, you could hardly see at all. Like most cars of the time the Maxwell had a collapsible top like the buggies of that day. We only put the top up if it started to rain. If it looked like a very bad storm you added side curtains. The windshield was vertical and divided into two parts, the top part swiveling so you could get a good breeze in your face if you were driving on a hot day.
By the time we owned our Maxwell there were three garages in Paulding which sold and repaired automobiles. Before that you made your own repairs or got a friend who was technically minded to do it for you. Blacksmiths naturally gravitated from shoeing horses and fixing carts, buggies and wagons to repairing cars, as they had the necessary tools, or many of them. I often stopped in at Bybee's garage a couple of blocks north of our house on Willis street, on my way home from school in the afternoon to watch and help the mechanics. I had to be careful about getting grease on my school clothes, however. Hand operated gasoline pumps with counters to measure the number of gallons dispensed began to appear at curbside in front of garages and other places and compressed air was provided for tires.
Our third car was a hulking, big two-seater, with a standard gear shift, three speeds forward and a reverse. The body was metal instead of wood, as the first two had been. It was black but there was a big rusty spot in the middle of the back where the paint had been knocked off. When I found out my dad had traded in the Maxwell at Bybee's garage I went down to ask Earl Bybee if I could take it out. I had never driven a car with a standard shift and almost ran over the curb as I was trying to turn around but after a couple of turns back and forth thru town, it felt quite natural.
Last modified on 19 May 2009 @ 21:48