Model T’s And Roadsters
Memories Of Yesteryear: Editor’s note: Alexander W. Delk, 90, is a retired school teacher/administrator, who served 57 years in education. He is retired from the Illinois public schools and for the past 21 years has taught public speaking at Cleveland State Community College. He is a frequent speaker for local groups, Gideon’s International, the United Club and at his churches. He may be reached at 472-2664.
This entry takes a look at local transportation in rural communities back in the 1930s and somewhat before. How would you like to get around today in a Ford Model T (also known as a T-Model)? Or, its successor, the A-model?
The 1920s largely marked the transition from the horse-and-buggy local means of transportation to the automobile. By the end of that decade many farm people had made that transition. Yet, in the more rural areas the transition was much slower, perhaps by horse-drawn wagon instead of buggy, but nevertheless, horse-powered.
The automobile had been around for awhile by this time, but the transition to it had been slow. Prior to World War I, only the elite owned one of those “contraptions.” And, even into early 20s, many people did not have a “car.”
Today we are fascinated by the Amish, who still use the horse-drawn carriages for their transportation. Theirs is based on their religious beliefs and those who do not want to be dependent on the outside world for their subsistence.
The horse-and-buggy means of local transportation was very much around during the 1920s. The writer well remembers seeing these on the roads even in the area north of Nashville. An elderly aunt could often be seen in the carriage traveling up and down the road. Most people who used them in the 1920s were elderly people who were either afraid of the automobile or could not afford one.
As far back as I can remember, our family possessed a “T-Model” car. I never remember depending on a buggy for our transportation, though that was not too many years past. My grandfather, who was then in his early 60s, had bought a car and had learned to drive it. Of course, no one in the family other than him could be trusted to drive.
Let’s look at T-Model of the 1920s and early ’30s. Many people today have seen restored ones in antique auto shows. But few who look at these shiny restored ones have any idea of the limitations the old cars had when in regular use.
It was, of course, gasoline powered as are most cars today. The gas tank was connected, as today, by a tube or line to the motor. I assume that because of gravity, sometimes one could back up a hill successfully when it would not go up the hill forwards! Whatever gasoline pump the vehicle had, it must have been very weak.
There was no starter on the old T-Model. It was started with a crank, a device that when turned clockwise would ultimately start the car. Unfortunately, sometimes the crank would kick backward and occasionally break the arm of the fellow cranking it.
There were no glass windows in the T-Models, just open windows. That was fine in the summer, but not so fine when cold weather came along. Every fall it was a routine that it is “time to put the windows in the car.” The “windows” were made of a forerunner of plastic known as “ising-glass.” One could see through the ising-glass as one would through ordinary glass. The “windows” would be fastened in place with snaps and would continue there until spring. As I remember, the T-Model had a glass windshield in front, but no such thing as glass roll-up and down windows. These did not come along until sometime later.
There was no heater in the old T-Model. Open windows were fine in the summer, but when cold weather came, the old car could be cold, especially if one was traveling several miles in it. I well remember my grandmother heating bricks by the fireplace, wrapping them in cloth, and putting them in the car to keep our feet warm while we went somewhere.
Brakes were not always dependable, and on hills cars would sometimes “run away,” as the old folks called it. It was not too uncommon for someone to say something like this: “Uncle John’s car ran away with him coming down the hill and wrecked.” Meaning, of course, that his brakes had not held and he had lost control of it.
In the later 1920s a one-seated car came out known as a “Roadster.” I assume it was also made by Ford. I remember it as a sort of forerunner of a sports car. It had an enclosed front cab and behind it was a “rumble seat.” This closed down when not in use. It opened up and had a full open-air seat. To a little boy who had only ridden in a T-Model, it was a thrill to be allowed to ride with my uncle in his “Roadster.”
In 1928 my grandfather “splurged” and bought a new Chevrolet touring car. It was enclosed and had amenities that the old T-Model didn’t have. It had real glass windows, operated up and down by a handle on the inside of the door. As I remember, it boasted a starter — no more cranking it from the front. It had a “shift” for the gears, the old “H” pattern of up-left for reverse, down-left for first, up-right for second, and down-right for high gear, I don’t remember if it boasted of a heater or not. Were we ever in high class in that thing!
Early in the 1930s the A-Model, again built by Ford, came along. It was enclosed and boasted many of the qualities of the 1928 Chevrolet we owned. Pick-up trucks became popular around that time also.
The Great Depression hit in 1929 and continued through most of the 1930s. Most people could not afford a change of cars, so the old ones of the 1920s had to do for awhile. However, in 1937 my grandfather bought a new black Chevrolet. It was a good car and served the family for many years after that. That was the car I ever learned to drive — and that ONLY after my grandfather’s death in 1939. Prior that nobody drove has car but him. I suppose he was a good enough driver for that time. At least, he never had a wreck that I can remember.
During these years transportation for any great distance was either by bus or train. The old T-Model was all right for local travel, but not for several hundred miles. Almost every small town has a train depot or a bus station.
My parents were married in 1921. He was from South Georgia, some 500 miles away from where I was born and reared. He was there because of World War l injuries, which took his life the very next year (1922). After his marriage to my mother, they made a long train trip to South Georgia to see his family.
Then, in 1925, my mother took me by train to see the family in South Georgia. Most of what I remember about that trip was that we slept in a “Pullman sleeper car” on the train. I was only 3 years old, but was impressed that we could sleep while traveling.
I learned to drive a car after my grandfather’s death in 1939, but didn’t get my driver’s license till March 1941. My own first car was a 1939 Chevrolet, bought in 1943. Up until then I had driven the family car, which we later dubbed “Leaping’ Lena.” Where that epitaph came from, I do not know.
Talk about back seat drivers! It was an experience to drive with my grandmother as a passenger. She went in the car, but was about a nervous wreck when we got there. It was a constant, “Watch out for this. Watch out for that. Do you see that other car coming?” and on and on she would go. It’s a wonder I ever survived that sort of constant admonition!
I vividly remember one of Granny’s statements of maybe the early 1930s. “There ought to be a law against making a vehicle that would go more than 20 miles an hour.” Was that ever an opinion of yesteryear!
So much for transportation memories of the 1920s and the 1930s? How about going back to an old T-Model for getting you around today?