Boyhood Memories

A cart load of manure

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290 Appletree Drive, Media, Pa. 19063

The earliest recollection that I have of an automobile is that of playing in my Dad's 1925 Ford touring as it was parked under the big oak tree in the back yard down in Virginia. Dad was a farmer, and cared nothing for cars except to get around in, thus the state of the car was usually deplorable. I was about four years old and this perhaps launched me on a life long love of cars. At any rate, that Model T was finally replaced in 1929 by a Chevrolet Sedan, the new six cylinder model, and my mother learned to drive that, as she had never quite felt up to the rattle-trip 'T'. Dad promptly took to the fields and rutted roads of back woods Virginia with the new Chevrolet much to Mother's dismay and so the Chevrolet began to deteriorate also. He let the water get low on a trip to South Carolina which warped the head, necessitating a double gasket.

Along about 1933 came one of those unforseen and unsolicited blessings which occasionally befall us. It took the form of a 1926 Model T Roadster which had been neatly converted to a cute pick-up truck. It was an outright gift to Dad from a contractor friend who had graduated to a Model A, and it was in good running order, but needed a new battery and a couple of rear tires. But Dad, in the urgency of farm work, merely put it in the barn; and only at Mother's insistence because of the rapidly deteriorating Chevrolet, did he finally agree to fixing it to use for his running around. Sears duly furnished tires and battery by mail and this began my closest and longest Model T affection.

I was now about ten years old and already was getting greasy tinkering with the tractor and the three old horizontal farm engines used to drive a wood saw, water pump, and corn sheller. (But that's another story.) Naturally I took the 'T' pick-up on as my personal maintenance responsibility even though I could not yet drive it. I really loved it and kept it in peak of tune (or so I thought) mainly cleaning spark plugs, adjusting vibrators and seeing the oil and water were adequate, which Dad never gave a thought until the bearings rattled. I spent many happy hours with him in this truck every where on the farm and many times riding on the fender with a full load of crated strawberries and a crate on the seat beside him on the way to the strawberry auction in town.

Dad was rough on cars and the brake band went quickly, then the reverse began to be the brake, so relining the transmission bands was a too frequent job, as the rivets scored the drums before he got around to having them relined and then lining life was even shorter. I remember one occasion when Dad was having linings put in at the local garage. I was as usual getting a finger in it too. A big easy going Negro named Percy had put the bands in and gotten the nuts started against the springs. He now applied a special Ford rachet wrench made for tightening band nuts. The wrench was reversed by just turning it over. As Percy was tightening away, I came up and peered in a minute then shouted in boyish know-it-all; 'Hey Percy, you have the wrench on backwards and it is loosening the nut and it will fly off and fall in the case.' Percy glanced down, apparently agreed, and turned the wrench over. He pumped away at it a minute, then 'bang' the nut flew off and fell in the case, where it was unretrievable except by taking the whole sump casing off. I was the laughing stock and felt the size of a dime. In the urgency of Dad's need, he agreed to risk it and took the truck home. But after a couple of day's use the flywheel magnets had grabbed the nut and the transmission was a tangle of copper wire torn off the field coils. Another engine was picked up and put in.

The band wear problem, however, was finally licked by my persuading Dad to let me try an idea another old Negro mechanic told me about. He said that when the woven linings won't last on scored drums, just soak a white oak barrel hoop in water a couple of days until it can be curved inside the band, riveted and trimmed. This I did for low gear and brake. They took a while to seat in, but never did wear out again.

A couple of years later I was allowed to drive the truck myself on the farm and to town. I used to take it for a run on Sunday afternoons. Dad kept it in the barn with the tractor. One Sunday during the winter I went to take it out and found the gas low. The barn was dark and I thought I would put some gas in it before opening the door. Dad had two five gallon cans he took to the field with him for the tractor. One held gas, the other water. Both were sitting near the tractor and I was sure I knew which had the gas in it, so I just poured it in. The Ford started and ran for a minute or so, then quit. I tinkered a little, but it was cold and dark so I soon gave up and went to the house. Things were pretty wild next morning when Dad went to carry the men to the field and the carburetor had to be drained of water every 50 yards. The Ford finally refused altogether at the top of the hill and it took two days to get it reliable again.

Then there was the time that Dad's regular Negro help from Georgia came up, as they did each strawberry season, staying through tomatoes in the fall, and some came in a 1933 straight eight Buick. The Negro man who owned the car seemed a fair mechanic. The car shortly quit on one cylinder. He took it apart in our yard and found a wrist pin had scored clear through a cylinder wall. He promptly removed that piston and rod, trimmed a stove bolt, washer and gasket through the hole in the wall and ran the rest of the season on seven cylinders. This impressed me, and I took him into my confidence on a Sunday afternoon ring and valve job on the 'T', which I had secretly been wanting to spring on Dad for a while. He readily agreed to help and I got the parts. All went well in spite of Dad's skepticism until we tried to start the Ford again. It could not be cranked over except with much difficulty. My help assured me this was to be expected with new rings and it needed a tow. This we did for miles and miles with our 1934 Terra-plane, the Chevrolet having long departed. No luck, the Ford would only run as long as we towed it. Needless to say, the next morning was the most uncomfortable for me, as the 'T' was towed to the local garage to do the job right. From this I learned that piston rings must be fitted at the bottom of the cylinder in worn engines.

A few years later, about 1939, when I was at a more responsible age Dad gave me the T truck (how is that for persistence?) as my first vehicle. He had gotten a 1937 Chevrolet pickup truck. I used the Model T for general razzing around for about a year, then sold it for $20 to another boy who was trying his hand at farming. Some months later I became half owner of a 1927 Model T coupe. My sister and I gave this a coat of bright orange paint. I sold out my interest shortly, as the war was on and that one consistently burned out number 3 rod bearing due to transmission hand particles stopping up the oil line. (I didn't know about that either.)

Speaking about tractors, Dad had a monstrous International Harvester when I was small and its awful noise scared me. Later, however, he borrowed money, unknown to my Mother, and secretly bought a new Farmall. He had it for a month or two at grandmother's farm, but the first we knew of it was one day when the workmen came and told us excitedly that the 'boss' had turned the new tractor over in a ditch and burned it up. Actually, he had plowed too close to a deep ditch and the wet land had given way. He jumped free as it rolled over in the ditch and burned up. That cost Dad half the new price to repair and it was never right. Even at that it was less expensive than horse swapping, the favorite winter month pastime of the farmers at the local mule barn. Invariably Dad would get talked into swapping a good work horse for a younger, but hardly broken to the wagon, western bronco. I remember seeing him build a fire under the belly of more than one which had balked with a cart load of manure part way up the hill to the field. But that's enough reminiscing for now.

Remember seeing him build a fire under the belly of more than one which had balked with a cart load of manure part way up the hill to the field. But that's enough reminiscing for now.