Those Were the Days

Remembering automobiles before "cars"


| March/April 1977



Enterprising owner and automobile

Automobiles created quite a stir in the early 20th century. Here, the owner charged 2¢ for a spin around the block (which translates to about 45¢ today).

George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress)

My first recollections of automobiles (they were not called cars in those days) was when a few times in a summer, a daring, reckless young man would come chugging past our farm home in his noisy machine. My brother and I (being little boys and very curious) would drop whatever we were doing and run to the road to the machine and driver as they passed.

Automobiles were not enclosed in those days, but each one had a windshield. Generally the driver wore elbow-length gloves and goggles. He looked neither to the right nor to the left as he sped by, and how could he! A man speeding over the earth at speeds of nearly 15 miles an hour had better keep his eyes on the road!

Our farm was located four miles out of town, and to venture so far into the country in an automobile called for a man of considerable courage and grit. He never knew when starting whether the ride included a round trip or one-way. Many times it ended in humiliation when he was being pulled back to town by a farmer and a faithful team of horses, while the town loafers (who knew that the automobile would never be a success) laughed and jeered.

The auto driver was a man of dual status among all who knew him. To little boys like myself, and to many adults as well, he was held in high esteem because he was able to drive an automobile, much the same as present-day youth might look upon our astronauts. But to the staid citizenry, he was that crazy nut who went about scaring hores and killing chickens. 'He ought to be thrown into jail and kept there.'

No doubt the good folk of the community were thankful for the severe climate and short summers which allowed the reign of terror to last only a few short months. Of course no one, not even a crazy nut, would think of driving an automobile in cold weather. As a result, with the coming of the first frost the radiator was drained and the machine put upon blocks to await the coming of another summer.

As the years went by automobiles became more numerous, but were still driven only during the mid-weather months.