COBWEB CORNERS: Driving a car 100 years ago

By Mel McFarland

       A hundred years ago, the big new thing in cars was Ford's Model T. It brought all sorts of changes to the “autoist,” which was a common term back then. Cars first appeared around here in the early 1900s. I have done a few columns about those, but this time we will do something different. We'll take a driving trip together.
       First thing we have to do is fill the radiator. Antifreeze is unknown, so cars must be drained if there is a chance of freezing. A motor cannot always be replaced. Most cars are kept indoors, in barns mainly, since a garage is unheard of. If it's cold, you might even have a hot stove near your car and a kettle going with hot water for the radiator. This helps warm up the motor, even in the summer. To start the motor we have to set a spark handle on the steering column, take it out of gear and put a handle into a hole in front of the motor. With the handle, we try to turn the motor and hope the gas and the spark plugs will get us going. If they do, we have to quickly get to the driver's seat to adjust the spark and the gas. No starter means no battery, and very few electrical items. Electric lights will come later!
       The early cars do not have doors. They'll arrive about the same time as starters! The early Model T's only have a false driver's door. The driver gets in on the passenger's side or jumps over the side of the car! There are three pedals: a clutch, low gear and high gear. No stick-shift transmission yet. What about other features, such as windshields or wipers? On those that have them the wiper is hand-operated, often by a passenger, because the driver is busy driving!
       No defrosters, or even heaters. Some cars have horns, and the original lights run on gas. Brakes are unpredictable, if a car even has them. Each car comes with tools, and we always bring spare parts. A big problem is gas! There are no stations. We buy gas in a can at the general store or blacksmith shop! Also to come later: keys, license plates and driver's licenses.