by Joe McCarter (In His Father's Voice)

The first cars begin showin' up not too long after the turn of the century. Just a very few at first, but as each year went by there was a few more of 'em and, though I never cared much about 'em, a lotta people did and it wasn't long before they begin makin' a big difference in how folks got around and lived in general. Funny how what was nothin' but a goddamned contraption and more trouble than a hot blood stud horse could turn into a necessity in twenty years.

The horse was still the most reliable and, if you figgered in all the trouble you could sometimes have makin' the car run, sometimes faster. But folks figgered the horses was old fashioned and outta style and ownin' a car was the thing to do.

After they begin gettin' fairly common most of what you'd see was Model T Fords. After we come back from Montana I even bought one of the damn things, although it was a used one.

A lotta folks just fell in love with the Ford and seemed like those that liked 'em could most always get 'em to run. There was tricks you learned that made startin' 'em easier and, of course, those fellers who liked them learned quick and picked up all the tricks.

The average Ford could be a little touchy to get goin'. To start with you had to set two levers under the steerin' wheel just right. The one on the right was the throttle and the other was the spark advance. If you got the spark set too fast, the crank could fly back and break your wrist.

Then there was the choke. It was a wire with a loop in it that stuck out by the radiator where you did the cranking and it had to be set just so. The crank, as I just said, could be dangerous. You had to hold your thumb just right or it'd get tore off if it kicked. Generally the faster you could turn it over the more apt it was to start, and I'll say there was a helluva lot more pleasant things to do on a hot summer day than spin a Model T Ford's crank. Course, later all cars and had self-starters, but for years you cranked 'em.

If you got ever'thing adjusted just right, they'd usually start in warm weather, but when it was cold it was a different matter. Ever'body had a different set of tricks for cold weather startin'. Some would take the tea kettle and pour hot water on the manifold. Others would store the damn coils (there were four of 'em) overnight in the warming closets of their stoves. Others would talk about jackin' up one hind wheel which was s'posed to make 'em a little easier to crank. I usually just harnessed a team and led it around 'til it started. Then it was six-to-one and a half-a-dozen to the other as to which rig was best to take to town. The team mighta been slower, but you knew you'd get there and back.

It wasn't too hard gettin' the car movin' once the engine was cranked. You just had to push down on a pedal with your left foot. This put the car in low gear. You held it down 'til you were goin' pretty good, then you set the hand brake a little and let the pedal come clear back and you were in high. If the road was dry and good, you could spin along easy in high, but if there was snow or mud you'd have to go to low. Holdin' that damn pedal down for miles could get pretty tiresome.

An old neighbor of ours bought his first Ford, and I seen 'im a week or two later and asked how he was gettin' along with it. He said he guessed all right, but it seemed to him that a feller smart as Henry Ford was s'posed to be coulda figgered somethin' so you didn't need to hold your foot on that damn pedal all the time. He'd never had it in high.

Hell, I'd have to say though, that once you got the damn things started and headed down the road on a nice summer day, they were kinda fun. Even the best of buggy teams was left in the dust.

As I said, some folks took right to drivin' a car like it was natural and they'd done it forever, but most of us who'd drove teams all our lives had some trouble. You stopped a team by sayin' whoa. If you needed to stop quick you yelled Ho! and pulled back on the lines. This was so natural to most of us that any other way to stop was hard to think of. Pullin' back on the steering wheel and yellin' whoa didn't work worth a damn on a car, but that didn't keep a lotta us from doin' just that. There was times I'd goddamn near pulled that wheel out by the roots.

Corners could be hard to get around too. The T didn't have a speedometer and it wasn't easy to see that you were goin' faster than what you could to make the turn. In the T you had to push up on the throttle and put on the brake with your right foot all at the same time. That tended to kill the engine if you got her down too slow. It was 'specially hard to do all this when you was pullin' back hell-for-leather on the wheel.

One thing about the Fords, they were kinda loose-jointed and limber and bad roads didn't seem to bother 'em much. They were pretty high off the ground and could clear rocks good. You had trouble if a hill was fairly steep and long because the gas wouldn't run to the carburetor. In this case you were s'posed to get turned around and back up the hill. It'd get plenty of gas this way, but gettin' it turned around could be tough and the backin' up the hill, pure hell.

The Ford was s'posed to be used for ever'thing. You could even get a flat belt pulley that would bolt on a hind wheel and then, by jackin' the wheel up, you could put a belt from a grain grinder or buzz saw onto the wheel and run 'em pretty good.

Ernie's Dog

Talkin' about cornerin', sometime in the early thirties I'm leadin' a mare over to Emmet Cleek's horse, when I see Ernie Phillips comin' down his lane with his Model A pickup. Ernie's an ol' bachelor farmer and the pickup ain't over a year or two old. Just before he gets to the main road I see 'im stop and let his dog outta the cab. He turns out onto the main road, stops again and, openin' the door, lets the ol' dog back in.

He comes on towards me and, seein' who it is, stops to visit a little. After talkin' a while I ask him about lettin' the dog out. He looks a little sheepish and says that one evenin' last fall he'd been over to old dad Sanford's pool hall and got a little too full and comin' home had took the turn into his lane too fast and run into the borrow pit and rolled over on the pickup’s side. Nothin' was hurt much but the old dog's nerves. Ernie says that since then ever' time he gets near to this turn, the dog raises so much hell it's just easier to stop and let 'im out. He's alright as soon as they're around the turn. The dog acts the same way whether he's comin' or goin'. It's just that corner that bothers 'im.

The Fletcher Boys

The Fletchers were raised over on Chimney Creek, but their dad, Andy, and his wife had come from Texas and most of the older kids were born there. They was a pretty good-sized family and were noted as bein' a little wild. They all liked to drink and, if they couldn't get it anyplace else, they'd make it. Andy and Chris, the oldest boy, had been up to the Yukon durin' the Alaska gold rush, but didn't find much gold.

Anyway, Bill and John were the first two to get cars. They both worked for the Montgomery Sheep Co. John was workin' his way up to foreman and Bill was a camp tender or herder off and on when he wasn't sore at John.

Anyways, Bill got him a Ford and one of the first things he does is drive over to his sister Gertrude's, who was married to Arthur Hobdey, to show it to 'em and take 'em for a ride.

Like I mentioned earlier, 'bout ever'body had trouble with gettin' slowed down when they was first learnin' to drive, and Bill was no different. Him and Gertrude and Arthur was spinning along down the Corral Creek road from the old butte, where Gertrude and Arthur lived, at full tilt. Bill was anxious to show 'em just how fast the T would go, and when they came to the Base Line he couldn't get her whoaed down enough and they run out in the borrow pit and the T turned over on its side. They was some scratched up, but no serious hurts other than walkin' back to Arthur's for a team to get the T back on its wheels and outta the ditch.

This all wouldn't of been so bad, but about a month later John got his car. Since he was a foreman and ever'thing a T really didn't suit, so he'd looked around a good bit and eventually got himself a Cadillac. It was one of the first ones around. It bested the T in about ever'thing – cost, size, weight, and, particularily, speed.

He and Bill were on good terms at the time, so they drove over together to see Arthur and Gertrude and, of course, took 'em for a ride along the same road. As they got to the Base Line, John says, "Now Bill, I'm gonna show you how to make this turn." The Cadillac was a lot heavier and better sprung and more stable, but damned if John didn't take it too fast and did the same exact thing.

Arthur was tellin' me about it all a few days later and wound up sayin', "I aint never, ever gonna git in a car with either of them two thunsabitches again!" and I guess he never did.

Later on that fall, after it had snowed a little and turned cold, Bill was tryin' to get his Ford cranked up without much luck when John comes outta the house and starts the Cadillac right up. Course the Cadillac had a self starter which helped a lot. Bill asked 'im if he'd give 'im a pull and, for a wonder, John said he would and they hooked 'em up.

As the story goes, John gets the ol' Cadillac in gear and never looks back till he gets clear to Hill City which was seven or eight miles. He had the ol' Cadillac wide open which was about twice as fast as the Ford was safe to ride in. I guess Bill had a helluva time keeping it between the fence posts.

When they got stopped at Hill City, John gets outta the Cadillac, and walks back and asks, "Did she start?"

One spring Bill's tendin' camp over in the Bennett Mountain country and him and the three herders he's movin' camp for are all outta tobacco. Seems the last time they'd had groceries brought it was left out for some reason. Bill knows that on a certain mornin' John's gonna be drivin' down from the Prairie, and he figgers he'll at least have a sack or two of Bull Durham in the car or could maybe bring 'em back some. So him and one herder rides over towards the road and, as they get there, sure enough, they can hear the ol' Cadillac and see the dust boilin' up while it's still miles away.

John's got her wide open seemin' to be in a big hurry and as he gets closer Bill says to the herder, "He ain't gonna stop is he?" The herder says it don't look much like it. So Bill steps over to the herder's horse, pulls the old 30-30 outta the boot and, restin' it over the saddle, waits till John is about 40 or 50 yards off and shoots the windshield and off-side door window out with one shot.

After this, John finally gets her whoaed up just opposite of 'em and rollin' down the good window looks out and says, "You fellers want somethin'?"

One spring fairly early, Bill and another feller named Smitty head into Corral for a Saturday evenin' in Bill's Ford. The roads are pretty muddy since it's been rainin' some and there's a lotta water runnin' in the sloughs and creeks. When it comes time to head home, Smitty is still fairly sober and Bill, oddly enough, lets him drive.

They ain't got too far to go when they come on to a fresh washout in the road. Seems as though a culvert has got clogged up and the water's gone over the road and washed out on either side of the culvert pretty deep, but not very wide. Smitty begins slowin' up but Bill says, "No. Jump it. Jump it." Well Smitty pulls both of the Ford's ear's clear down and considerin' the mud and all they're makin'pretty good speed by the time they get to the washout, but it ain't enough. The front wheels clear the far edge, but bump and slow her enough that the hind wheels drop in and of course Bill and Smitty go out through the windshield and both plow some pretty fair furrows in the mud with nuthin' more than their faces.

Finally, Bill raises up on one elbow and says, "Smitty, that's just what I call damn poor drivin'."

The cars finally get the best of John. He run off the highway goin' around the bluff before you get to Glenns Ferry. His wife got throwed out and had both legs broke, but John and the car went on over the railroad tracks and into the river and it killed him.


Walt Rowland tells about a T Model he owned back when he was just a kid grown' up down in old Soldier. Walt never had much raisin' and sorta worked at bein' wild. When he'd got to be about fifteen or so he'd earned enough money herdin' sheep for his uncle and one thing and another to buy an old Ford.

He'd fixed it up some, like kids'll do, and he and a friend named Jim Reedy ran around ever' place in it. Now Lena Reedy, Jim's mother, was famous for bein' mean. She'd been through three or four husbands for one cause or another, and she had about ever'body on Soldier Creek buffaloed.

Anyway, as the story goes, Jim, who's about the same age as Walt, makes up his mind that he's gonna leave home as he just can't stand it there anymore. He talks to Walt about it and, since Walt's got the T, they figger maybe they could go into the bootleg runnin' business together. Jim's already been away from home two or three days, and he and Walt's got this all figgered out except for one thing. Jim's got fifteen or twenty dollars buried in a tin can in the front yard of his old home and they figger this would go a long way towards meetin' the capital they'll need to start in the whiskey runnin' business.

The big problem is how to get this can dug up without Jim's mother makin' war. They figger late at night won't work because she's a light sleeper and the dogs would raise hell, so finally decide the best time would be in the evening when she's some ways away from the house doin' the milkin'. Ever'thing is goin' real well at first. They pull the T up in front of the house and leave it runnin' with Walt in the driver's seat. Jim's quick findin' where the can's hid and gittin' it dug out. He's just about done when they spot Lena coming to the house. Seems she's had to come for somethin' and sees whats goin' on.

Well, Jim finds his can and makes a run for the Ford and jumps in. Walt's nerves fail 'im a little, and he tromps too hard on the low pedal and kills the engine dead. Well, at this point while tellin' the story, Walt stops and draws a deep breath just like it was yesterday it had all happened. Then he says, "Believe you me now, if you never saw a sonofabitch crank a Model T Ford you shoulda seen me then."

The T didn't start, but Lena's feelin' kinder than they figgered (chances are she's not too sorry to see Jim leavin') and lets 'im keep the money. Walt finally gets the T fired up, and they take off.

The rest of the story mostly deals with them buyin' a fifteen gallon keg of moonshine some place over in the Wood River and bringin' it back to the Prairie. Their sellin' don't go as good as expected, and they finally figger moonshinin' ain't as easy as they'd always heard. Walt says it was some comfort and convenience to have their own booze at wholesale prices, but one time when they're drawin' off a quart or two for resale, they sample the keg itself pretty heavy and forget to hide it back under the bridge they been usin' for a stash. The next time they need to bottle some it's all gone.


They tell about two old fellers who were business men from Mountain Home goin' sage hen huntin' in the early automobile days. Neither one was young or in real good shape, one havin' had a hip knocked down and the other's on a peg leg. One of 'em owned a car of some make, one of the earlier ones, but it wasn't a T because it had a gear-shift and clutch.

They'd planned this hunting trip for a while and on the Sunday mornin' scheduled, they couldn't get the car cranked up. After tryin' their best for an hour or two, they finally got a mechanic who got her runnin' in pretty good shape.

Anyways, they started out some place off towards Bennett Mountain and, after a little, they got to worryin' about shuttin' the car off and ever gettin' it started again. The country they were goin' to hunt was pretty level since neither of 'em were too active. This meant leavin' it on a hillside and coastin' to a start would be out. They talked some of just lettin' it sit and idle, but the throttle tended to work loose and the engine would get to racin' pretty bad. The same mechanic had warned 'em that that could raise hell with things.

So they finally decided the best bet was to just leave it in gear with the steering wheel turned tight one way and have it circle while they were gettin' their birds. They got the wheel tied around and the throttle set and had only a little trouble gettin' out with their shotguns. They left for the hunt with the car chuggin' long round a 100 foot or so circle.

They had some luck with their huntin' and ever'thing looked all right 'til they got back to the car. While they were gone the throttle had worked open a little from all the vibration and bumpin' and the car was now goin' a good deal faster than either one of them could manage in order to catch it.

Fellers were often gettin' set afoot by not bein' able to catch their saddle horses, but this was the only time I ever heard about someone not bein' able to catch their car. As it happened, some camp tender happened along about then who was sound in both legs and managed to corral it for 'em.

Blown Fuses

It took a good many years for cars to get half-way dependable, although the rough dirt roads most of 'em ran on didn't help much. Johnny Hess was helpin' me hay one year there in the late twenties or early thirties and one Saturday he goes down to ol' Dogie Larsen's place and talks Dogie into takin' 'im to town. Dogie's a little Norwiegan feller that had moved onto Corral Creek while we were in Montana. Dogie had bought him some kinda of a little ol' car, and I guess it wasn't too hard to talk 'im into the trip.

Well, Johnny tells me the next mornin' that they have a pretty good time in town and start back sometime around midnight or so. They no more than get outta town and the lights go out. This was a pretty common ailment of these old jitneys and usually was caused by a fuse burnin' out and, of course, even if you had a extra fuse it was damned near impossible to get the old one out and the new one in fumblin' around in the dark.

As it turns out they don't even have an extra fuse, so Dogie's doin' the best he can with nothin' but the moon and stars. Dogie'd never get too much speed up even at noon, and he's sure takin' his time. Johnny's sittin' there gettin' pretty bored, so he rolls himself a smoke and strikes a match to light it. Well the light blinds Dogie, and he runs off the edge of a culvert and they're stuck tighter'n a tick. They finally give up gettin' the car off high center and start walkin' and after they've made a mile or so, Dogie slows up and says, "Darn, John. To light that cigarette was the very worse thing you could have done."

Well, in spite of all their faults, the cars got more popular and tractors wasn't far behind. In forty years folks forgot all about an animal that had served 'em well for god knows how long. A lot of 'em wound up as chicken and fish feed. A helluva thank-you for horseflesh.

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