Farm Collector Blogs >

Looking Back

Riding in a New-Fangled Flying Machine

Sam MooreJust 100 and a few years ago, a ride in one of the new-fangled flying machines was a rare experience. Lanark is a town in south central Scotland and was the site of the first “Aviation Meeting” in Scotland in August, 1910. At the meet the planes were accurately timed over a straight, 1.6 km (about 1 mile) course, the first time such measurements had been attempted.

Attending the meet was a reporter from the London Times who “was invited by Mr. Grace (Cecil Stanley Grace, 1880–1910, who disappeared on a flight from Calais across the English Channel to Dover), to share his ascent in a Farman biplane.” The un-named reporter wrote the following account of such a ride that was published in the December 1910 issue of Gas Power magazine:

“The first wind register showed the velocity to be from 25 to 30 MPH, but toward 1:30 it dropped to 18 to 22. The competition for this period was weight-carrying, each machine to carry 350 pounds. By virtue of my weight of 14 stone (196 pounds) I was invited by Mr. Grace to share his adventure in a wind that warned off all other competitors.

“The worst part of such a journey for the novice is the waiting to start. But once the propeller starts to whirl behind you all other thoughts beyond exhilaration of rapid motion vanish. You have gripped the struts thinking that you will have to hold on like grim death, but you soon find this is not necessary.  The machine moves along the ground at as extraordinary pace, and I only knew that it was actually flying when I saw the elevating plane change from the horizontal.

“Of the motion of flight it is difficult to speak clearly. Even in the high wind that Mr. Grace was now climbing, it was not more than the sensation of a beautifully balanced motor-car. The earth seemed to be racing away from under us, and in a flash we were level with the first pylon and the judge’s box.

“The machine was now up to 150 feet and I became engrossed in Mr. Grace’s method in flying. His attention was glued to his elevating plane, with just momentary glances out of his eye to judge the distance by which he had to shun each pylon in its turn. We were crossing fields and water. I could observe the gates, the wire fences, and a man bathing in the water. Then we went round into the wind and our pace immediately slackened, while Mr. Grace was working to keep his machine in the air. As we crossed a road we were going so slowly that I could observe the direction of the hoof marks of a horse that had recently passed. Here all observation ceased as Mr. Grace was now battling with the wind. We had only 500 yards to traverse to cross the winning line, but the dead weight against the wind was bringing the machine down. Then here came a gust heavier than them all that lifted the machine just up the amount required to cross the line and we came gently to earth.

“It had been only a four minutes’ ride, but it was certainly the most delightful ride that I had ever experienced. The only way that I can describe the general sensation is that of exquisite motion.”

I had not heard of a Farman airplane so I did some research. Henry Farman was born in 1874 in Paris to an English father and French mother. His family had money and he was able to indulge his fascination with bicycle and auto racing, and then airplanes. Farman bought his first plane, a Voison, in 1907 and modified it extensively. Soon, Voison was building aircraft to Farman’s specifications, but they had a disagreement in 1909 and Farman, with two of his brothers, started their own aircraft factory.

Farman built both civilian and military aircraft until 1944, when the firm was absorbed by another French plane maker. The Farman Brothers also began building luxury automobiles after World War I and their cars were praised by the motoring press, although the high cost put them out of the reach of all but very wealthy buyers. The Great Depression put an end to the car venture in 1931, after only about 120 Farman vehicles had been built from 1919 until then.

– Sam Moore

Farman III aircraft

French aviator, Louis Paulhan, in 1910 in a Farman III aircraft. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The Harvester World

Sam MooreIn October 1909, the 7-year-old International Harvester Co. began publishing a monthly employee paper titled The Harvester World. While ostensibly meant for all employees, the first issues at least seemed to be aimed primarily at Harvester’s salesmen. Full of tips on how to break down reluctant buyers, each month there was a letter from some salesman telling how he had closed a deal. Here are two of those accounts, one from the October 1909 issue and one from December of the same year.

A salesman named, Oral Bleau wrote this one.

I put one over on a competitor last winter, and in the course of events I made two sales grow where only one idea was planted, and I did it in one day at one psychological moment.

Two doctors came to Omaha looking for an auto. They went straight to the competitor, and they had the buying light in their eyes. I followed them in and stood around as an interested spectator while the competitor’s boys showed them over the machine and proved to them that there was no other auto so suitable for the wear and tear of a country doctor’s practice. And they proved it well, too. It was a cold, snowy day, with weather straight from Medicine Hat in Canada, but one of the salesmen said “Doctor, we’ll take you for a spin this afternoon and show you what the car can do.”

The doctors agreed, and I lit out and got my own car. In the meantime, Medicine Hat got busy, and by the time of the appointment it was storming worse than ever, so bad that the competitor never showed up.

I saw my opening – introduced myself and said, “Gentlemen, I have a car that enjoys these icy roads and does its best work in impassable spots. Take a ride with me?”

“Why not?” they said and we started.

After seven miles of ice and drifts we stopped and got out. The engine was working perfectly. It had held up under as hard a test as they could ever give it in their practice, and they grew enthusiastic and asked questions.

I made out that such rides on such roads were mere recreation for both me and the machine.

They only wanted one machine when they started, but after that seven miles of snow and ice and the impatient “chug,” “chug” of the engine beneath them, it was just too strong a sales argument for them to resist, and they each gave me an order on the spot.

By the way, they’re still on the competitor’s mailing list.

This letter, written by Pat P. Nichols, not only describes the life of a farm machinery salesman in those days, where he often ate meals and stayed overnight with his customers, but also that the wife is sometimes the way to get at the old man.

The hand that “rocks the cradle” once helped me get an order.

I was sent into a territory where the canvasser or the block man had made a single sale. Both were so discouraged that when they saw a farmer, they’d hide in a fence corner, or, if the farmer had a dog, climb a tree.

I came in with the idea of encouraging them, and possibly I acted kind of chesty about it, for they straightaway steered me onto the hardest proposition in the county, a man who believed all salesmen were liars.

I didn’t know this and went after him that afternoon. He received me all right, that is he told his dog to lie down, and I began.

I followed that man from house to barn, to the hog pen, the mailbox and the cow pen, and then to supper, and all the way it was like talking to a moving fence post.

Then at supper I saw things – Mr. Hard-Nut had a boss.

I saw in a flash that the hand that rocked the cradle also cradled the rocks. When she wanted anything from the kitchen all she said was “Let there be movement.” And there was movement. He was docile, all right.

I got busy at once on the new task and helped the boys with the chores, fixed the fire, did a “sum” for the little girl, and when the time came to put the children to bed I gave the baby a good night kiss.

This made her fairly beam at me, and when I rolled up my sleeves and offered to dry the dishes, the sale was made.

She did not let me do it but sent me in to smoke with John. When she returned to the sitting room all she said was, “John, you’ve needed that binder for two years; you had better order it now.”

John hunted up a pen and signed on the dotted line – and he seemed glad to do it.

– Sam Moore

Automobile in the snow

Drawing that accompanied the first story. (October 1909, The Harvester World)

Mail-Order Catalogs

Sam MooreDoes anyone (besides me) remember the anticipation and the agonizingly long wait after your mother sent in an order to Sears and Roebuck? This Christmas season made me think of the wonderful Sears and Roebuck wish books full of toys that my sister and I pored over as children.

Aaron Montgomery Ward established the first of the modern mail-order houses in 1872 in Chicago. By 1874, his catalog offered a wide range of products to farmers at near wholesale prices. The National Grange supported Ward’s efforts, and by the early 1890s, Montgomery Ward was distributing a 280-page catalog, containing nearly 10,000 items, to tens of thousands of mid-western farmers.

In 1886, a 23-year-old railroad telegrapher in Minnesota, Richard Warren Sears, began selling watches as a sideline. The watches were so profitable that Sears quit the railroad and sold jewelry and watches by mail, hiring a watch repairman named Alvah C. Roebuck. In 1894 they moved to Chicago and set up a general mail-order house called Sears, Roebuck and Co.

Sears was a master salesman and an advertising genius. Through his catalogs, Sears convinced skeptical farmers to send their money off to a man in Chicago they’d never seen, for things they’d never seen or, often, even heard of.

The incredibly low prices, money-back guarantees and showy catalogs all combined to supply the rural customer’s every wish and to sell them items they never believed they could afford. Sears emphasized the variety, style and low prices of the seemingly endless array of food, medicines, hardware, household goods, farm equipment, sporting goods, jewelry and clothing in his huge catalogs. Although there were no colors shown, each product was represented in the early years by an accurate and detailed drawing. The 1900 catalog featured actual photographs of people’s heads perched atop drawings of the suits, dresses and corsets, giving a comical aspect to some of the pictures.

The mail-order catalog put the world’s biggest store in every farmer’s mailbox and offered people products they would never see in their local country store. Women could pore over the pages of clothes and pick out the same fashions that stylish women were wearing in the large cities, for a lot less money. All the latest gadgets, furniture, and appliances for the home were displayed. Little girls dreamed of a new doll, toy furniture, or a miniature tea set. Boys wished for a wagon, a train, a gun or a kite. Farmers studied the latest tools and machinery and checked out the shotguns and fishing poles. The catalogs were a centerpiece in every country home and were called “Wish Books,” or the “Farmer's Bible.”

In the 1900 Sears catalog you could buy groceries; tea, coffee, canned fruits, vegetables and meats, salt, flour and crackers. Drugs of all kinds, from smoking and drinking cures to “Brown’s Vegetable Cure for Female Weakness,” to pills to “cure almost every illness.” Veterinary supplies, paint, watches and jewelry, silverware and eyeglasses were available, along with all kinds of clothing for every member of the family.

Cameras, talking machines, pianos, organs and all kinds of musical instruments, books,  firearms, boxing gloves and catcher’s mitts, fishing tackle, bicycles and toys, trunks and traveling bags, wigs and toupees, tombstones, hardware and farm equipment, safes, stoves, buggies and sleighs and harness, furniture, dishes and lamps, as well as sewing machines and baby carriages, all could be seen and ordered from the comfort of your kitchen table.

From 1908 to 1940, Sears, Roebuck and Co. even sold house kits. These kits included plans, millwork, cabinetry, roofing, flooring, siding, doors, shutters, hardware, paint and even nails. You could buy the extras, such as heating, plumbing, and electrical fixtures from the catalog as well.

Both Sears and Wards knew exactly what rural folks needed and wanted, even though folks sometimes didn't realize they needed or wanted an item until they saw it in the catalog. The country housewife became convinced that she had to spend money to do her housework more efficiently, to clothe her family properly, and to keep up with the times. Agricultural tools and machines, such as cream separators, pumps, gas engines, and corn shellers, which had been  too expensive were now within reach through the catalog. Mail-order had changed the lives of rural families. One writer summed it up by saying: “A baby born in the country in 1890 might sleep in a mail-order cradle, play as a child with mail-order toys, buy a mail-order suit as a young man, get his new wife a mail-order washing machine, work his fields with a mail-order plow, raise his children in a mail-order house, and be buried at the end of his life under a mail-order tombstone.”

Probably the greatest beneficiaries of rural free delivery mail service, after the farmers themselves, were the mail order houses themselves. Catalogs were considered “educational” material and could be put into the farmer’s mailbox for the lower 2nd class postal rate. Although ordering by mail was a new experience for most farmers, it was easy because a trip to the post office in town wasn’t necessary. Sears told their customers to give their order and money to the mail carrier, who would buy a money order and send the order on its way. At first, packages over four pounds had to be picked up at the railroad station or freight express office, but in 1913, the government started Parcel Post service, and packages up to 11 pounds were delivered just like other mail. Within that first year of Parcel Post, mail orders increased about five times over previous years. By 1920, 50 to 70 pound packages could be sent through the U.S. Mail and over 100 million packages were shipped on rural routes that year.

By providing modern conveniences and stylish goods, the catalogs helped to improve rural life and eliminate the isolation of farm families.

A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!

– Sam Moore

Montgomery Ward catalog

A few of the toys in the 1930-1931 Montgomery Ward Fall and Winter catalog. (In the author’s collection)

Lazy Farmer Rhymes for Thanksgiving

Sam MooreI haven’t run any of the Lazy Farmer rhymes for a good while, and I have only a couple left. The first one is from the Oct. 8, 1938, Michigan Farmer.

When I was young the women wore a lot of clothing on before
and twice as much as that behind, but now it seems that they don’t mind
a-goin’ ‘round with ev’ry knee in plain sight for the world to see.
It used to be a cause for shock if you should glimpse a tiny piece of sock,
but now bare ankles ain’t no treat; in fact, you see a lot of meat
where’er you go, for folks expose more than they cover up with clothes.
The bathin’ suits girls wear today would make my mother faint away.
When she was fixed up for a swim you couldn’t see a leg or limb.
But nowdays competition’s keen to let a lot of hide be seen.
Just why the women want to show bowlegs or swaybacks I don’t know,
the most has got so many flaws they ought to wear more clothes because
their clothes is prettier than them; when covered up with stitch and hem
they don’t look bad, but what a fright they are when they’re exposed to sight.

If we could make them women see how much better lookin’ they would be
with plenty clothes hung on their frame to cover up the faults of same,
we’d have a market for our wool, we wouldn’t have to plow and pull
our cotton, for the market would in that case surely be quite good.
This farmin’ job would be less tough if women only wore enough,
the skirts they wore in mother’s day would sure make cotton raisin’ pay;
the clothes she wore, both thick and full, used up an awful lot of wool.
Prosperity will come again if women listen to us men,
and hide their blemishes from view, and cover up their legs in lieu
of struttin’ ‘round for all to see their bunions and their corns, by gee!

In a Walmart store on a hot summer night, the old Farmer would likely flee in fright.
At the scantily clad women he would see, they’d make him step on his goatee, by gee!

This last one is more apropos to the season and is from the Nov. 3, 1951 issue of Ohio Farmer.

November’s coming tickles me: I’m always happy as can be
when winter time arrives again, cuz it’s the only season when
I can relax beside the fire and not arouse Mirandy’s ire.
It’s not like spring, when she screams loud if I don’t help get the fields all plowed;
in summer when small grain gets ripe, my loafing gives her cause to gripe;
in early fall, a million chores all pressure me to get outdoors,
and if I try to loaf and slack, she’s sure to make some nasty crack.

But soon as sky shows signs of snow and icy winds begin to blow,
the heat is off and I am free to do my loafing openly.
The choring won’t amount to much, just feeding cows and hens and such;
an hour of milking twice a day—that job’s Mirandy’s anyway;
some eggs to gather now and then, and I cannot remember when
Mirandy ever did allow me in the henhouse anyhow.
And so the next four months will be a mighty pleasant time for me;
instead of being forced to sneak off where I cannot hear her speak,
I now can squat in my own chair and know the boss won’t even care.

Wish’t I’d saved a “Punkin’ Pie” rhyme for now, but Happy Thanksgiving anyhow!

– Sam Moore

The lazy farmer checking out a modern girl

The lazy farmer checking out a “modern” girl. (Oct. 3, 1938, Michigan Farmer in the author’s collection)

Agricultural Progress

Sam MooreIn the year of 1881 a British engineer named Sir Frederick Bramwell, who was vice-president of the Royal Society of Arts, addressed that august body with, among other things, his take on the past 50 years of agricultural progress. Although he did hint at the possibilities of electric or compressed air as future sources of power, there was not even a whisper about the internal combustion engine, even though George Brayton in America, as well as Nicolaus Otto, Gottlieb Daimler, Wilhelm Maybach and Karl Benz in Germany had all developed more or less successful gas engines by 1880.

The title of Bramwell’s address was “Some Of The Developments Of Mechanical Engineering During The Last Half-Century,” and I found it in an 1881 Scientific American.

“In 1831, we had thrashing machines and double plows, and even multiple plows had been proposed, tried, and abandoned. Reaping machines had been experimented with and abandoned; sowing machines were in use, but not many of them; clod crushers and horse rakes were also in use; but as a fact plowing was done by horse power with a single furrow at a time, mowing and reaping were done by the scythe or the sickle, sheaves were bound by hand, hay was tedded by hand-rakes, while all materials and produce were moved about in carts and in wagons drawn by horses. At the present time we have multiple plows, making five or six furrows at a time, these and cultivators also, driven by steam, commonly from two engines on the head lands, the plow being in between, and worked by a rope from each engine, or if by one engine, a capstan on the other head land, with a return rope working the plow backward and forward; or by what is known as the roundabout system, where the engine is fixed and the rope carried round about the field; or else plows and cultivators are worked by ropes from two capstans placed on the two head lands, and driven by means of a quick-going rope, actuated by an engine, the position of which is not changed.

“And then we have reaping machines, driven at present by horses; but how long it will be before the energy residing in a battery, or that in a reservoir of compressed air, will supersede horse power to drive the reaping machine, I don't know, but I don't suppose it will be very long. The mowing and reaping machines not only cut the crop and distribute it in swaths, or, in the case of the reaping machine, in bundles, but now, in the instance of these latter machines, are competent to bind it into sheaves. In lieu of hand tedding, haymaking machines are employed, tossing the grass into the air, so as to thoroughly aerate it, taking advantage of every brief interval of fine weather; and seed and manure are distributed by machine with unfailing accuracy. The soil is drained by the aid of properly constructed plows for preparing the trenches; roots are steamed and sliced as food for cattle; and the thrashing machine no longer merely beats out the grain, but it screens it, separates it, and elevates the straw, so as to mechanically build it up into a stack. I do not know a better class of machine than the agricultural portable engine. Every part of it is perfectly proportioned and made; it is usually of the locomotive type, and the economy of fuel in its use is extremely great. I cannot help thinking that the improvement in this respect which has taken place in these engines, and the improvement of agricultural machinery generally, is very largely due to the Royal Agricultural Society, one of the most enterprising bodies in England.”

Of course, loyal Englishman that he was, Bramwell gave all due credit to the RAS, which, with their reaper, mower and other trials did do much to promote American manufacturers, such as Deere, Deering, McCormick and others, as well as those of the British Isles.

It would be so interesting to watch if men like Sir Bramwell could be given a glimpse of the wonderful machinery and technology available to today’s farmer and to hear their reaction. His eyes would bug out on stems if he were to behold a Case IH autonomous tractor accurately tilling or planting with no one at the controls.

For that matter, my Grandfather or Father would be thunderstruck—I am myself, sometimes. Think of it! From the team of horses and a walking plow I remember Dad using, to a driverless tractor in my lifetime! I saw the other day that Budweiser has successfully delivered beer using a driverless truck. Steel, cars, and countless other products are made largely by robots, and now they’re even bringing our beer.

What are humans going to do in the future?

– Sam Moore

Case IH Autonomous Concept Vehicle

The Case IH Autonomous Concept Vehicle. (Photo courtesy of Case-IH)

Over the Back Fence

Sam MooreHere are a few odds and ends I’ve run across while reading the old books and magazines in my collection.

Pray tell me how would man exist without the cow?
No milk or cream, nor any cheese; no butter for the spuds or peas.
No chocolate sundaes or parfaits; no fish or fowl with hollandaise.
No easy source of calcium, to build the bones and please the tum.
No ice cream cones or cheese fondue, and no Welsh rarebit, pas le tout!
No baby’s formula or bottle, no dishes loved by Aristotle.
No steaming stews with oysters swimmin’; no big strong men or lissome wimmin.
Pray tell how man could live at all – without the cow?

I found the following tongue-in-cheek (I think) story in a 1958 issue of The Farm magazine in a feature titled “Over the Back Fence.”

“I was over at Debbs Craig’s place, who lives a mile from my Johnson grass farm, last night watching television and the type of program got me to thinking. The program was a give-away show and I’ll admit all the winners’ faces glowed with pleasure when they won, in fact they were hysterical, but I have an idea they may not be quite as happy when they find they have to pay income tax on all that loot, especially the stenographer who won a $10,000 mink coat and will have to pay at least $2,000 tax, which is a lot for a coat, even a $10,000 one.

“But what I was thinking about is that there are other ways to make people happy. For example, take the television set at Debbs’ house. He bought it last year during the drouth.

“Crops were burning up, grass was turning brown, ground cracking open.  Debbs had been affected by the drouth. He wasn’t broke – he’s got money in the bank, owns his farm, has a two-year supply of silage in the ground, drives a good car, and got good equipment, but the drouth was getting him down. He’d get up every morning, take a look at the cloudless sky and the baked earth, and shake his head and decide to cut down on expenses even more.

“Then one night in August, we got a rain. It started raining about 11:30 and kept it up off and on all night. As any farmer knows, there’s nothing sweeter-sounding than a rain on the roof after a long dry spell. I thought it was going to be a real drouth-breaker, but actually when I got up about daybreak I noticed my rain gauge showed only an inch and two tenths. Enough to help out, but not nearly enough to break a drouth.

“I emptied my gauge, and then I thought, Debbs is not going to like this. He’ll be up in an hour or so and he’ll head for his gauge, and he’d feel a lot better if he had at least 2-1/2 inches.

“So I took a fruit jar full of water from my well over to his place and in the dawn’s early light added an extra inch and three tenths to his gauge.

“It was one of the nicest, most neighborly things I’ve ever done. Debbs glowed all over when he came out a little later on and saw the two and a half inches registered on his gauge, and he went into town and bought the television set his family had been after him to get, and the one I was looking at last night.

“A man should never get too busy to help his neighbor.”

And I do know what the following is about, as we didn’t get indoor plumbing in our western Pennsylvania farmhouse until I was a high school senior.

THE PASSING OF THE POT

As far back in childhood as memory may go, one vessel greets me that wasn’t for show.
Kept ‘neath the bed where no one could see, it served the family with equal privacy.
Some called it “Peg” or “Thundermug,” others called it “The Pot,” and a few “The Jug.”
Bringing it in was a chore, no doubt, but woe betide the one who had to take it out!
Ours was enormous and could accommodate, at least six or seven or eight.
On cold rainy nights ‘twas a most useful urn, on cold winter mornings that rim would burn.
When business was rushing and extra good, each took his turn and did the best he could.
Sometimes in darkness, to our disgust and shame, we fumbled and slightly missed our aim.
The one for company was decorated well, but still had the old familiar smell.
Today I live modern and like it a lot, and yet I regret the passing of the pot.
For often I dream and it gives me a start, how it sweetens my memory and squeezes my heart.

– Sam Moore

Guernsey cows feeding

A group of Guernsey cows feeding. (Illustration from a 1961 issue of Farm Quarterly magazine in the author’s collection.)

Whitewall Tires

Sam MooreOn a hot night a few weeks ago, after a supper of corn on the cob and the lovely Miss Nancy’s delicious Swiss steak, I was sitting on the front porch enjoying a slightly chilled glass of Pinot Noir and watching the traffic on Route 45. Do you know, I saw absolutely zero cars with whitewall tires!

Sixty five years ago, if your car didn’t have whitewalls, you were a stodgy old stick-in-the-mud (like my Dad). At 16, my first car, a well-used 1940 Dodge didn’t have them, but somehow I organized a set of Port-A-Walls, that, although they stood a little proud of the tires at speed, simulated white walls pretty well.

My next car, a 1948 Nash, had real whitewall tires and I spent a lot of time with a brass-bristled wire brush and, although I bought Bleche-White, which was especially good for cleaning white walled tires, I found that cheaper Old Dutch, BAB-O or Comet cleansers worked just as well. Even in the winter, when it was difficult to wash the whole car, my buddies and I still managed to keep the wheels and tires of our cars pretty clean.

In the earliest days of rubber tires, the whole tire, tread and all, was white. Most of us think of rubber as being black, but natural rubber is sort of off-white. So when tires first began to be made from the stuff, they were white as well. The white rubber, however, was very susceptible to sun deterioration. Chemists discovered that by mixing carbon black into the natural rubber it increased durability and traction, and turned the rubber black.

At first, only the tread of the tire was made of carbonized rubber and both the inner and outer sidewalls remained white. But, all black tires came to be thought of as more durable, and the white sidewalls were covered with a thin layer of black rubber making them more desirable and much easier to keep clean.

Sometime during the early 1920s, balloon tires, which afforded a softer ride, were developed. The much wider sidewalls of these tires made them more prominent and, while they looked good on a light colored car, the owners of darker painted machines began to ask for white sidewalls again in order to contrast with the dark paint and gleaming chrome that became prevalent in the late ’20s and 1930s.

Then, during the 1930s, cars were lowered on the chassis, fender openings were made smaller and fender skirts were introduced by automobile designers, making the inside sidewall difficult to see. This led to single sided whitewall tires which were quite popular until World War II. During that conflict, when the supply of natural rubber from the southwest Pacific dwindled, and the military made heavy demands on the rubber industry, most people were just happy to have any old tires on their cars. So long as they held air, the color of the sidewalls mattered not a bit.

I mentioned my Dad earlier as not being a whitewall enthusiast. As long as I can remember, until he bought a new car sometime in the 1960s, he never had a whitewall tire on any of his cars, except once. I remember his old Cadillac, which had huge tires – 7.50X16, I think – wore a single whitewall during the early ’40s; he had picked it up used somewhere and it was all he could get during the wartime tire shortage.

After the war, tires and cars became plentiful again and the demand for the decorative tires boomed, even though they were a little more expensive. Those who couldn’t afford new tires, made do with the porta-walls, or even white tire paint – which wasn’t very satisfactory at best.

Remember curb feelers? The biggest bugaboo to whitewall tires was parallel parking – scrape a sidewall against a curb and there was an ugly black mark on the pristine whiteness of your tire. To prevent this, many people, including me, installed curb feelers – thin spring wires about 6 or 8 inches long that clamped to the lower edges of your right fenders and (hopefully) scraped the curb – to give an audible warning when a tire was close enough.

Sometime around 1960, in an effort to make cars look lower, a new tire was introduced that had a white stripe about an inch or so wide in the center of the black sidewall. Most even had a raised ridge of black rubber around the outside of the white stripe to protect it from pesky curbs, although a good hard hit could still cause damage. Other variations included two or three even narrower white stripes, or a red and a white stripe or a lone red one.

By the 1980s, whitewalls had fallen out of favor and are rarely seen today, except on antique or classic cars. Most folks in these hurried days can’t find the time to scrub scuffed tires and besides, whitewalls just aren’t cool anymore.

– Sam Moore

Automobile with whitewall tires

This 1929 ad for Budd wheels shows the wide whitewall tires that were becoming popular about that time. (From the June 29, 1929, issue of Automotive Topics in the author’s collection).