Webster defines tribulation as “a trying experience.” In the days of my growing up on Muddy Creek, we spelled it “Ford Model T.”
Oh, the Ford Model T wasn’t really that bad in retrospect. It got us there and got us there a heap of a lot faster than did Old Dobbin hitched to the one-horse shay. But when I think of the trials and suffering we had to endure in the name of progress, I am appalled that we survived.
Now it is quite likely that my readers, if there be such, are wondering what is old Piper talking about now? Well, sir, I am talking bout a vehicle. A vehicle whose progeny you are so dependent on these days that you suffer most any iniquity rather than lose your wheels.
I can well remember the days of the horse and buggy. The horizon of most families’ worlds in those not-so-long-ago days was but a day’s drive away, some 20 miles to a good horse. It was a major operation to curry, harness, and hitch the horse to the buggy, after removing the wheels and spreading the axles liberally with grease (the surplus of which was certain to find its resting place on your Sunday-go-to-meeting trousers), load up the family, be sure the charcoal heater was lit, the storm front snapped in place, the lap robe tucked round the baby, the barn door closed and the family dog tied up. Then with a snap of the whip, you were off, whoops … you forgot to load the hitching weight. Oh well, you’ll just have to use a convenient lamp post.
The motor car changed all that. Now you must realize that there were motor cars and there were Fords, and any resemblance between them was purely coincidental. However, they each required no feeding, no brushing and no stable cleaning. Just fill up the gas tank and away we went … or did we?
I am an expert in Ford Model T lore, just as I am the expert on mules. I cut my eye teeth on each and have a speaking acquaintance with both T talk and Mulenease. But then, any of my peers who lived through the roaring 20s and the Depression of the 30s can boast the same.
For the uninitiated, let me say that the Ford Model T was the prime example of complex simplicity. To start, just turn on the key, give a quarter lift of the crank and we’re off. Well, not quite. Let’s go through the starting of a Model T Ford step by step.
Set the brake. That is, pull back on the lever on the left side by the door that isn’t a door at all, it just looks like one. Be sure the lever locks in place when pulled back; it has a habit of vibrating loose, and when it falls forward, the car is in high gear, and may the Lord have mercy on your soul if you should be standing in front of it!
Now see those two levers just below the steering wheel? Well, the one to the left side, as you sit behind the wheel, is the spark. It must be set just right, or the engine may fire a bit premature, and zap you one when the crank spins backward, so set it about halfway. Now the lever on the other side, that is the throttle – you know, the gas feed, the accelerator. Park that about mid-ways too, for you don’t want that engine revvin’ up too much at first.
Now see that black box down to the right on the three pedals? That is the coil box, and that little lever on its front there is the key. Yeah, the switch key. It isn’t there? Whoops! I forgot, this is a late-teen model, and the switch is on the dash, with a key in the middle of the light switch. Look at it close, for one side is marked ‘mag’ for magneto, and the other is marked “bat” for battery. The later model Fords had a battery to furnish acceptable lights and deliver a sharper spark to start the engine, and then the operator quickly switched over to the mag to conserve the battery. So let’s put her on battery this time.
Now go around to the front. See that wire loop on the left side of the radiator? That is the choke, or “gooser.” Well, well, this Ford has a leather crank holder, an after-market accessory available for 79 cents from Western Auto, and worth every penny. Slip that crank from the holder, pull out the choke wire and give the engine a slow half-turn. Now release the choke, and give the crank a quick, quarter jerk and now another. There, she fired! Quickly now, dash around to the driver side and advance the spark lever a little and now the gas, slip your right leg over the door-careful, don’t snag the cuff on that brake handle, scoot over and carefully draw the other leg over the door. Now shift your rear around to get under the wheel. Yeah, I know they make a fat man’s steering wheel for guys like us, but you gotta make do with what you have.
The engine is skipping a beat now and then, isn’t it? Maybe you best reach down on the right side below the windshield. See that rod that comes up through the firewall? That is the adjustment for the carburetor. Now, twist it a mite-whoops, try the other way. There, she levels off and purrs like a kitten. Let her warm up a bit and load up the kids. We’re off…
Darn! I knew I would forget something. No, there ain’t no gear shift, those pedals on the floor are the secret, the three on the floor. You best have small feet to drive a T, or at least make sure you push only one pedal at a time. That center one is the reverse. Reverse? Yeah, put the toe of your number tens on that pedal and push gently. Hey! Hold it! Reverse is geared pretty fast for the novice. Now, the left is the brake (better learn how to get your foot squarely on that one), and the right is low and neutral. Push it all the way down, and you are in low, push it in halfway, and you are in neutral. Go ahead, push her all the way down and give it a little more gas. Each now, push harder, more gas, more gas… Good: we are rolling. Now let up the pedal and throw that brake lever down and man, you are in high gear and rollin’ right along! A little more gas now, don’t crowd her, and she will perk along, and oh yes, the steering is a mite quicker than your modern car and the power steering is in your arms. Neat, eh? Man, that’s livin’. Hey, feel that wind? Yeah, go ahead and wave at those folks on the curb. There isn’t a single one of them that wouldn’t trade places with you. Hey man, there is not too many 30-year-old guys who can brag that they’ve driven their grandpa’s Model T. Go ahead, eat your hearts out!