Rural Courtship with a Model A Ford

Using a Model A Ford to spend more time away from the parents and more time with a young lady.

| April 2016

  • The author’s Model A coupe was restored to original condition a couple of decades ago. This is how it looks today.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • Leaving on a date in the 1960s. By that time the 1929 Ford Model A was more than 30 years old.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • The Model A’s door handle is somewhat awkward to use, requiring the user to lift it to open.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • The lever sticking out to the right from the steering column is a throttle lever.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • The fuel tank shut-off valve is up under the dash in front of the passenger’s feet. A one-quarter turn closes it.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • The Model A Ford shift lever is similar to that of any other car of its era and operates a 3-speed transmission.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard

The title of this article contains a word that modern young people are unfamiliar with. As a teacher of high school students, I learned that even rural kids of today find the word “courtship” incomprehensible. They naturally understand the boy-girl dynamic (do they ever!) but find it bizarre that there was a time when strong social norms dictated how members of the opposite sex related to each other.

It was enjoyable to discuss the subject in my American history class. When the time frame being covered reached the 1920s, the students became very attentive as dating activities of that era were introduced. The quaint idea of a young man and a young woman riding in a buggy, allowing the horse to walk slowly along a rural road while the couple focused on each other, was considered a great approach. The students had some difficulty understanding that finding time for a couple to be alone elsewhere was often impossible.

No secrets in a small town

The introduction of automobiles caused a cosmic shift in the dating scene. For the first time, young people could be alone, far from the prying eyes of parents and/or chaperones (another word drawing blank looks from students). The era known as the Roaring Twenties was a time of changes to many social mores, most notably those pertaining to male/female relationships. A good share of adults of the period understood and cringed at what was happening. “It” girls, flappers and “flaming youth” describe the extremes of what was considered the breakdown of the nation’s moral standards.

Although all that is recorded in history, the actual social scene young people participated in was quite slow to change. That was especially true in conservative rural areas, where most people lived in those days. Yes, automobiles allowed a young couple to be alone, but young people were often amazed at how information about their activities seemed to be common knowledge.

In most small towns a family’s vehicle was probably known by most residents, and license numbers revealed just whose Model T Ford was parked in a certain spot, even if dozens of other Model Ts looked just like it. What young people were doing during a date, either in actual fact or some gossip’s supposition, traveled on rural “grapevines” almost faster than light. Do you remember party line telephones? Even carefully guarded messages were picked up by those who thrived on listening in on other people’s conversations.

Engineered malfunctions

This author can testify to the accuracy of all that, because things were still the same when I “courted” in a Model A Ford, the successor to the Model T. Keep in mind, I wasn’t around during the time Model A’s were built (1928-’31). They were very old cars when my two older brothers bought theirs. I occasionally borrowed one when my somewhat “newer” old car was incapacitated. My students probably thought I was old enough to be in the Civil War, so my personal testimony of old car courtship in the early days rang true to them.


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