Reflections on the Twenty-First Century

Growing Up on Muddy Creek: From horse and buggy to the Model T


| January 2001



Remembering the days gone by

Remembering the days gone by

In a few days we will strip another page from the calendar and suddenly realize that the old timers who recall life in the 1890s are growing more and more rare. More common are those of us who can well remember the early part of the 1900s, when the horse and buggy and railroad were the only choices of travel. The new-fangled motor cars were long considered a novelty that would never last, and the airplane was but a wild theory ("Fly like a bird? Never!"). Old Darris Green tried it from the roof of his father's barn and ended up in a heap of canvas, bamboo, and turkey feathers. Greek mythology recorded the predicted demise of the daredevil and would-be astronaut, Icarus, who flew too near the sun and, when his wings of wax melted, plunged to the sea below.

Glenn Curtis brought the first airplane to be seen in the county of my birth. It was a three-winged, chain-driven twin propeller "pusher" that visited Lawrenceville during the 1915 Soldiers' Reunion. Curtis flew this pusher in wide circles over Lawrenceville and drew quite a crowd when he landed, just outside of town. The pilot's seat was an oilcloth-covered chair, well out in front of the two square-ended, chain-driven propellers in the back. My father must have asked permission, for I got to sit in that chair and act like I was a birdman. That was the same day a huge Stanley Steamer motor car failed to climb the original north courthouse steps, although it struggled valiantly, amid clouds of steam, with a flood of condensation and oil flowing down the steps.

This, however, was not the very first automobile I remember seeing. The first was a buggy-like, curved-dash Oldsmobile with no steering wheel. Instead, it had a tiller such as was used on sailboats. The one-lung engine coughed and sputtered and smoked to high heaven as it carried Perry King and his oil-lease speculator buddies from farm to farm, making themselves and landowners wealthy. Beginning in mid-1906, dozens – no, hundreds – of holes were being punched into the ground, seeking unbelievable wealth from the "Black Gold" that the internal combustion engine of the automobile and airplane demanded.

Gasoline, which a few years before had been discarded as a hindrance to the illuminating gas business, was suddenly in demand. It was not uncommon for wells to flow 1,500 oil barrels or more at 60 cents a barrel, every day. Even with a royalty of one-eighth, many men went to bed on a strawtick, only to awaken to uncountable riches; a wealth that was very likely first spent on a "motor machine."

Mrs. Hyneman bought a Detroit Electric and sat haughtily, but queen-like, in its glassed-in royal coach body, guiding it softly and silently through town on solid rubber buggy tire-equipped wheels.

Within a few short years, giant V-16 cylinder Cadillacs, sporty Stutz Bearcats, and huge three-ton Mormans would be common on the streets of towns like Bridgeport and Applegate.