The last time I quoted an article in a March 1897 issue of the New York Journal by “Cholly Knickerbocker” about a New Yorker who had just had his first ride in a new-fangled “horseless carriage.” In the same issue was a rebuttal by a dedicated horseman named Francis Trevelyan who wrote:
Cholly Knickerbocker may like it, for it certainly catches the eyes of the girls, and it may perhaps suit the other chappies, or even the hardened frequenters of the bargain counter but, and this is a most important but, I do not think the motor cab will ever be anything more than a fad. New York is a blasé city and already, except where fashion reigns, or the other extreme, the tenement house population, holds sway, the horseless cab attracts little or no attention. Still, in its present usual form – that of a hansom cab sawed off short of the dashboard and stuck on in front of a truck – it gives the occupant a hopeless sensation of being perpetually shot through a chute, with the pleasing possibility of being utilized as a battering ram in a collision with a cable car or a runaway team.
There is absolutely no comparison between the exhilarating thrill of driving a fleet footed trotter or stylish stepper and the sitting cooped up at the mercy of the individual who is in charge of the electricity. Electricity, by the way, is the motive power generally used for these automobiles, and the only power that has been used here for the hansom cab style of conveyance.
This leads up to a point that is quaint. The horseman knows that his horse has a limit of endurance, but he also knows that the animal’s powers can be husbanded if necessary. On the other hand, when you start for a trip – it can scarcely be called ride or drive – in a motor cab, you have to order your stored electric force to suit the length of your journey, which might be rather awkward under such circumstances as missing your way on a country road.
Another point that provokes a smile, even from the trussed traveler on a horseless hansom – for one needs to be undersize to fit them as at present constructed – is that wheelmen seem to dislike the apparatus even more than horses. The horses, especially when they are well-bred trotters, regard it rather curiously, but on the whole contemptuously; but in the bosom of the average cyclist it seems to arouse derision, scorn and contempt. An occasional cab horse, doing his level best under the lash, may not see the strange machine till close to him, and in the excitement of the moment endeavor to cut a somersault, but as a rule the New York horses are already accustomed to this new, strange thing, especially those that would seem most likely to be scared, the well- fed occupants of private stables. The wheelmen sneer at the contrivance, spurt by it to show their contempt for its traveling powers and then slow up again to get another chance to cast a glance of unaffected disgust.
Viewed simply and seriously as a means of locomotion, the motor cab has fewer disadvantages than would seem probable at first sight. When I had the pleasure of appearing before the public, side by side with Cholly Knickerbocker, the cab was certainly carrying top weight, some 425 pounds. Some excuses might therefore have been made for it, especially as the weight in front was not counterbalanced by any great avoirdupois on the part of the engineer, driver, conductor, electrician or whatever one should call the man in charge. Nevertheless, the cab was well under control, stopping or slowing without delay or spurting along directly it was called upon. It steered well, too; nor were ruts, holes or car tracks any apparent obstacle, the driver having to take no greater care to avoid them than he would have if he had had a horse between the shafts.
The chief trouble with the motion of the cab is that on smooth going, such as asphalt, the thick rubber tires do not give sufficient fulcrum to keep the vehicle moving steadily. The consequence is what would be called “weaving” in a horse, an irregular wobbling from side to side. This is not at all apparent on cobblestones, and over these there is far less jarring than would be expected.
Still, whatever merits these motor cars may have, it is difficult to imagine that they will ever hold the affection of any one who has ever sat behind a free-going roadster.
– Sam Moore
A fine-looking horse and buggy. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)