The Fledgling Automoblist

Check out this hilarious anecdote about an early 1900s experience driving one of the first cars.

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Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Painting by Louis Justin Perrey.

Around the turn of the twentieth century, when motor cars were few and far between, the new-fangled horseless carriages were a mystery to most folks. That, however, didn’t stop the intrepid few from buying one and trying to master the intricacies of actually driving the crazy contraption.

In the 20 August, 1903 issue of Motor Cycling & Motoring magazine, published in London, UK, I found a humorous story of the experiences of just such a person.


Pages from the Diary of an Inexperienced Motorist


Saturday — New car was delivered by the agent last evening. Supposed to have been here much earlier but agent explained delay en route had arisen through wires short-circuiting on frame. Sounded feasible, although not quite clear what he meant. Didn’t ask, as trouble is now rectified and not likely to occur again. Called on Mabel after breakfast to suggest a short ride for tomorrow. She was delighted, and we even discussed a honeymoon by motorcar.

Sunday — Find the car rather troublesome to start. Began at 10:30 and didn’t get her running (with the assistance of a passing motorist) until 12:45. Turns out that I’d neglected to choke the carburetor. Memo.–When in doubt choke the carburetor. Took Mabel for a short spin (two miles) to Tremont. She wanted an ice cream sundae, but I didn’t dare to stop the engine. When we got back, Mabel complained of a headache, but agreed to go with me next day, to dine with cousins in Bedford, five miles away, so long as her aunt went along.

Monday — Set out for Bedford in high spirits and had gone two miles when car stopped of its own accord. Seems I change gears badly. Memo-Never change gears. Wish I hadn’t insisted upon four speeds and reverse. Got her started again three-quarters of an hour later after mutilating right hand due to “back firing.” Memo-Would have preferred an engine with no reverse firing action. Continued on our way another mile when back tire went flat. Mabel’s headache much worse, and aunt positively rude. Repaired tire and pumped up. Patch blew off. Mabel very silent; aunt doubts if her niece could be really happy with a man who swears. Flagged a friendly motorist and asked him to take the two ladies to the nearest railway station. He asked where they were going and I suggested a suitable terminus for aunt. He pointed out that there was no train service to that location. Memo-Fortune awaits the man who can establish direct line to there. Would be greatly patronized by suffering relatives.

Tuesday — Got disagreeable letter from Bedford cousins insinuating that I don’t know the first thing about motorcars. I determine to prove the ability of both my car and myself by driving to see the cousins immediately. Traveled one mile when the sparking plug failed and I had to be towed home by a decrepit horse, whose owner charged me fifty cents. Of course we encountered Mabel in High Street. Tried to look pleasantly dignified, but difficult when being dragged along in a disabled car by a broken down horse from a scrap dealer’s cart. We fetched up at a repair shop where the mechanic immediately fitted a new sparking plug he found in my car’s tool box and charged me two dollars. Memo-If a sparking plug fails, replace it with another.

Wednesday — Made it up with Mabel and took her for an outing to Tremont. Got half-way and car stopped. Choked carburetor and cranked. No go! Checked sparking plug and all looked serene there. Checked for spark and got severe shock so all good there. Neighborhood men and boys clustered around and offered advice. Mabel decidedly snippy. Never knew she had a temper. Memo-We learn many things from a motor car besides the mechanism. Decided nothing to be done but park car and return by train. Alas, no station and no train. Passing motor cyclist to the rescue. He examined the engine and discovered no gas in tank! He fetched some from nearest place while we waited. Memo-The best car won’t run without gas.

Thursday — Letter from Mabel to say we are quite unsuited to each other and that she feels that with rheumatism in the family she should not contemplate matrimony if three-quarters of it is to be spent in roadside ditches. She returns my letters, but she keeps the ring and other articles of value. Went out in car by myself to commune with nature and the engine got hot and stalled due to water pump failure. Towed home again!

Friday — Cannot stand another week like last. Considered joining French Foreign Legion, but remembered that I am a coward. Everything is against me! Memo-I shall sell the car and go in strong for ping-pong.

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