People used to ride to church in their buggies or wagons before the new Model T became available. My husband recalls riding in the buggy with his grandparents to church in the 1940s.
A preacher, Charles S.T. Strickland, born in Tattnall County in 1848 and died in 1921, had a choice to make between buying a new Model T or continuing to use his new buggy. The story was recorded by his grandson, J.H. Strickland Jr.:
“Years ago, there was a no-fence law, and animals roamed at will. Some of the old cows were wild. One prank that teenagers loved to do was catch a cow and tie a can with a few rocks in it on the cow’s tail. There is something about the rattle of the rocks in the can that a cow cannot stand, and they would run as fast as they could to get away from it. At this particular time, a farmer owned a huge bull that the boys decided to ‘can.’ They planned it many days in advance. It seemed that everyone thought Sunday would be the perfect day to can the bull and have fun watching him run. Most of the men played hooky from church that Sunday to see what happened.
“Professor came by and saw Uncle Charlie outside. He asked him why he wasn’t on his way to church. Uncle Charlie replied, ‘I have been preaching at Reidsville and Shiloh twice a day all week and I am fatigued, or at least that is what I am telling myself. This is the first Sunday I have missed in years, but I feel that something is going to happen today and I want to see it. Come over here and let me show you my new buggy.’
“‘Your new buggy? I didn’t know you were in the market for a new buggy?’
“‘I wasn’t, but the good people at Shiloh Church gave it to me as a gift. It came to the hardware store unassembled and the people put it together and delivered it to me right here,’ Uncle Charlie said as he proudly showed Professor the buggy.
“‘Just look at that beautiful paint job, and don’t you know those cushions will ride good? That nice top is certainly an improvement over the old ones. How do you like those isinglass windows, and there is a set of side curtains under the seat and they have isinglass curtains also. The floor has a recessed section to put hot bricks in to keep your feet warm. It’s the latest thing, no doubt about it. But the most important thing is that it is a gift. Very seldom has this old preacher received a gift of much value other than sentimental value, but this one tops them all. I am really proud of this new buggy and will never be able to thank the people of Shiloh Church enough,’ Uncle Charlie proclaimed proudly.
“‘Uncle Charlie, maybe you should give some thought to getting a car, as there is getting to be a lot of cars around now. You don’t have to go to a grocery store and fill a fuel tank from a can. Now they have what they call filling stations, where the fuel is pumped directly into the car’s fuel tank. We even have a new one in Claxton now. I thought when you gave up your active ministry that your traveling was over, but I see you go more now than ever. A car might just be the answer for you!’
“‘Professor, the older I get, the more requests to preach I get, but I know for my own good I need to slow down. But for purchasing a car, I have given it some serious thought. I looked at an Overland and thought it was a nice machine, but some folks advised me it would not be good on the bad dirt roads we have around here. Some thought I should get a Model T Ford as they have been on the market for a couple of years. They say they are good for fording streams, traveling on sandy roads and through deep ruts. I have to ford a dozen streams on my way to Shiloh, and sometimes after a rain, the water is up to the horse’s belly and I have had water up in the floor of the buggy.
“‘One of the Ford Motor Company’s salesmen at the county seat gave me a demonstration ride, and to tell you the truth, there was a lot to be desired! It’s plenty fast, it scoots right along about 25 miles per hour with no trouble, but there are other features that are undesirable. During the ride, we hit a section of bumpy road referred to as washboard road. That Model T started bouncing so vigorously that the driver lost control and was headed in the opposite direction when he finally got it stopped. The tires are filled with compressed air, and the tremendous pressure doesn’t absorb those bumps. That Ford man told me that the Model T was, however, the family car, since most of the maintenance could be done by untrained or inexperienced people. No mechanic needed!’
“He ran down a list of things necessary for the operation of the car that I could do myself, and Lord knows I don’t know a thing about machinery. Every so often, the quantity of oil has to be checked, which is easily accomplished. There is a long rod furnished by the manufacturer that is used to open and close a petcock located underneath the car near the engine. There are two petcocks, one located under the other. When the lower petcock is opened and no oil runs out, then oil is needed. You pour oil into the engine until it runs out the upper petcock, which means enough.
“The gasoline tank is located under the front seat. To check the gas, get out of the car and remove the cushion, unscrew the cap and measure the quantity with a yardstick. To check the water, just unscrew the radiator cap and look down into it and refill if needed. The salesman showed me four little wooden-box-looking devices that he called ignition coils or units. A set of points is on top of each unit that vibrates when the ignition switch is turned on and they make a buzzing sound like a rattlesnake. At times, during wet weather, they may fail to buzz. If that should happen, just take them out and place them in oven of the stove and bake them for a while to dry them out. No mechanic needed!
“During extreme cold weather, the Model T was hard to start, but still no mechanic was needed. He said all you had to do was boil a couple of kettles of water and pour it over the engine and manifold. But, under extreme adverse conditions, it may be necessary to jack up one of the rear wheels and crank the engine with the transmission engaged. He said that never fails and, again, no mechanic needed!
“A couple of other things worried me about the car. It seems the transmission is different from other cars. He explained the planetary gear, sun gear and ring gear and when he finished, I still did not know what he was talking about! The planetary-type transmission has a peculiar habit of being partially engaged and sometimes causes the vehicle to creep forward. Since the crank handle is in front of the car, it places the person doing the cranking in a dangerous position. The salesman suggested bringing along a couple of chocks to prevent such an accident.
“The main concern I had was with the cranking operation. He showed me exactly how to set the gas and spark levers for starting, but if that spark lever is advanced just one little smidgen too much, the engine will kick back and very often the crank handle will break an arm. You know, Professor, a person can walk down the streets of Claxton and pick out the owners of a Model T, because most of them have their arm in a sling! If there is one thing this old preacher does not need is a broken arm.
“Then there was another thing that didn’t set too well with me, and that was the lights. You would be surprised at how many times I have to travel at night. Lights don’t present a problem with a horse and buggy, but with a car you better be able to see where you are going. The older model had carbide lights, which were terrible. This year’s model has magneto lights, which are some improvement, but the brightness is based on the speed of the engine. When the car is in low gear or going fast, the lights are bright, but when you slow down the lights almost go out.
“Now, listen, I’m not trying to run the car down, but you know by the time I got through giving the car a pre-inspection and get underway, I could be halfway to my destination in my buggy! Then, too, if I did all those things in preparation to travel, I would get my clothes dirty, which as a general rule, I would have on my church clothes. I think I am going to stay with my horse and buggy a while longer, as I have a fine horse and now I have this fine new buggy. I will be traveling in style, certainly more in line with my lifestyle.” (This was probably in 1910.)
“Uncle Charlie and Professor stood around and kicked the tires of the buggy and made small talk, looking mostly at the ground. Each was feeling guilty for not being in church as they usually were. They had not noticed the large whirlwind of dust coming their way.
“Suddenly, Professor looked around and shouted, ‘Uncle Charlie, that must be it. Yes sir, it couldn’t be anything else.’
“Out of that dust came a monstrous animal with a large bucket of rocks tied to his tail. ‘Here he comes, Uncle Charlie. Look at that rascal go! Look at the size of his horns. He’s headed right this way toward the Big House.’
“Both men were whooping and hollering, watching the great excitement. It had been worth missing church to witness this sight! The men stepped inside the yard and shut the gate. The huge bull started toward the gate and saw Uncle Charlie’s horse standing in front of it. He changed course. The bull’s feet slipped from under him, and a ton and a half of beef slid uncontrolled on its side. Two of the wheels on Uncle Charlie’s buggy went from new and freshly painted to splinters in a matter of seconds.
“Both spectators stepped back from the fence as it was next in line. But, the huge animal stopped his slide before reaching the fence, and he was completely under the buggy. The only thought the bull had was to ‘head up and move out.’ He shook his head to remove the buggy from his horns, and the buggy came to rest in an upside down position. The beautiful new buggy was now a heap of broken and twisted rubble. More dust appeared as the huge bull clawed his way from a standstill and disappeared at maximum speed around the curve.
“Neither man said a word for a long time. The Professor wanted to laugh. Finally, he wiped the grin off his face and put on a serious one before looking at the preacher. Uncle Charlie just stood looking down at the wreckage.
“He finally shook his head and asked, ‘What in the world will I tell the folks at Shiloh Church?’
“‘Just tell them the truth.’
“‘I intend to tell the truth, but it will be hard for them to believe it. They say it is no use to cry over spilled milk, but this is hard to take. I didn’t even get to ride in it. But, I am as much to blame as anyone. If I had been where I should have been, the buggy would not have been sitting here to be destroyed.’
“The people in the community talked about this incident for many years.” (I wonder if Uncle Charlie ever bought a Model T.)