In 1929, when I was sixteen years old, I bought a 1923 Model T Ford roadster for $30.00. (Where I found $30.00 in that depression year is a mystery.) The car was in a garage on Oak street in Salem where I started it by cranking, backed it out of the garage and drove it down Main street to Pennsylvania avenue. The parking space was near the bottom of the forty-two steps that led up to our house.
I don’t recall getting any instruction in driving. The left turn from Main street into Pennsylvania avenue that first time was precariously fast. I had not become familiar with the gas feed lever located just under the steering wheel and operated with your right hand. (Incidentally, I don’t believe a driver’s license was required in West Virginia in 1929.)
The price of gasoline was twenty-five cents a gallon. To go swimming several miles from town, or take any extended excursion in the Ford, we would pool the nickels and dimes of two or three friends to put two or three gallons of gas in the car. Mr. Bartle, who ran the filling station across from Swiger’s grocery store, gave me the oil he saved from the dentist’s Buick that had an oil-change every 500 miles.
Keeping that Model T running was an exercise in patience and persistence. Sometimes it came down to sheer physical endurance–cranking, and cranking and cranking. The tires were another thing. We called them “skinny tires” and we always carried patching equipment and an air pump to repair the inevitable flat tires.
One experience with my Ford involved putting shims in the connecting rods that were knocking badly. In accomplishing this task I dropped one or more cotter keys in the crank case where I was unable to retrieve them. The result was that the cotter keys ground up in the gears and at unpredictable times bits of steel would collect on the magneto point under the floor boards, stopping the engine as though you were out of gas. The remedy was to remove the floor boards, clean off the steel from the magneto point and start again. This problem persisted over quite a period of time.
When I had the Ford on the farm it was useful for hauling chicken feed and other supplies from Sutton. But the gasoline would not feed into the carburetor on the steep Bug Ridge hill unless the tank was at least half full. We had two options when the gasoline was low in the tank: 1- turn the car around and back up the hill or 2- use the tire pump to pump air into the tank through the tiny hole in the gas tank cap and quickly plug the hole with a sharpened stick. This procedure had to be followed several times to make the top of the hill.
Having a 1923 Model T Ford was high adventure for a teen-age boy in the years of the Great Depression. It is interesting to reflect now that at that time the thought never occurred to us to have insurance of any kind on the car. This vignette ends with the sale of the little Ford for $2.00. (What would it be worth if I had it restored today?)