‘Tin Lizzy’ turns 100
This year marks the 100th year since Henry Ford began making and selling his famous Model T’s. He improved the manufacturing process until an entire vehicle could be assembled in 90 minutes, using one color of fast-drying paint. Until then, the motorcar in America was regarded as a toy for the rich because the existing models of automobiles were too expensive and useless except as short-range vehicles because of bad roads.
As Henry Ford developed the assembly line and people discovered the easy payment plan, automobiles began to change our way of life.
Improvement in roads began to take place during World War I, so that going somewhere at a quick rate became more feasible for those who owned Model T’s.
In 1916, Congress passed an appropriations bill that matched local funding to improve through roads. Improved roads weren’t something I grew up with in the 1950s in southwestern Kansas. I listened to many stories from my parents and grandparents about the hazards of traveling on our roads and witnessed some of the problems myself.
We didn’t even have gravel roads for a long time. Our roads were cleared paths with dirt packed down well enough for driving in clear weather. Since our average rainfall was about 20 inches a year, we usually didn’t worry about getting from one place to another.
When the clouds did open, it was a good thing for the crops but bad for any of us who wanted to go to town. Those dirt roads turned into a quagmire of cement-like mud. We were trapped more than once when my mother had to go to town.
I remember too often watching as one of my parents had to rock our car back and forth in the ruts. If there were any vegetation handy, they would try to provide some traction by placing the weeds in front of or behind the wheels. More than once, we had to wait for somebody to come along and fetch a tractor to pull us out.
Finally, the county decided to place gravel on a main thoroughfare that went by our home, and we could be assured to a certain degree that a sea of mud didn’t trap us. I remember that many times before and after that, my father had to go to either our rescue or to the rescue of a hapless random traveler with his tractor.
He often told about the time when he was working for a Mennonite farmer near Hutchinson in his youth. The farmer used large draft horses to plow his fields and pull farm vehicles. One Sunday, a day of worship and rest, a man appeared at the door to ask for help in pulling his mired car out of its muddy trap. The farmer and my father went to dig and pull him out with their own muscle because the farmer felt that his team needed a day of rest more than the human occupants of the farm.
Now, cars have become a different kind of problem as fuel and pollution have become enormous threats to our way of life. It will be interesting to see what will happen now as we struggle to solve these problems