When Driving was an Adventure
I don't quite go back to the model T but this was our first car
The one on the left.
It was a Ford Prefect and I believe you could get it in any colour as long as it was green/grey.
When I first arrived in this country I had managed to secure a job as a furniture designer with a small company.
It had been a matter of - I needed a job to come to and they couldn't afford a furniture designer so I was offered full time employment at just over minimum wage.
By the time I had been here a year and was now married my salary had reached the dizzying height of $65 a week and in lieu of another raise my boss gave me his wife's old car so that I could go to see customers.
I think it was circa 1950 although I never did know it's age.
A friend took me around the streets of the west end of Vancouver for a week to learn how to drive and I got my licence right away. The instructor did comment on how rough my clutch work was while starting on a hill until he tried and found out it was the car and not me.
I had driven a motorcycle in England so I did know how to use a clutch even if I was using my feet instead of my hands.
Since there was no money to spend on the car the clutch was destined to remain as it was, as was the rest of the car.
I only drove around town so the 45 mph top speed was not a problem.
Driving was an adventure because I never knew what I would be faced with on any given day but the old car had some advantages over our modern day vehicles.
If you have ever had a battery die on you you will appreciate this feature.
I am talking about the crank handle which could be inserted into the engine to manually turn it over.
Since the battery was probably as old as the car it was often dead in the morning and if I had been unable to park pointing down hill, my preferred parking spot, I would simply stick the crank handle in and start the car.
It wasn't just a matter of turning the handle however. There was a procedure to follow. First the handle was turned until the compression had built up and then holding the handle with the correct grip a hard jerk was needed to get the engine going. The correct grip was necessary in case the engine kicked back which could easily break a wrist.
Most of the time this car was driven with the window down for two reasons.
Another advantage this car had was its ease of maintenance.
It was from a time before flashing turn signals so all signalling was done by hand. There were two little arms that would stick out from the side of the car to indicate a turn but they worked intermittently at best and I don't believe other motorists would have noticed them anyway.
- The window would wind down quite nicely but on it's way up it tended to slip out of the mechanism and disappear inside the door. It wasn't a big deal, at home, to pull the door panel off and get things working again but not recommended in traffic.
The spark plugs were on top and easily taken out for cleaning and there was lots of room around the engine to reach in and fix things if they went wrong.
Adding oil was easy too which was just as well since it used rather a lot. I bought cheap rerefined oil in a 5 gallon container and kept it in the trunk at all times.
All the controls on the dashboard were pull out buttons. The manual choke was right next to the windshield wipers and for some reason often worked in unison so the wipers may come on while the choke was out and, worse, the car would die when the wipers were turned on. It was a juggling act keeping everything working smoothly.
One particularly miserable rainy night when we were returning from a night out the wipers quit completely.
I have always been able to improvise where mechanical things are concerned.
When MacGyver was on TV my son enjoyed watching it because he said he had often seen me using the same improvisations that MacGyver used.
On this night to get us home I tied two pieces of string to the wiper, fed one through each front window and had my wife pull the wiper back and forth.
The front shocks on this car were nonexistant so I learned to slow down as I hit a bump and accelerate immediately after otherwise we would bounce along for quite a distance.
Back in England I had learned how to drive a motorcycle in icy conditions so I seldom had any problems now that I had 4 wheels. Vancouver gets little snow and the main roads are normally salted right away making driving reasonably easy. It is just a matter of planning. Entering side streets when icy needs to be done at the correct point to avoid climbing hills but one day I found myself on a side road with packed snow after visiting a customer. When I tried to move I found that I was at the bottom of a dip and the almost bald tires would not get me going at all. I found some cardboard to stick under the wheels but it simply slid out instead of moving the car.
By this time I was pretty cold and there was no one around to give me a shove so I dug around in the trunk and found a piece of thin rope, cut it into pieces with my pocket knife and tied them around the wheels like tire chains. Then I simply drove away and onto the main road. By the time I got home the rope had disappeared but I always carried a piece of rope with me after that - just in case.
One of the little idiosyncrasies of this car was the trouble getting it into reverse. If it wouldn't go in I would have to get out my long rubber gloves to protect my suit and
reach down the side of the engine to wiggle the linkage.
One day driving home from work there was a loud bang under the hood and the car started to shake mightily. I pulled over and found that one of the blades of the fan had broken off. With only three blades the fan was shaking badly so I got out a wrench and removed the fan belt. I knew the engine wouldn't overheat by the time I got home and the battery had just been charging so I hoped it would make it too because the fan belt also powered the generator. I got home, removed another fan blade and drove with a two bladed fan from then on.
Another time the car simply quit a few blocks from home.
Rather than walk and have to come back I but on the rubber gloves and started to tinker. It appeared to be getting no gas so I followed the line to the little mechanical pump and pulled it apart.
There was a lot of junk in there and one piece was just falling apart so I put the pump back together without the rotting part. I couldn't see what good it was doing anyway because the pump parts looked ok.
The car started first time and it wasn't until some time later that I figured it must have been a filter I threw away.
I don't miss that car at all but as I said driving was an adventure back then.