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Herbert and Emily's Own Auto

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Herbert Pickett, Jr. writing:

      The great event this year was the purchase of their own automobile.

      After the summer experience, Dad was desperate to get a car. He read all the ads he could and looked up possibilities in Elizabeth, Newark, Manhattan and Brooklyn. Finally he found what he was looking for in a garage on East 54th street, Manhattan. The price was $275.00. Dad had about $250 in the bank. They settled on that price. It was a Model T Ford Touring car, probably a 1917 model. Very used. He spent the next week or so trying to get some if its defects remedied, such as a missing muffler. The car had no self starter. To start it, the lever under the right side of the wheel was pushed up to retard the spark. The lever to the left was the throttle and was opened half way. There was no foot accelerator. There was no battery. The ignition was by means of a "magneto", a sort of primitive generator. Then the driver went to the front and turned the crank. When he felt compression, he gave a yank and maybe it started. If it didn't, a man of Dad's strength would spin it. A backfire at this point has been known to break arms. Once the motor began to run, the driver ran to the wheel, advanced the spark, and drove away. You will have to read the original to get the mechanical details. Anyway, they set out for a trip to Mother's class reunion at Smith. The first reunion in those days was the third year. I missed being the class baby by two weeks.

      After spending the first night at the Woodbridges, they headed to Springfield. Dad said they had about twenty flat tires that day, each of which had to be repaired in detail. It was after dark before they arrived at the home of Rachel Blair, Mother's best college friend. While the girls and I went to the reunion by train, Dad set off for Worcester. After incredible difficulties, he arrived at the farm about 3:00 A.M. Mother and I returned by railroad. Dad said the summer, "was full of routine accidents and hardships." At the end of the summer, he decided to drive to Baltimore, Mother to follow by railroad with me. An auto trip in that vehicle was not the best thing for a pregnant woman. Dad wrote of this car, "It had no virtues. All the defects of a machine still in its developing stage were combined in this car. There was an additional spiritual malignancy about it. The perversity of the of the inanimate has always fascinated me. This car was all evil. We had a good name for her but I cannot recall it." (But I can recall it. My childish name for a toilet was "chair-chair". It was always called the chair-chair car.)

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