Early Automobiles

Original Airdate: March 6 (2012)

This is Living Stories, featuring voices from the collections of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. I'm Kim Patterson.

The 1911 Texas Almanac reported that approximately 15,000 automobiles were in service in the Lone Star State. The Almanac went on to say, "Although the automobile is counted a luxury and in the majority of cases, is used for pleasure, or as a means of transportation from the home to the office, the automobile is found in practical everyday life in all parts of the State."

Businessman Robert Lee Lockwood remembers his family was one of the first in Waco to own a car:

"We bought an E-M-F 30. And I doubt if they—many people ever heard of such a car. Course, we had to crank it with hand. It didn't have an electric starter. And we had a carbide setup where the water was in the top and the carbide below, and you'd loosen the valves so the water would drip on the carbide and create the gas for your lights. Course, the taillight was an oil lamp that was used."

Lockwood describes car trips in the early 1900s:

"Your tires were a constant problem. You wouldn't go to Dallas and back very often without having a puncture. And you usually had your extra tire or you'd have your patch to put on it. But they wasn't hard to get off in those days. (laughter) They wasn't—it wasn't difficult to do it. Course, you'd have to pump your tire up, and you'd carry your pump with you if you didn't have an extra. But going up there, why, it would take about four hours. The roads would—winding, and it would probably—well, you'd probably stop a time or two to get water in your car and to possibly check your oil or something. I know we drove up there many a time, but that was quite an event to drive to Dallas, and we'd usually spend the night up there and then would come back the next day. A little too much to go up and back the same day."

Waco civic leader Jack Kultgen talks about his first job selling cars in Dallas in 1921:

"It was a whole lot different than it is now because you took cars out and demonstrated them to people in their homes, and you had to make a dozen calls on them. And I had a little money. Where—I don't know where I got it, but I had it. And I paid list price for my own automobile to demonstrate with with this dealer. That was, it turns out, the only way I could get the job. He didn't give me a dime discount to buy a demonstrator."

Many people in the 1920s were buying cars for the first time, and Kultgen recalls that salespeople often had to show customers how to operate them:

"If you never taught anybody to drive a Model T, why, you got something to learn yourself. You had to throw it in low, and then you had to let it fly back, and then you—that was the left pedal, and then the right pedal was your brake. Your middle pedal was reverse. And you had to be manipulating those hand things all the time. Took a lot of coordination until you got used to it. If you got somebody that was a little clumsy—it was pretty hectic teaching anybody to drive."

Once considered a luxury, automobiles soon became part of the American Dream and are now difficult to live without.

Living Stories is heard every Tuesday on 103 point 3 FM, Waco's NPR. For program transcripts or more information about the Institute for Oral History, visit baylor.edu/livingstories.

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