Reinhardt Family History
Memories of Eggs and Chickens
Stories from Neil Reinhardt
My First Car
Henry Ford made his first car in 1896. He made several other models before introducing the Model T in 1908. This car, and the way automobiles were built, was changed from then on. The Model T was the only car Ford produced for 19 years. My first memory of the Model T was in November of 1919 when a brand new shiny black touring car was delivered to our house. It was put in the machine shed by the man who delivered it. My dad didn't know how to drive at that time. It was promptly put up on blocks to await the coming of spring and the drying of the mud roads before it could be driven. The radiator was drained and a large canvas put over to protect it from the droppings of sparrows that lived in the shed. I was nine years old at the time, so it would be several years before I learned about it's operation. I'll describe it as a touring car with three doors - a door on each side to enter the rear seat, and one door on the right side for the front seat. There were side curtains to be snapped on the sides in case of rain. The gas tank was under the front seat. The cushion had to be removed to put gas in the tank.
There were two small levers on the steering column under the steering wheel. The one on the right regulated the speed of the car, and the one on the left advanced or retarded the spark. This spark lever had to be retarded before the engine was cranked. There were many broken wrists because operators forgot to retard the spark before turning the crank, which then spun out of control. Once the engine was started and the driver seated behind the wheel, feet and hands were kept busy. To the right was a lever to set the parking brake and keep the transmission in neutral. At the drivers feet were three pedals. The pedal on the left controlled low and high gear and neutral. The one in the center was for reverse, and the one on the right was the brake. In order to back up, the brake lever had to be moved forward while holding the left pedal about half way to the floor, then the center pedal was depressed until the car backed up. To go forward the left pedal was pushed until the car moved. After it had gained some momentum, the pedal was released and it was in high gear. With a tail wind and the throttle lever pulled down as far as it would go, the car could sometimes reach a speed of 40 miles per hour. For night driving the head lamps were operated by electricity from the magneto. If the car was driven slow the lights were very dim. As the car accelerated the headlights got brighter. If the speed of the car was increased too much the bulb would burn out. The tail lamp was a little kerosene lamp with red glass.
It wasn't until the year 1920 that a Model T came out equipped with a battery starter and electric head and tail lamps. In 1925 a Ford touring car would be bought for $290. F.O.B. Detroit. Starter and demountable rims $85. Extra. Henry Ford made automobiles available to the working man. By the year 1960 his factory had built more cars than any other company in the world. In 1903 Ford organized the Ford Motor Company. The authorized capital was $100,000., but only $28,000 was raised. One man put $2,500 in the venture, and by 1919 when he sold his holdings to Ford, he had drawn $5 million in dividends, and sold his shares back for $30 million. I think the Ford Model T car was sworn at and sworn by more than any other make of car.
In about the year 1927 the Hudson and Essex car dealer built a large garage and showroom at the northern end of what is now the Southtown Shopping center on south Main Street in Fond du Lac. It was a busy place until the stock market crash in 1929; after that it was empty for a number of years. In the time of the Great Depression it was used to hold dance marathons, something for the people to do that did not cost much money. I paid 25 cents to watch couples struggling around the dance floor, one holding the other up as the other got a little sleepy. This went on for four weeks or longer sometimes. They were on the floor for 15 minutes then had a five minute break. I don't remember all the rules, but it went on until there was only one couple remaining to win the prizes. For a time Omar bakery used that building as a distribution center. Later a farm implement dealer used the building. The original building was occupied by Voel Motors. My uncle Am had ordered a new car from them in the Fall, and traded in his old car. The new one was to be delivered in the Spring.
At that time most people walked to work or rode the street car. Their cars were put up on blocks for the winter and not driven again until warm weather. When Spring arrived that year for some reason the dealer did not deliver the new car to my uncle. After spending some time in the local speakeasy with the car salesman, complaining about not having a car, they went to the garage where he was shown seven or eight used cars. He could have his pick for $10. He picked out the best looking one, said he would take it. The salesman laughed, and said my uncle would have to start it. He had it towed home. Being a self-taught mechanic, he ground the valves, put in all new wires and spark plugs, but it would not start without a tow, and then it only hit on three cylinders. When his new car finally came, he did not have room for both in his yard, so he drove the old one to our farm.
My dad and I were milking in the evening when he came in the barn and asked if he could park it in the yard. He turned to me and said "If you can start it, you can have it for $10." No cow was ever milked faster in their life when he said that to me. My dad had a model T truck and after helping him work on it I knew a few things that could go wrong with a model T. One was the timer. The inside had a little roller which sometimes had to be replaced. When I checked the timer I saw that a little spring was missing. In the old truck was a box of timers that had been replaced. I salvaged a spring from one of these, put it on the car's timer, cranked the car and it started right away, hitting on all four cylinders. About 20 minutes after my uncle left, I had the car running. He had just gotten home when I called him and asked him if he really meant it...that I could have the car for $10. He said yes, on one condition: I had to drive it to town, shut off the motor, then start it again. I was afraid he would change his mind, so I drove to town as soon as I could. After giving him the $10, I owned my first car. I had no monthly payments to make, and didn't have to worry about being laid off and unable to make car payments. I could now go to see my friends without begging to use the family car. I could now even go to North Fond du Lac, and on a nice day even go as far as Oshkosh or even Sheboygan! Also, the girls liked you better if you had a car, even if it was a 'tin lizzie' and you didn't have much money.
Today the cost of a new car is anywhere between $9000 and $50,000 in all colors of the rainbow. My $16,000 car does not mean as much to me as my first Model T bought for $10.