Volume VII, No. 2, Winter 1979

Crank Her Till She Boils!


by Joe Jeffery, Photography by Mary Schmalstig

"If we'd had it in gear and Joe hadn't give out, we'd been to town by now." That was just one of the things I heard one cool afternoon last May when I tried to start a very stubborn 1916 Model T. After we tried everything from yelling threats at the car to promising it a case of new oil, the car finally rumbled to life. For any machine to work after sixty-three years is quite a feat, and we wholeheartedly agree with Willis Ezard's comment, "The Model T has stood the test of time. That's the thing that really counts."

Transforming a country of horses and buggies to one of touring cars and roadsters was seemingly the spirit and purpose hammered, welded and riveted into every Model T.

People no longer had to depend on the railway to travel faster than a trot, and not only did the Model T get there faster, but once there, the engine could do still more. With the rear wheel jacked up, the car could hull walnuts, saw firewood or grind flour. People who could afford them, could purchase steel tractor wheels to make plowing easier and give o1' Nellie and Star a rest.

The economic system of America received a shot in the arm from Henry Ford. His utilization of mass production and assembly lines decreased the cost of the automobile so that even the most modest of incomes could afford a Tin Lizzie. Though it wasn't the first car to hit the roads of America, the Model T was by far the most popular.


This "universal car", as Henry Ford described it, was introduced to the public on October 1, 1908. It became the symbol of low-cost, reliable transportation winning the affection of millions. Mr. Ford admitted that the Model T wasn't the best car he was capable of designing at the time, but since the roads of 1908 were poor, he built a car that would run over anything.

For almost twenty years the Model T dominated the roads until competition and public demand brought about the Model A. For the Model T the official farewell came at 3:30 p.m. on May 26, 1927, when Henry Ford and his son Edsel drove the 15 millionth Model T from the production line at the factory in Highland Park, Michigan.

"I learned to drive on one of these lads," Gene Chambers said. "And trouble, I've had lots of that, but I could fix them."

Jess Easley, manager of a Ford Agency during Model T days, explained how a blacksmith who invented the differential missed out by not taking out a patent on it. "The differential is the gears between the back wheels. It lets one wheel run faster than the other when you run around a corner. And that's necessary. If the blacksmith had had a patent, he could have controlled the whole automobile industry with it, for the differential was the only essential thing. 'Course you had to have an engine, but you didn't have to have any particular kind. Then you had to have a radiator, but you didn't have to have any particular kind. But, by gosh, you have to have this differential, 'cause if you didn't, you couldn't go around a corner."

When speaking of the Model T, it is essential to mention the mechanics, or "what makes her move." Though it was rugged, tough and versatile, it still had flaws and problems. Our good friend, Gene Chambers explained, "I can tell you a little bit about a Model T. I was raised in one of the suckers--started driving one of them before I was sixteen. Now I'm sixty-six and everything I've had my hands on yet has been Ford right on up the line, and I've still got a pair of them! All of that time, and if I was going to town tomorrow to swap both of them off, I'd come back with another pair of Fords.

"Any trouble? Don't mention that. I've had that with them from one end to the other all my life, but I could fix them!"

Me and my brother used to like to hear them beller.

Gene explained that Model T's had quite a bit of trouble with the ignition system. As they had no batteries, the means for electricity was a magneto which was made up by magnets on the outside of the circular eighteen-inch flywheel located behind the engine. Cranking turned this flywheel, causing the magnets to create a magnetic field. A small post transferred that force to the timer, a small round fixture at the front of the motor which had four metal spots inside. A small roller on the end of the camshaft would roll around and touch one of the metal spots and cause one of the coils, located in the dash with the points, to ground and pull one of the points open. When the point was open, the fire would run down the spark plug wire and jump across the gap of the plug to explode the gas. This explosion made the piston move and, hopefully, start the car. If the tension on the coil was a bit too strong, however, Gene explained, "It never would close back right, and right there is where she'd play Yankee Doodle! There wasn't a fellow out of a hundred that could put a set of points on and get them adjusted right.


In the early days, a coil box (above) and magneto supplied all the electricity for the Model T. Later, a battery and its meters and switches (below) did the same thing. (by Melinda Stewart)

"Of course, that crude ignition system was always giving trouble. It would miss a little here and miss a little there, just dilly dally around about it, just enough to kill the soup out of the power. Those coils might have been improperly adjusted to where one time they'd fire and the next time they would not. You had to be first class mechanic to drive one, let me tell you that for sure, and you had to have a stout back to crank it.

"To crank it you push that spark up to retire the spark. It won't kick your hat off, but it won't pull anything that way. When it's started, you have to pull the spark down and give it some gas to drive. It had a fixed, manual control spark. Today the engine does it itself. The throttle was on the right side. When you pulled those levers back, you pulled its ears back. That's what they did when they opened her wide open."

One of the more peculiar aspects of the Model T was the gas tank which was located on the frame directly under the front seat. The tank held ten gallons of gas and had a small line to the carburetor. To fill up the tank the driver removed the front seat cushion, unscrewed the cap on the right side and poured in the gas from a can. Gene said, "One time Dad went to town and stopped to get gas, raised up the seat cushion and there was the prettiest black snake you ever saw curled up on that gas tank. He had rode all the way to town on that snake!"

Since the car had no fuel pump, it relied on gravity feed. If the tank was full gravity worked fine, but if there were only two or three gallons in the tank, as the car tried to climb a hill, there wasn't enough .pressure for the gas to flow uphill to the engine.

Gene said, "Dad's brother thought as long as he had two or three gallons in his tank he had plenty of gas. When I was a kid, I rode up a many a hill with him in reverse--more than I ever did in low. He would pull it up in low 'till she died. Then he'd turn it around and get her headed downhill and crank her up and back it up the hill. When he put the hind wheels so much higher, the gas'd feed down in.

"Then later they put the gas tank right up in the dash," Gene continued. "That raised it way above the carburetor so it would pull a hill with only a half gallon in there as it could just drain the tank dry. I thought that was the best place in the world for a gas tank, but you know what happened? The insurance companies come along and said it was too dangerous up there. They were right in a way, for if you had a head-on collision, it would bust this gas tank, throw it all over everybody and set them afire."


Instead of having an oil pan like modern automobiles, the Model T had the oil in the flywheel housing behind the engine. To check the oil, the owner crawled underneath the car and turned the upper of two petcocks. If oil flowed out, it was full. If it didn't, he turned the lower petcock, and if it flowed, the car was only a little low. However, if it didn't flow, the driver better add oil.

The way oil was distributed was quite ingenious. The rotating flywheel threw oil off into a small funnel connected to a line inside the engine block. The oil drained into a U trough under each cylinder. As the rods came down, they splashed the oil on everything, quite unlike the oil being pressured as it is today.

"Years ago, they had to have an oil that they called Polarene F. F stood for Ford," Gene said. "Someway, some company got in with Ford to put that brand on there so they could sell a lot more of their product. I guess it was pretty good oil, but it poured about like molasses, and there wasn't an ounce of cleaning fluid in it--not a bit like the oil we've got nowadays that is half or better detergent oil. That stuff would just accumulate all the sludge there was right in every motor you'd put it in. You could take one of them motors apart after several years and have a gallon of that old black sloppy looking stuff in there. Nowadays if any engine is properly taken care of with filter and oil, you can carry in your hands all the dirt that's in there from one that's been driven 100,000 miles."

Rugged as they were, Model T's did show signs of wear after a while. Then you could repair them or do as Gene did with some connecting rods that were getting loose, "Just kick your cutout open and forget about them because you can't hear them. The Model T had a heavy cast iron piston, but the crankshaft wasn't big enough to carry that heavy piston, and it got to knocking those rods out. A cast iron piston will outwear any that has been built yet. Nowadays they're all aluminum and all four pistons weigh only as much as one of these iron ones did, so they can carry it at higher speed without near the trouble. They were 3-3/4 inch in size and about as long as a pencil. Straight cast iron and it was just like picking up lead.

"Ball bearings also gave a lot of trouble back in the first days of these babies. When they come out they had Chevrolet ball bearings, one on each side of the hub. These just set all the way around loose in a trough. Since there was no spacers between them, they just rubbed against one another, and the first thing you know, you'd have a little flat place on one of them, and then it would catch. Then you'd bust the whole damn works. But still that was better than a bronze bushing which was the best they had then. Then they got to putting spacers in there to keep them from touching one another which made it some better."

The four small baldes were stiffer than those on modern cars and the flat belt would slip off fairly easily.


The Model T then went to a taper tempkin roller bearing, which is what is used today. At that time, however, water and dirt got into it. The mechanic took a cap off the end of the axle to fill the axle with grease. The only seal, which wasn't very good, was next to the hub.

Compared to today's systems, the cooling system was very crude. The radiator, holding close to six gallons, had no thermostat and no water pump. Hot water would rise from the top of the motor into the radiator, forcing the cold from the bottom of the radiator back into the bottom of the motor block to cool the engine. A small four-bladed fan was turned by a flat fabric belt about one inch wide. The top pulley was flat and the bottom pulley was smooth. Gene said, "If you ran through a little puddle of water and threw it up and hit the fan, she'd just kick that belt off at the bottom and she'd get hot in the next half mile. The steam would be rolling out. You had to be a first class mechanic to learn how to drive one, and then you had to be two mechanics after you got it started to keep it running.

"There wasn't no such thing as antifreeze when this car was made. They first came out with an alcohol base that you mixed with water which was just fine the coldest day of the year, but if it got a little bit warm and you would drive to town, you'd boil that stuff all out. Then you'd put the car back in the shed thinking you had plenty of antifreeze. But it would freeze up and bust because you had boiled it all out{ You had to keep checking and adding all the time.

"The radiator drain was underneath it on the driver's side. There is a little petcock to let the water out. I remember one cold time when us kids were big enough to drive, we went up the river to a party. Dad told us to drain the radiator when we got there or it would freeze up. It was a 1927 Model T and it wasn't very old then. We parked it over on the high side of the hill, sitting on a slope, and we drained it all out but the corner which was still full of water. The next day we filled it up with water and we had a leak in the radiator where that water was. Boy, if we didn't get into it!"

The Model T transmission was made of planetary gears controlled by three foot pedals. The left pedal was the two forward speeds, low and high. When the driver pushed that pedal to the floor, it gripped a drum putting the car in low. About halfway up on the pedal was neutral and all the way out was high gear.

The middle pedal, reverse, also gripped a drum which made the car go backwards. The right pedal was the brake. The brake wasn't on the wheels as today. It was a large drum that was clamped by a cotton band to stop. There was also a lever by the left knee that was an emergency brake if pulled all the way back.

Obviously there was no smog equipment on the Model T, and the exhaust system was quite simple. Gene said, "They used to have a great big nut you screwed on the manifold that had a big pipe on it. Me and my brother used to like to hear that exhaust better. We'd take that nut loose when we got away from the house. Dad found out, so he got a great big old wrench big enough to fit that nut. He tightened her on there to where we couldn't get that nut loose. I don't know what made him do it, but he hung that wrench up. We could use the one he tightened it with to loosen it. We'd catch his head turned, and we'd go down there and loosen that nut, and when we got away from the house, we'd take it off with our hands!

"The floorboards in those things were wooden. That pipe came out right under the floor, and I have seen pipes burn a hole in there. The factory made a cutout--a hole in the pipe with a damper in it. The cut out was extra. You'd hit a button on the floorboard, and it opened that damper and turned that exhaust out right there in front of the muffler and made it louder. Boy, if you didn't have a cutout on your Model T, you didn't have nothing. That was as popular as a hoot owl. If you got in a crowd, you'd put it through the muffler and be real quiet. Everybody had to have a cutout!

"It has been twenty-five years since I was in the seat of a Model T, but I think I could get in and take right up my hill just like I always could. It's been so long the first thing I'd do probably would be to kill it about eight times, for you had to give them all they had for power. They only had a twenty-two horse engine. They didn't have much load to pull, but considering the roads they had to go through, they were awful short of power.


Hundreds of Model T's like this 1916 touring car rolled out of the Ford factory. In 1920, Henry Ford announced his plan to pay his employees the unheard-of sum of five dollars a day. He also made good on his promise to pay a hundred dollar rebate if he sold a certain number of cars.

"If you had one of these that would do fifty miles an hour on level ground, you had something you could talk about. I had one one time, a 1927 model, and that was just all she had, and that had to be on level ground. It wouldn't run that all day--why, you'd tear it all to pieces! About twenty-five or thirty was their cruising speed. When they was first built, the roads we had, why you were just fairly flying then! Model T trucks, why they'd hardly go fifteen mile an hour."

In addition to differences in the engine and transmission, there were major differences in springs and wheels. Each axle had one spring in it, arched crossways of the car. Today the springs are length ways.

At first the tires were pneumatic rubber which was a great improvement, even though they gave a lot of trouble. Jess Easley said, "One of the big troubles about tires was rocks. Flint rocks were sharp and they couldn't get them out of the roads. Out in the country anytime you had a hill to climb, there was a ditch right at the bottom of it, so that you couldn't get a run at it. You had a heck of a time. You would go as far as you could, and then you would slap it into low and crawl up that hill.

If you got up any speed and hit a rock, you would knock a hole in that tire. The tires had cloth in them, just heavy canvas, about four layers of it welded together with rubber. Boy, when you would hit that and knock it in that way, it would just break, for it was too tight and hard. They called that a stone bruise. Then the air pressure would push the rubber out on the outside, and you would have a bump out there. Finally the broken place would chew a hole in the tube and let the air out. About 1924 they came along with what they called a balloon tire. There were made out of a cord and not cloth. The rubber was between all of it, and it would give when you hit a rock. It wouldn't break. Then they got to making these cords so they would stretch. You could hit them pretty hard and they wouldn't break.

"Goodyear, Firestone and Goodrich made the tires. We took on the agency one time for Michelin, that is the big tire company in Europe. They didn't know anything about the Missouri Ozarks. They guaranteed their tires for three thousand miles, and there wasn't a tire in the world that would run three thousand miles on these roads here. We had a real time with those, but we just have to replace them. You couldn't hardly get a thousand miles out of a tire."

Gene described the early tires and rims. "The high pressure tire in front was a thirty by three--a thirty inch wheel and a three inch tire, about like a bicycle tire. It was a high wheel to give the axle clearance for the roads we had. It took sixty to seventy pounds of air pressure which was way too much. It wasn't nothing to get a brand new tire and blow it in two or bust it before you got to town and back.


The demountable rim helped to ease the motorist's mind about flat tires, not because of the tire being puncture proof, but because a spare tire ready to be mounted could easily be carried on the car. Note in the picture the four nuts that could be unscrewed to remove the tire. The wooden spokes would occasionally become dry and loosen, thus necessitating driving the car in the creek for the spokes to swell and tighten.

"The rim was made with a clencher on it, and the tire had a rubber canvas bead that caught under it to hold it on there. If you didn't watch yourself on that little thirty by three tire, if you turned it very short with any speed at all, he'd pull that clencher out. My uncle had an old '14 model. When I got old enough to drive, I couldn't turn it around on my hillside to save my life without having to stop, pull that tire off there, put that tube back in it, put the tire back on the wheel and pump it back up. Uncle could, but it would just invariably pull the tire off the rim with me. The back ones was the same way, but they was thirty by three and a half. That was a big tire. Then they came out with what they called a balloon tire. It was a twenty-nine by 4.40. Boy, it was talked about something pitiful, them balloon tires. Dad and a lot of other old men, they wouldn't have them things. My neigh said it looked to him like putting a big old shoe on a little bitty horse. I guess he wanted to fix flats because the balloon tires would outlast these other two to one."

After the clincher rim, the demountable rim was introduced. This had a steel rim around the wooden spokes and another steel rim inside the tire. The tire was attached to the wheel by four lug bolts on the wheel rim. This design allowed the owner to carry a spare on the back of his car.

The steering gears were straight cogs with no reduction to them. The driver had to be very careful because a small turn of the hand would send him back the way he came. This meant he had to watch for large rocks, for it he hit one with the front tire, it would jerk the steering wheel right out of his hands.

Gene explained the mechanism for stopping. "Two wheel brakes was all it had. If you happened to stomp it too fast, you'd jerk the ring gear out. Then you wouldn't have nothing left!

That didn't happen very often. There were three soft cotton bands on them three pedals and drums. A plain old cotton band was all they ever found that would work in there. And they was short-lived. The brake linings we have today, you'd have to have a saw to cut through them. In that day and time you could cut them in two with a pocketknife. Sometimes the brake band would wear and wouldn't hold, so you'd set your foot on that reverse. That was just as good a brake as any!"

Despite its trouble, the Model T was successful. A good part of the success is that the cars were designed for the roads of the times. "We didn't have no roads, so if we went up our big old ridge road, we had to take a team of mules to get out, and that axle on the Model T's was high. The driver's feet on that car were higher than their head is nowadays! You could straddle a stump knee-high, or a 200 pound hog could walk under the Model T. Nowadays you've got to pull around the gravel on the road or you'll drag on it. You can't even throw a match under one now."


According to some owners, the Model T could be fixed with a wrench, screwdriver, ball peen hammer and some heavy wire. They also believed the absence of bumpers and tendency of fenders to wrinkle and soften helped get it out of tight spots. Some owners were very devoted to their cars. It is said that one fellow on his deathbed requested that his Model T be buried with him because he had never been in a hole yet that his Ford didn't get him out!

Gene said, "In that day and time they tried to build them with quality. Nowadays, they try to see what they can put in there in the place of quality. There was no plastic anywhere. She's steel, cast iron and them wheel spokes is wood. The seats on them older Model T's especially, was genuine leather. You couldn't wear that dude out.

"In those Model T days, there wasn't nothing else going but Model T's--scarcely anything--a few old Chevrolets, but they had to go to Ford Motor Company to keep the Chevrolets going. Nowadays, take a Ford or Chevrolet, you buy the name plate and they get away with all the rest."

"They thought they had something with those magneto lights."

Since I had never seen a Model T before, Gene Chambers explained what they looked like and how minor things worked. "You run right off this magneto with everything. You can see them things were kerosene park lights. Oh boy, they thought they had something when they had those magneto lights. As long as you was in low gear and had that motor wound up pretty good, that magneto was making a lot of fire, and boy, those lights would shine out there to who laid the chunk. But if you put it back into high gear and slowed that motor down, it was just like holding a match out there in front of you. It was always a kicking those bulbs out of there off that magneto. They just wouldn't last worth a nickel. Later on they put a battery and generator on them and had battery lights that were about as good as we've got now--though not quite, because they were bulb type and they are sealed beam now.

The Model T's had three foot pedals and one hand-operated brake (not shown). The right pedal was the brake, the middle was reverse, and the left pedal, pushed to the floor was low, half way out was neutral and all the way out was high. While driving down the road, the feet were free, for the speed was controlled by a hand throttle by the steering wheel. (by Kathy Long)

The view from the passenger's seat of this Model T roadster is cut in two by the divided windshield which can be adjusted for air control. (by Joe Jeffery)


"This car had kerosene park lights up on the side that you lit when you parked the car. You've seen those old kerosene lamps. Same cotton picking thing. Just open that glass up there and light that with a match, and it'd just set there and burn away."

On both the roadster and the touring car the top could be put up or folded back. It could be unfastened from the windshield and folded back. For bad weather there were side curtains. Jess Easley remembered, "They were made of heavy oilcloth with isinglass on the side. There were four windows and the back the same way. Generally you would wait till it started raining and then get wet putting them up."

Gene said, "You put up the side curtains like you see on some of these new tractors they put out. They'd fasten down around the edge of the doors and the windshield and up to the top. On some of the older models you'd have to unbutton it and fold it back to get out. Some models were made so that they'd open with the door. They were much handier, but you would have to carry them under the seat. In that old '27 we had, me and my brother carried them under the back seat all the time. We would be out running around and get right close to a rain storm, and we'd stop at the side of the road, jerk them curtains out and put them on and keep going! Well, one time we were at a man's house when it came up a pretty good rain. He had an old garage and we thought we would run her right up beside of the garage to keep the wind from blowing the rain in. We didn't have sense enough but what we put the top right under the eave of that little garage. .That eave just poured down on that top which was just cloth. Oh, they had some kind of dressing on it that would turn water pretty good till you'd drive it three or four miles and it'd crack all to pieces. Then about all it does is strains the water that goes in there! That was the shape our top was in. We went out to get in our dry car, and it looked like somebody had a-throwed a tub-ful of water in both seats. It poured right off that building through that top, and we were worse off then we would have been if we left it out away from that building."

There were only a few extras the buyer could get with his new Model T. Jess said, "For flooring they had a rubberized mat in front. In the back they had the tonneau--kind of a felt mat back there. They all had running boards but you could buy a luggage rack to go on the running board to put your luggage in. You could buy a fancy radiator cap, fancy bumpers and steering wheels to put on. One outfit up here in Jefferson City came out with a hickory bumper. They were in the saddle tree business, and they were just about to be put out of business, so they came up with making bumpers. They sold a lot of them.

"You just bought a car. It was black--you didn't have a choice of that--and in '24 you could buy them with or without an electric starter. An electrical starter was about the only factory option you had."

You could have any color you wanted ... as long as it was black!

Though there were different types of Model T's, there was not a lot of change in design from year to year other than slope of doors, shape of door handles or curve of fenders. Ervin Engsberg stated, "The biggest change in the Model T was from the brass radiator to the regular radiator that they have today."

The touring car, with the fold down top, airy open window spaces and room for the family, was the most popular of the styles. It had three doors, two on the right side and one in back on the driver's side. Many people wondered why there was no driver's side door for the front seat. James Jeffery explained, "People around here used to say anybody that was fool enough to drive one was fool enough to fall out!"


The roadster was a smaller car with one seat and room for two persons. It, too, had a fold down top.

The coupe was a two passenger enclosed car with spacious windows that provided breeze in summer yet kept out drafts in winter.

The sedan was the large family car, also enclosed with a steel roof. This car was ideal for both winter and summer use.

The Model T truck was very helpful to farmers for heavy work and hauling around the farm and especially going to market, for it speeded delivery of goods even though recommended speed limit was 15 mph!

To start the Model T the driver had to do several things. First he checked the gas by raising the front seat and putting a stick in the tank to measure. Then he put the spark, the left lever on the steering column, all the way up. Next he put the gas, the right lever, about one-third of the way down and then he began to crank. Perhaps he would need to choke the car. If there were two people, one could choke it by a button or lever on the dash, but if there was only one, there was a handle near the radiator to pull for the choke. If he wrapped only his fingers around the crank and not his thumb there was less chance of having an arm broken by the crank if it should kick. Hopefully the car would start.

If the car was stubborn about starting, people often jacked up the hind wheel. "Those high clutch discs in the flywheel run in oil," Gene explained. "When that oil was cold, those discs wouldn't separate. They had to jack that hind wheel up, just leave it in high, so when they got that wheel to turn a little, it would serve as the flywheel and help turn that cold motor. Boy, it would take off and get that hind wheel going to town right now. There were times you couldn't crank it to save your life if you didn't jack that wheel up. Sometimes you could set a pan of coals under the flywheel to warm the oil to make it crank easier.

"When they got electric starters on the cars, they would crank it, but they made a mistake on them lads, too. The starter was right back near the seat in the floor on the left hand side of the motor with the generator on the right side, and the battery was in a case back in the back floorboard. It had at least a six foot cable and only a six volt electrical system. It just wouldn't carry the power on that long a cable. That's the trouble they had and they didn't find out till A Model days, when they put the darned thing right up in the front floorboard. If it had been a twelve volt it wouldn't have made no difference. It would have worked, or if they had put it under the front floorboard, it would have turned that old baby like a top."

After the car started, the driver would go to the steering column and pull the spark and gas levers down until the engine ran smoothly. Seating himself in the driver's seat and when the engine had plenty of power, he pushed down on the left pedal for low. As the car got enough speed, he simply let out on the pedal to put the car into high. The speed was controlled by the hand throttle.

To stop he put his car in neutral and braked it.

Ervin Engsberg worked at the Ford Agency during Model T days and had to give driving lessons. "A lot of people didn't know how to drive a Model T, and one of the requirements they asked of us was to teach them how to drive. That job got pushed off on me, 'cause a lot of people didn't want to do that. I taught quite a few people to drive. I'd take them home, and someone else'd come after me, and I'd go back on Sunday and spend the day with them."

With the wide use of the Model T came many changes. People bought cars from car dealers, there were gas stations, better roads and mechanics.

The cars were not shipped complete as they are today but were shipped in parts. The chassis, body and tires were all separate. "They were shipped in boxcars," Jess said, "mostly about six to a boxcar. If they had trucks in there then there would be about five cars and a truck. They had to put those in a boxcar in a pretty ingenious way to get them all in there, but they could do it. And then we had to unload them and put the body on the chassis and get them ready to go."

The cars were packed diagonally in the boxcars. The windshield, body and fenders all had to be put on later. To get the car out the workers had to bring the rear end down, put on the wheels and tires, then bring the front end down and put on the wheels and tires to get it on the ground.


With the coming of the Model T to the Ozarks, people began to buy them readily. In those days dealers were shipped a quota which they had to sell as there were no returns to the factory, but even in a small town a dealer could sell 150 or more cars each year.

Jess Easley remembered the beginning of the local used car business. "We didn't trade for secondhand cars for a number of years. The owner of the agency just wouldn't do it. About 1922 when he went to St. Louis to put in an agency down there, I took over this place here for most of the time. I tried to get him to let us trade. He wouldn't do it, but finally I just went ahead and traded anyway. We had to do it in order to sell new cars. That was the first car trading that was done around here. "At one time right along 1919 or 1920 the lowest prices I remember for the automobile was 375 dollars for the roadster and 425 for the touring car."

At first the bankers in the Ozarks wouldn't dream of loaning money for a Model T, but the success of the car changed their minds before long. if the buyer had enough cash he could buy the car, but though insurance was available, most persons did not carry any. License plates were required, but in the beginning it seems the majority of the public tried to get by without them. Some never were caught.

Some people made use of Model T's to run a still. If copper was scarce, the owner might find his gas line missing. Chances were, though, in a little while a moonshiner would bring the line back and put it on. Usually they thanked him and he might even come away with a gallon or two of shine!

Ervin Engsberg remembers other ways area folk used their car. "People around here got to where they would saw wood with a Model T. They'd jack up one wheel and put a mandrel on the back of the chassis and use the flywheel on one side and jack up the other wheel and it would run your saw. When you jacked up the rear wheel it was the best way in the world to hull walnuts. Jack it up just a little way and throw walnuts under there, it would kick them out from under there and knock the hulls off of them pretty fast."

Jess explained how some people made a living with their cars. "Some people drove all the time and it wasn't very long till we had salesmen travel by automobile. They wouldn't have more than eight to twelve miles between stops and they could travel that way. We had taxis even before the first World War. They were Model T's."

A fully operational 1923 Model T roadster owned by Willis Ezard took the fancy of our photographer's eye one wet spring morning. Mr. Ezard has tried to retain as much of the original car as possible in his restoration. Notice the tool box on the running board. On the other side there is a luggage rack on the running board.

Some called Model T's, "Homely as a burro and useful as a pair of shoes." Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company Note the rolled-back top, the absence Of front doors and the stylish coachlights.


Gene remembered the driving habits of people in his neck of the woods. "In that day and time people wasn't out of a night to amount to anything. Why I can remember our old car setting down here in the shed many a time as high as thirty and sixty days at a time and never was touched.

"Other times four or five carloads of us would make a date to meet up here at Uncle's to go to church to a big revival. We'd meet up there and gang up--his was the last house on the road. There would be four or five Model T's, and they all had four or five kids in them. We had to help one another get there--that's the truth! Sometimes when they didn't have the power, we would have to push them up over the top of the hill."

Gasoline delivery was rather primitive. Jess said, "Up at the shop we bought gasoline from Manny Mayfield. He had a big old frame building that was built for a canning factory, and he sold and delivered the gas in ten gallon cream cans--poured it in our tank."

Early gas delivery in the rural areas was even more uncertain. Gene said, "One time we were going over to my granddad's east of Orla. They had an awful good country store there at the time. O1' Uncle Dick Lewis run it. We stopped there on a Saturday evening and Dad asked Uncle Dick if he had any gasoline. 'Yeah, yeah,' he said. 'I've got some.' There was a big high porch on the east end of the store building, with a long set of stairs on the south side. He walked around under that porch, picked up a five gallon can with a spout built on it, had a barrel up on blocks high enough to get this can under it. He drained five gallons out of that barrel and went around our Model T, raised the cushion and poured it in the tank. That was the gasoline service we had back that day and time. We were lucky to find it. He hauled it in the back of an old truck out of town in a fifty-five gallon oil barrel, unloaded it by hand, and put it up on them blocks. There wasn't no such thing as a tank truck come along to fill them up."

Everyone spoke about the poor roads. "We had to wade mudholes," said Gene. "If we had a gravel road that was half a mile long without a mudhole in it, why we were really going to town. Most people living by the road kept their mules in the barn harnessed to pull the cars out that went by." We even heard of a profiteer who had a large mudhole in the road by his house and would pull people out for fifty cents or a dollar. Then each night he would haul water to put in the hole so he would have some business the next day.


Even after sixty-six years, the radiator on this 1916 Model T is beginning to shine with the luster it did in its heyday. The ease in restoration was due to the use of quality materials and workmanship in its manufacture. The Model T was light and strong because of the use of heat treated steel and its reasonable size. The car, weighing only 4,100 pounds, had a wheelbase of 100 inches yet still cleared the road by ten and a half inches.

Ervin remembered how appalled two out-of-town ladies were at the early Ozark roads. "Two ladies drove a Model T in one evening from the east. They said, 'Have you got a place we could store our car?' They were going to Oklahoma and didn't want any more of the going like they'd had between St. Louis and Lebanon. They even looked for Indians or bears--they were scared to death! We told them that we could store their car. They caught the train that evening about seven o'clock and went to Oklahoma. They came back in about two weeks and picked up their car and went back home."

Road conditions had to improve after people had cars. Jess said, "As soon as people all began to get automobiles, especially country people, then they wanted rural roads. They had never had any roads--horses and buggies, wagons, stuff like that could go over most any kind of a road, some way. They would get stuck even with the wagon and the team, but they could get over the roads. But when a few of the country people got to where they could get them an automobile then, by gosh, they wanted roads! Then was when we got to having the good roads. About 1922, the Missouri Legislature passed a law raising seventy-five million dollars to build roads in Missouri. They organized the Highway Department. A man by the name of Gary was the engineer. He was an old man at the time, but he got in behind that thing and insisted that the legislature pass laws to keep it out of politics, and they did. Missouri has kept their Highway Department out of politics all these years, and because of that, we had good roads here when all these other states around us were mired down. Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, didn't have good roads till years after we did."

In the Ozarks, as in most places in America, the Model T will be remembered as the first reliable automobile for getting a person where he wanted to go. When put on the market, it wasn't the first automobile on the roads, but it was so different in design and so much improved in versatility from the others, that it can be said that it put the American public on wheels. From grocery shopping to grinding corn to hulling walnuts, the Model T set America on a faster and more productive pace. Many jobs which had been done by horse and buggy or hired hands could be done more quickly and efficiently thanks to Henry Ford's "Universal Car." The span of the Model T popularity is one that few cars since could match. Model T's were available to businessmen and farmers alike at a reasonable price which both could afford. Gene Chambers probably summed up the Model T best when he said, "Now there's what had the popularity and took the world.


Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.

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