Grandpa’s Driving Lesson
The Atkinson family’s first motorized vehicle, a Ford of course, was purchased about 1918. It had a shiny brass radiator, kerosene lamps on each side of the passenger compartment, new Fisk “Red Top” red rubber tires, and the standard hand-cranked starter. It was very hard to start at any time, but particularly so in the winter, when it was frequently necessary to jack up the rear wheels before attempting to start it. It was also necessary to drain the radiator on very cold days or nights during the winter when it might freeze, and to refill it next time it was to be driven. Often, water would be heated in a kettle and poured into the radiator to warm up the motor, hopefully making it easier to start. Ed’s son, Fred, had learned to drive so became the official family chauffeur.
When Ed’s brother, George, died in 1923, Ed decided they needed a newer, more dependable car to make the trip to Landrum, SC for the funeral. They went to Joe Martin’s in Chesnee, SC to look at cars, and chose a Model A Ford with red wooden spoke wheels and detachable side curtains. This was the first year in which an optional electric starter, costing $20.00 extra, was available in lieu of the hand crank on the front of the car. When the convenience of the new starter was pointed out to him, Ed replied that he had several sons who could do a lot of cranking for $20.00. The new car cost $500.00, but since their old one was sold for $200.00, their net cost was only $300.00.
Because Fred was the family’s only driver, he began to feel rather possessive of the car and trips were made at his convenience. Ed decided he would learn to drive it since it was his car. He asked Fred to take him out on the road, show him what to do, and then get out and let him drive by himself.
Fred parked the car on the roadside with two wheels on the grass and two wheels on the dirt roadway so that anyone coming by in a car, buggy, or wagon would be able to pass. It would only be necessary for Ed to turn the wheels to the left to get out onto the road, and then he could drive straight ahead. Fred explained the gas, accelerator, and brake to his father, and then cranked the car for him.
Ed gave the car a little gas and started out on his driving adventure. However, he failed to turn his wheels to the left to get out onto the roadway as Fred had instructed, but clenched the steering wheel in both hands and drove straight ahead. The road and grass shoulder were level with the surrounding land where he began his trip, but as he continued forward, the grassy shoulder began to rise.
Ed, pulling back on the steering wheel, was yelling “Whoa! Whoa!” These commands may have been successful with his mules, but had no effect on his car. The right side of the car rose with the shoulder, while the left side stayed down with the two wheels on the road. This continued as the car leaned further and further, until the tilt was too much, and the car toppled over on its side.
Fred and his father worked together to lift it back up onto all four wheels and Fred drove it home. Although neither Ed nor the car was damaged very much, Ed must have decided that one driving adventure was enough. He was content to let Fred do the driving and never tried again.