The $5.00 Automobile
Now I don’t know why, nor how we got there, but Raymond Whitaker and I were walking down a street in Gaffney one day. We struck up a conversation with a man who had a stripped-down Model T parked on the street. The man told us he would sell us the old car for $5.00. We didn’t have any money with us, so a few days later I closed a $5.00 savings account I had at the Haynes Bank, where I was working.
Marvin Whitaker took us back to Gaffney, I believe on a Saturday afternoon. We located the man with the Model T. I gave him my $5.00 and he gave me the car. It had no license plates or title. We just drove it back to Cliffside.
It’s a wonder I didn’t kill more than one kid with that thing. It got to where it would not start no matter how much I twisted that old crank in front of the radiator. So we would push it from 3 West Second Street, across Main Street by the Baptist church, and coast down the hill on Reservoir Street. That way we would get it going, and then away we went.
One day it would not start no matter how many times we pushed it back up the hill and coasted down. Along came Little Mac McDaniel (remember Big Mac and Little Mac?) And he showed me how to remove the distributor rotor, and wipe off the oil that would accumulate on it and prevent the electric current from flowing. After that it was just routine to first thing wipe off the rotor before attempting to crank the old Ford.
I couldn’t afford gasoline, so I’d go to the garage and buy a gallon of kerosene then bum some used motor oil for free. I’d mix the two together, pour it in the tank and, if I didn’t use too much oil in it, the old Ford would run.
Many times when I’d get back home and try to turn off the engine it wouldn’t stop. When I looked at the engine it would be glowing red. Under those conditions it didn’t need an electric spark to run; the red-hot block would ignite the kerosene-motor oil mixture.
Boys would hang on anywhere they could and sometimes we had quite a crowd along. Once, over on Beason Road we were rolling along when all of a sudden an auto tire passed us. It was just rolling down the road. Turned out it had come off one of the rear wheels and just kept rolling. The road and Ford gave such a rough ride that I didn’t even know we had lost a tire. One of the boys reached out and put his arm through the tire, pulled it onto the Ford and we just kept riding on the rim. Didn’t stop, no point in stopping, didn’t have a spare or any way to repair the tire or tube. Went all the way home like that.
When I left to join the U.S. Army Air Corps in early ’41, I just left that old Model T sitting in the yard beside my folk’s house. Later I was in England when I received a letter from my mother asking if she could sell it to George Allhands, to be recycled as scrap metal to aid the war effort. And that’s where it went.