For anyone who has never operated a Model”T” Ford, it is almost impossible to imagine the problems that were built into those machines. They were not only difficult to start, when they were cold, they were difficult to start at any time. If you did get one going, it was not what you would call a safe and sane mode of transportation. They would not go very fast, perhaps 50 or 55 miles per hour when all systems were in top shape. As I look back on it, speed control could have been a part of Henry’s plan, however, I doubt it. The reason that I think that there was a possibility of predetermination, is that they were not safe to operate at any speed and this was before Ralph Nader was born. You never really knew just how fast you were going, because there was no speedometer. In fact, there was no instruments of any kind. I guess that it didn’t make much difference what was going on within the machinery, because you couldn’t do anything about it anyway. I can assure you, when you got one of those things all wound up you had better pay pretty close attention to what you were doing or it would get away from you. The dirt roads that we had, at that time, were not conducive to high speed travel, nor was the equipment that was available.
Those Model T’s, as everyone knows, had a four cylinder engine and if I remember correctly, it was rated at 12 HP. The lawn tractor that I have is rated at 12 HP, so you can get some idea of the power that was built into them. The tires were 30×3 in front and 30×3-1/2 in the rear. Now that means that the tires were 30 inches in diameter and the cross section was 3 or 3-1/2 inches. There are bicycles today that have tires almost that large.
The gasoline tank was under the front seat and held about ten gallons. To fill it, you and all others in the front seat, had to get out so that you could raise the cushion, to get to the place where you were going to put the gas. The gas gauge was very similar to a yard stick except that it was not as long and it was graduated in gallons. If you wanted to know how much gas you had left you stopped, got out, raised the front seat cushion, unscrewed the cap, inserted the “gas stick” and determined the quantity of gasoline that you had left by observing how far up, on the stick, the stain came.
It now seems that there were more things that those cars didn’t have than things that they did have. They didn’t have a starter, a battery, a generator, a water pump, an oil pump, a windshield wiper, a heater, a fuel pump and the Lord only knows what else they didn’t have. They did, however, have air conditioning, all year around, whether you wanted it or not.
They had a crank that was used to get things going and a choker that amounted to a wire that stuck out, through the radiator. This wire was connected to a butterfly valve in the air intake to the carburetor. They had two levers directly under the steering wheel, the one on the right was the throttle and the one on the left was the spark or the ignition advance. Lord pity the person who forgot to push this spark lever up, before starting to crank it. The result would be that if it did fire, it would be before that particular piston had reached top center and it would kick. In other words, it would try to run backwards. Model T’s have probably broken more arms than any other hazardous device, before or since.