Sometimes traveling backward works best…

1925 Model T Touring Car – perhaps similar to the H.A. Espy family auto

My mother and her brothers used to tell stories of their trips back and forth to Redlands in Southern California where the family lived for six years (1926-1932) so that the three of them could attend the University there.  Their car was a Model T.   I was always fascinated by their report that, sometimes, over steep grades in the Siskiyous, they had to travel in reverse, “because the car didn’t have enough power to make it when going forward” they all said.

Somehow I thought that was a peculiarity of their particular car, but yesterday, I was re-reading Shirley Rowlands Wright’s book, When A Little Meant A Lot –Growing  up on the Long Beach Peninsula during the Great Depression and the World War 2 Era.  She told of a similar problem that her family had with their Model B Ford:

First Street Ilwaco Looking North, July 4, 1910 — Bob Bredfield Collection

The Ilwaco hill near the hospital used to be a much higher grade than it is now, and getting out of town with the family in the car was a real challenge to say the least.  Uncle Mason would sit beside Daddy and we’d start down by the Rogers Mill and yell to Daddy, “Give it all you got Daddy, so we’ll make the hill!”  We’d go through town as fast as a loaded Model B would go, horn honking in case we weren’t seen, and as we headed up the hill, of course the car would slow.  Sometimes it would just barely get us over the top.  If this didn’t look like it was going to happen, Daddy would yell, “Hop out Mason and put your shoulder to it!”  It was moving so slow by then he did just that. 

If he could push hard enough, he mastered getting it over the top.  If he yelled, “Can’t hold her George!” he jumped aside and, as brakes at that time were the last things to be mechanically in A-1 condition, we went through town backwards all the way to the mill, honking like mad.  During the time it took Uncle Mason to walk through town to the car, we had rejuvenated our eagerness and were ready to have a go at that hill again.  Sometimes it took three attempts before we got out of town.  We were so happy when they lowered the grade of that hill.

From Virginia Williams Jones story, “Gins Tonic” — 2007 Sou’wester (drawing by VWJ)

Somehow, Shirley’s story prompted me to do a little internet research.  This is what I found:  “During most of the T’s production run (1908-1927), its 10 US gal (38 l; 8 imp gal) fuel tank was mounted to the frame beneath the front seat. Because Ford relied on gravity to feed fuel to the carburetor rather than a fuel pump, a Model T could not climb a steep hill when the fuel level was low.”

So, the story of “more power going backward” was spot on!  And although the Model B came later (1932), I couldn’t find anything about its fuel tank.  I imagine it was the same problem.

 

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