Mary Cook tells a heartwarming tale about bartering in the Ottawa Valley during the Depression.
Mother often wondered if we got a bargain when Father traded many loads of gravel for the old Model T, our first car.
The deal was made with a neighbour who needed gravel for a washed culvert: we had the gravel pit and he had the car. Not a penny changed hands. Just a handshake in the back yard on a spring day in the 1930s, the way most deals were done back then.
We children were thrilled beyond belief. Imagine: a car, our first.
It certainly wasn’t much to look at. In an attempt to fix up a battered front fender, the first owner had painted it green. Of course, the rest of the car was black. Mother thought the paint was from leftovers from painting a pump or old lawn furniture, which seemed to be the colour everyone used back then. Father said the odd fender gave the car a nice touch.
When we got the car, one back door was missing. The farmer said it was somewhere in a ditch along the Northcote Side Road and he was pretty sure we could find it on one of our trips into Renfrew. He said it flew off one day when he hit a rut. Sure enough, Earl spotted it hidden in the long grass just after Briscoe’s farm about three kilometres up the road.
Father tied it on with binder twine, which meant it could never be opened. It stayed forever tied to the frame of the old Model T. The brothers just climbed in over the top of it.
It wasn’t a big car and it was a never-ending challenge for us five kids, Mother and Father to all get in. It meant that someone had to sit in the front seat between Mother and Father and the rest of us had to pile into the back, with one of us crouched down on the floor. You would think none of us wanted this floor spot, but to me it was the best place in the entire Model T.
That’s because there was a hole in the floor as big as a saucer and you could sit there and watch the road go by. In fact, we often fought over the spot. So Mother, in her usual organized manner, drew up a chart and whose turn it was depended entirely on Mother’s list.
Although the old Model T was supposed to make our lives easier on the farm, it had several drawbacks which became the bane of Father’s existence. Getting it started was one of them.
I lived in constant dread that one day Father was going to lose an arm cranking the car. More often than not, the car balked when he was cranking it and his arm would fly with such a force that it is a wonder it wasn’t wrenched from its socket.
Someone had to sit behind the steering wheel while this was going on, to work the gas lever or the choke, whichever Father ordered from the front of the car. And once the motor caught, that person, would fly out of the car, crawl over the tied-on door, and be ready to take off with the rest of us.
Flat tires were expected Father always carried a little kit with him and was always able to fix the tire in jig time and have us back on the road before you could blink an eye.
One time, we actually lost an entire wheel. The car came to an abrupt halt as the shaft holding the wheel dug into the dirt road. The three brothers exited the car the same way they got in, over the door,and hoisted the car, with Mother, Audrey and I still in it. Father slammed the wheel back on, screwed the bolts tight, and we were again on our way.
Driving the Model T at night was a challenge. The two headlights were useless. All they really did was alert other drivers that we were on the road. So Father rigged up a lantern which could be anchored to the radiator at the front of the car, which was a great improvement over the car’s lights.
The Model T was certainly a step up from the horse and buggy. But to us five kids, the car was like a status symbol. Other neighbours had newer cars, but our first car, to us, meant that we had moved out of the horse and buggy age and into a modern world.
- Ida’s Mink Coat (bartergal.com)
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