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The New Car

The following is an excerpt from "Growing Up with the Model T" by Caroline Munson Ott, whose family farm, Cozy Cove, was the first registered farm in Latah County.

The New Car

I was eight, going on nine, when Papa bought our first car, a Model T Ford. Since it was the first car in the neighborhood, it was quite an occasion. Being the youngest in the family, and rather excess baggage, I didn’t get to go to town to bring it home, but I was waiting by the gate for the grand arrival.

They came down the private road from the big red gate from the public road, bouncing along over the pasture lane to the white picket yard fence with its arched sign “Cozy Cove,” the farm name, displayed proudly over it, and stopped with a flourish.

My brother Burton was driving, my father sitting beside him, while in back my two sisters, Vivian and Goldie, bounced about on the back seat. The top was down, folded to the back, and it looked quite jaunty in the long summer twilight.

Papa crawled down, his duty done once he had written the check to pay for it in full, and hurried into the house to change his clothes and get to the cows that were late for their milking.

The Munson home, Cozy Cove, occupied by the family from 1890s to 1940s. LCHS Photo: 01-05-006

One of the girls rushed into the house to get Mama so we could take our first ride and see how the new car worked. Burton had received the instruction lessons from the salesman as he was the only male at home, Oscar being away working. As to Papa, he wouldn’t touch one the “dang” things. He wanted to talk when he rode around, and since talking meant waving his arms about to make a point, he never would even try to learn to drive. Besides, any “dang” thing that didn’t have enough sense to take the rig home once you tied the reins abound the whip-socket was no improvement in his book, so he wanted no part of it. If the family wanted a car – he’d buy them a car, but don’t ever ask him to do anything else with it. He barely tolerated to ride in it and any time anything went wrong, from a flat tire to unknown causes, he’d get out and walk away. He insisted “If it’s such an improvement it should go any place a horse can go and places a horse can’t go, otherwise why have it?” So Burton was to be the driver.

Mama came hurrying down the sidewalk and all excited we climbed into the car. I picked up my little dog Pom Pom, but he wasn’t having anything to do with the new contraption either, and scrambled out. He was a very smart dog (actually he never would ride in a Papa, he wanted no part of the dang things).

Those Model Ts sat so high off the ground one felt a bit like royalty on parade. Burton and Vivian in front and Mama, Goldie and I installed in majestic glory in the back seat.

Model T Ford Agency at 1st and Main St. in Moscow, ID. LCHS Photo: 01-03-652

From the yard gate the road ran in a straight shot straight to the barn lot, through a gate, a left turn around the barn, another slight left turn brought one back onto the public road. Papa had got the milk pails and rushed ahead to open the gates for us. Off we started, flying in great style down the straight road through the first gate – but Burton never managed that left turn. We just kept going straight with that big red barn coming smack at us, faster and faster. Luckily there was a large log lying parallel to the barn to form a small ditch to carry off spring rains draining from the barn roof rather than letting it muddy up the barn yard. The front wheels jumped up and over the log, leaving us straddling it like an old lady caught halfway over a rail fence, but at least it kept us from smashing into the side of the barn.

We all piled out and by pushing and lifting and rocking we finally got the car back over the log. Burton insisted he was going on with the ride. Vivian crawled in beside him, but when I started to get in back, Mama said, “NO!” As to Goldie, she had had it and didn’t want any more.

Burton started the car, backed it off, then stuck it in low and went shooting off…first in one direction and then another. The wheels had been badly bent and it was impossible to drive it straight. So like a drunk lurching down the street, barely missing every lamp post, the car careened to within an inch of the water trough, back almost to the barn, over toward the shed.

All the time Papa was holding open the big red gate to the outside road and dancing first on one foot and then the other, while he waved the milk bucket above his head like a confederate flag, shouting, “Shut the dang thing off – shut the dang thing off I say.” Finally, the car, like an angry bull infuriated by his yells, charged him and Papa went tearing for the safety of the barn door.

Caroline Munson Ott's illustration, "The car like a raging bull chases Papa."

Somehow Burton got through the gate and went weaving up the road, going from side to side, barely missing the ditch, flying across to barely miss a tree, back toward the ditch, until they were out of sight. They managed to make it to a neighbor who although he had no knowledge of cars, knew farm machinery. He was able to straighten the wheels enough they could get home that night and to town for repairs the next day. Papa wouldn’t trust Burton to drive anymore for many a year. So Vivian learned to drive.

I went with Vivian every chance I got…on errands, to neighbors, to town…and on straight roads she would let me sit on her lap and steer. That’s the way I learned to drive.

"Growing Up with the Model T" is only available for viewing in the LCHS research library. Two other collections by Caroline Munson Ott, "Growing Up with Carrie, Vol 1 & 2" are available for purchase in the LCHS gift shop and the online store, in addition to "Westward to Paradise" by her father, Charles J. Munson.

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