Backing Up The Hill In An Old Model A

A recent column about cars reminded me of my first, sort of, interest in a vehicle. It was a Model A that really belonged to a high school buddy, John
Crumby, but I bought enough gas and parts to claim a part ownership. I don’t remember what year model it was, but it was of the version that Henry Ford made from 1927 until 1931.


BRUCE—This and that about this and that:
•A recent column about cars reminded me of my first, sort of, interest in a vehicle.
It was a Model A that really belonged to a high school buddy, John Crumby, but I bought enough gas and parts to claim a part ownership.
I don’t remember what year model it was, but it was of the version that Henry Ford made from 1927 until 1931.
There was an earlier version of the Model A made first in 1903 that I have seen only in movies and such. Henry apparently wasn’t too proud of it because when he came out with a better idea, he decided to start over by calling it the Model A.
The earlier version had a two cylinder motor under the front seat, but the later version had the engine up front where it should have been. As I recall, the one John had was four cylinders, but I wouldn’t bet anything on it.
The earlier model also had three pedals on the floor with a reverse pedal in addition to the clutch and brake.
As I recall the Model T, which replaced the first “A” also had three pedals.
Some 20 years or so ago, when Sid Salter and I were negotiating with the late Birney Imes, Jr., of Columbus for the purchase of a couple of weekly newspapers, the subject of the old Model Ts came up.
I told him I had heard that folks sometimes had to back up steep hills when the “bands’ in the transmission were wearing down from usage.
Since reverse was not used very much, its band was usually still in good shape, I speculated.
“No,” Mr. Imes said. It was because the gas tank, mounted behind the motor and in front of the windshield, didn’t have a fuel pump like cars do today. It depended on gravity to carry the gasoline in the tank down to the carburetor, but the opening in the tank was at the front of the bottom, and when the car went up a steep hill and you didn’t have much gas, he said, it would go to the back of the tank and away from the line to the motor.
“If you backed up the hill, the gas would be in the front of the tank where the opening was,” he said.
So, we not only learned something about newspapers that day, we got a free lesson in auto history. The other lesson cost a bit more.
•The car I learned to drive, a late 1930s V8, was the family car and our home delivery of fresh milk vehicle. About all I remember about it was the gear shift was on the floor, and the mechanical brakes were almost useless. In fact it sometimes seemed to go faster with the brakes on.
My father had mastered the art of “gearing it down” by shifting from third to second and then first gear. In an extreme case he would ram it in reverse. That would usually stop it except for one day when he hit reverse it stripped the lugs on the left rear axle and, because of differential, it sat there still with the axle spinning in the wheel.
Roy Spurgeon or Lee Denley, both mechanics in Coffeeville who helped keep the car running, welded some new lugs and it ran as good as new.
He traded it in for a 1949 Oldsmobile, which had a much sleeker profile. It still had a gearshift under the steering wheel, but it had brakes that really worked. I probably drove it to get my driver’s license from Patrolman Francis Franklin, who lived in Coffeeville.
Franklin didn’t give me a driving test—he said he had seen me driving around town. I never knew if that was good or bad, but I did get a license.
•Jo Ann said they had a Model A Ford when she was a very young girl in Macon. She said her mother usually sat in the middle of the front seat next to her father and she sat by the door.
The only thing she remembered about the car was that her door would sometimes “just come open,” and she would fall out.
I think I would have remembered that, too.