Family Traveling in the 20's


Charles E. Page [April 2003]

Our first family car was a shiny, black Model T Ford Sedan with an oval rear window. My father bought it in the same year I was born, 1920. The price was $325 and we had it for eight years. In 1928 he traded it in for a new Model A. By that time the price had "skyrocketed" to over $500.

We took many one-day trips as well as some two or three-day vacation trips through the Adirondacks and New England. Automobiles were just coming into the reach of the working people. We felt lucky to have one. Many of our neighbors didn't.

The first trip that I remember was in the early 1920's when I was about 3 years old. We started early and covered the considerable distance [about 140 miles] from Oneida to Potsdam.

In Postdam, that evening, we "stretched our legs" by walking around the village streets. We stopped in at a store looking for souvenirs. My mother picked out one for me, a fabulous book "Buster, the Big Brown Bear". After we got home we kept asking Mom to read it to us over and over again. She must have gotten sick of it, but of course she didn't complain. This book is probably the reason I have remembered the trip all of these years.

On all our travels my father drove and my mother sat in the middle of the back seat with one of us kids on either side of her. This was her way of insuring peace in the car. There would be less quarreling if we kids were separated. The third kid rode in the front passenger seat, a highly prized position. It was rotated among the three of us. Of course, whoever rode in that seat had to get out when we stopped for gas. The gas tank was under the passenger seat. The cushion was lifted up and set up to lean against the back of the seat, revealing the filler hole. The gas pumps were hand-cranked, usually one gallon at a time.

In those days automobile tires were not very reliable. On most trips you could expect to have one or more flats. Also, it was not wise to leave a car sitting on its tires all winter. In the spring you probably would find them cracked and flat. So it was the custom to "put the car up on blocks". The car could not be driven in the winter anyway since the roads were seldom plowed. The blocks we kept in our garage for this purpose were 6 inches by 6 inches square and about 18 inches high, or just high enough to keep the weight of the car off the tires. Actually our garage was a barn that used to house one or two horses. There was still one horse stall left. It was just past the era when city people kept a family horse. In my time transportation for city dwellers like us in the wintertime was on foot or trolley and train. [Incidentally, the term "car" was generally used to mean a railroad car. What we had was an auto or automobile. If you told someone you were "going by car", they would naturally think you meant by train. It was in the later 1920's before "auto's" were generally called "cars".]

We didn't carry spare wheels with the car, so when there was a flat tire, the wheel [or I think it was just the rim] was taken off, and the tire pried off the rim with a pair of "tire irons". The inner tube was then taken out of the tire, the leak located, and a patch glued over the puncture or hole. The tire irons were flat pieces of steel about a foot long and an inch wide. One end was tapered making it somewhat thinner so that it could be forced between the rim and the edge of the tire. Then working inch by inch around the rim one side of the tire could be freed from the rim and the tube pulled out for repair. After the tube was patched it was stuffed back into the tire making sure the valve stem fitted freely through the hole in the rim where it belonged. A little air was pumped into the tube with the hand pump to take out the wrinkles, and then the loosened edge of the tire was worked gradually back onto the rim with the irons. Sometimes, after a hard struggle to get it back on, and was pumped it full of air, you found that the tube had been pinched by a misguided tire iron. The dreaded sound of hissing air told you to start all over again. A disheartening sound!

I remember sometimes while my father was fixing a tire, my mother would take us kids for a walk down the road or into a nearby field. My older sister later told me it was so that we would not hear my father's "colorful comments" while working on the tire.

We usually stayed in "tourist homes". These were ordinary homes where an extra bedroom was rented out, usually at a cost of 75 cents to a dollar and a quarter for the 5 of us depending whether or not breakfast came with the deal. My mother always went in first to inspect the room and the beds, checking for bed bugs and cleanliness. It was her decision whether we would stay or drive on. Tourist homes were found in varying locations in urban settings or on farms. Every tourist home was unique and each one provided a new experience that we kids looked forward to.