From the book about Northeastern Missouri
Old Henry and the Model A
Submitted by Betty J. McClinktock of Center, Missouri
Some of my earliest memories are of dear, faithful old Henry. It was the early Thirties, a time of dry, dusty years, bank failures, and the Great Depression. Our farm family had little money and no modern conveniences, but more importantly, we were devoted to one another – and we had Henry. No, Henry was not a favorite uncle nor our trusty collie. He was an ancient Model T Ford that had been with us for years. Dad used to say that Henry ran when he ran, but that was his standard joke. Actually, Henry was generally pretty reliable, although time had definitely marred his beauty. After a while, Henry’s top and side curtains became so dilapidated that Dad removed them, leaving us to the mercy of sun, rain, or whatever happened weather wise.
This didn’t affect us too much, for Henry sat in the car shed except for an occasional trip to town and for Sundays, when we drove a mile down the gravel road to our small country church. All of the neighbors’ cars had tops, and it irked Mother that ours did not. Dad pointed out that it was like riding in an open touring car, but Mother didn’t agree. Still, Dad was much attached to Henry and swore that the two of them could plow up the slick and muddy incline in front of our house with Dad holding onto the fence and driving with the other hand while Henry’s wheels churned up slabs of mud the size of his foot. I never saw this feat accomplished, however. It seemed that it never rained when we went anywhere in Henry, which was a very good thing.
Then Mother lost her temper! It was a snowy Christmas Day when she reached the boiling point. We were going to her parents’ home, a distance of eight frigid miles. We bundled up and battened down our hair-dos with heavy scarves as we prepared to embark upon our journey. Dad coaxed Henry into a reluctant cackle, and we crammed ourselves into the car, laden with quilts for warmth, gifts, and a plump baked hen smothered in sage dressing. As soon as Henry chugged out of the driveway, the Battle of the Quilts began. As we picked up speed, my sister and I huddled over the warm blackberry pies on our laps, clutching our wildly undulating quilt and praying that nothing would blow away.
“For mercy sakes!” was all Mother said as her Necktie quilt threatened to sail into a snowdrift in the road ditch. Her tone spoke more loudly than words, though, and Dad hurriedly gave Henry a little more gas, creating even more wind.
We spent a wonderful day at my grandparents’ home, but Mother maintained a tight-lipped silence as we flapped our way homeward. After chores and supper, Mother firmly announced, “Edgar, we need another car!”
Dad cleared his throat three times, a sign that he was searching for a suitable reply or a devastating retort. Apparently, he decided that the latter would not fit the occasion and answered mildly, “Now, Mother, you know we can’t afford a new car. Think of the times!”
“Times are better than they were,” replied Mother tartly. “Besides, I didn’t say a new car. I said another car. One with a top!”
When Mother used that tone, Dad listened, so he began a half-hearted search for a suitable vehicle. Finally, a salesman brought a used Model A Ford out to our farm and demonstrated it. After some dickering, Dad reluctantly parted with the necessary cash. The Model A was ours!
My sister and I were ecstatic, and Mother was pleased. We reveled in windows that actually rolled up and down and a solid top over our heads. To be sure, there wasn’t much legroom in the back when we stowed a five-gallon can of cream and a thirty dozen case of eggs back there. But temporarily paralyzed limbs were a small price to pay for riding in style and comparative comfort. Also, the money we received for the eggs and cream paid for a sack of egg mash for the hens and groceries from the mercantile for us.
Then near-disaster struck. Spring had arrived and Dad had to make a quick trip to town. Accompanied by our nearest neighbor, Mr. Pierce, he tooled up Orwood Lane as they discussed crop prospects and the price of livestock. As they reached the dip where the Shortline railroad tracks crossed the road, they heard a train whistle alarmingly near. When Dad hit the brake, the Model A died and gently coasted onto the tracks, right into the path of the oncoming train.
“I’m getting out!” yelled Mr. Pierce, making a flying leap to safety. Dad just sat there, feverishly stomping on the starter as the train chuff-chuff-chuffed closer to the stalled car. Fortunately, the Shortline never traveled very fast, and the engineer stopped the train before Dad and the Model A were annihilated.
“Yes, you’d just sit there and let the train run over you!” cried Mother, tears in her eyes when she heard of Dad’s narrow squeak.
“Well, Mother, I had to protect my investment. Besides, the train would probably have torn the top off the car, and then where would we have been?” joked Dad rather shakily.
“You’d have been in the cemetery,” answered Mother. “Promise me you’ll never do such a thing again, please, please, Edgar!”
Dad allowed that he never would and owned that he had been a bit flustered at the sight of a train bearing down on him.
As time passed, Dad and the Model A traversed our community without further mishap. In later years, he indulged in a couple of new pickup trucks, which served him and Mother well. As for me, I’ve driven many miles in all kinds of weather on all sorts of roads. But the memories of my rides in Henry and our Model A are the most vivid – and the sweetest.