Willie Handy and His Model T

Ford Model T controls

Ford Model T controls – click to enlarge

For years Judy and I were members of the local chapter of the Antique Automobile Club of America. Our car, the 1953 Cadillac, was one of the newer vehicles in the club. Several members owned Model T Fords, including Peter A. On one tour, while we were having lunch at the county historical center he allowed volunteer club members to drive his Model T.

What a hoot! Those of us unfamiliar with the vagaries of such an ancient vehicle had trouble believing that anyone could learn how to drive such a beast. Everything Jim mentions below is absolute truth. Steering was difficult at best. Perhaps Jim was too young to notice, but to me the foot pedals were the most confusing part of driving the car. They were nothing like a modern vehicle. Today’s cars have an accelerator and a brake pedal. Not the T.

From the left, pedals include the high/low clutch (push in to start, then let it out when you get to speed), the reverse pedal (press to go backwards), and the brake (note that it’s on the right, unlike the car you drive). Then there’s the emergency brake / clutch release lever. The whole thing reminds me of the class we took on how to Rumba. My feet are still dizzy.

Jim writes:

All the farm work was done with horses; plowing, planting, tilling, cutting hay, raking, stacking and hauling. The year before we sold the farm (1930) we had a hired hand. He went by the improbable name of Willie Handy. I can still see him now …

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Country School

Jim (r) and his step-father Einar in about 1953.

Jim (r) and his step-father Einar in about 1953.

If you’ve read this blog for very long you’ve seen stories similar to this one before. It seems that just about everyone in Jim’s generation told stories about one room schools. Most of my generation missed the opportunity, and there can’t be many left. Some think that home schooling can replicate the one room school learning environment, but there isn’t much that can bring back the daily grind of a horse-drawn sleigh in the winter.

How many blankets and burlap sacks would it take to keep warm for that long ride through the snow? I’ve heard stories about heating rocks on the cook stove and wrapping them in burlap to use as foot warmers. That’s more believable than the one about using rabbits or cats to keep warm.

My four block walk to Franklin School seems pretty tame by comparison.

Jim writes:

Many of the people I visit with in my age bracket state that they attended a small one room school in the country. I, too, am one of those in that group. The year was 1930 and the school had about twelve students from the first thru the eigth grades. It was heated by a coal stove and the further you sat from it  Continue reading

Auction and the Trip East

Flaxton Farm - 1931 - Front

Flaxton Farm – 1931 – Front

Jim’s interest in automobiles comes through vividly in this letter. They had just lost the farm to the depression and were moving back east. It must have been quite the emotional and economic upheaval, but the focus of this letter seems to be on the 1930 Oldsmobile sedan and the drive to the East Coast.

The bill of sale (photo below) for the farm auction is daunting. Everything from the farm was for sale, including fence posts and flour barrels. The farm itself, in the photo at right, looks a little bleak, nothing like what a farm in our times is, and certainly nothing like what Jim was headed to in Massachusetts. Below is a scan of the back side of the farm picture. It appears to be notes from the agent selling the farm or perhaps the bank. Can you decipher the handwriting?

If you’re following these letters closely, you will notice that they aren’t necessarily in order. I’m not sure if that’s because I scrambled the stack or if Jim just wrote them as memories popped into his mind.

Jim writes:

It was March of 1931 and I was in first grade in a small rural school near Flaxton, ND. It was also the same month that Frank and Anna Corser auctioned off the farm, land, buildings, horses, equipment … everything. Before me is an original copy of the auction sale bill …

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