The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

My First Car

By Mae W. Ball © 1991

Issue: September, 1991

Most of my family grew up without knowing the luxury of owning a car. When we needed to go places, we either walked, rode horseback or in a wagon. No one in our immediate neighborhood owned a car or a buggy. It was five miles to town. Sometimes I rode horseback, but I often walked the five miles. On rare occasions and if the distances were great, we might hire someone who owned a car in a nearby community to take us.

My older sisters had thought they might buy a car since they were teaching, but they were helping to keep me in boarding school and were not really able to do so. Then the older one got married. So, when I began teaching at our home school in 1930, my other sister and I decided we would buy one. She was having to board near her school. I could drive her to her boarding place and go after her on Friday afternoons. My school was about a mile away. I could either walk or drive to it.

We got someone to take us to Honaker [Virginia] to look at cars. We would want one large enough for a family car. There were still ten of us at home, including our parents. We finally found a new Model A Ford Sedan (1930) that seemed to meet our needs. Naff Wysor had the Ford dealership in Honaker at that time.

The price of the car was $620.00. At that time it seemed like a lot of money. Our father never believed in going into debt for anything, so it was with many qualms and misgivings that we decided to take on such an enormous debt. We certainly couldn't pay cash for it! My salary for this year would be $640.00 and my sister's about the same. We only taught seven or eight months. But between us, we made a small down payment and financed the balance for two or three years.

Neither of us could drive, so we had to bring someone back later to drive the car home for us.

The family was real thrilled with our new car. Our father and two brothers decided to build us a garage near the road. They didn't think the car should sit out in all kinds of weather. So they got busy and built the garage themselves. Unfortunately, it was on a curve and I always had trouble backing out of it!

Learning to drive was the next big project. One of our uncles had driven some, and gave us some lessons. I would be the first to try-out because I would be taking my sister to and from her school on weekends. Also, the Jamison boys at Big Lick had a car, and they helped me learn to drive. George, who was a teenager then, drove my car many times to Lebanon, Honaker and Richlands before I was confident enough to do so.

Most all the secondary roads during those years in Russell County were narrow dirt roads with many curves. In the summer they were dry and dusty; in the winter, the wagons, coal trucks, and a few cars made deep ruts. When the ground was frozen or when it had thawed, driving a car was very difficult.

In time I was able to drive to my school and take my sister to her's. It was wonderful to be able to drive to town instead of walking or riding horseback. In the fall we had a teachers' meeting in Lebanon to attend. Now we could drive to it. Having a car opened up many places and activities that heretofore we had been unable to engage in. We had many experiences, good and bad, during the years we owned this car. After one year, my sister sold her interest in the car to me. She was planning to get married and would soon be leaving home.

I remember one winter when the ruts in the roads were frozen. I was driving home from Raven. When I reached the top of Maple Gap, I met a Ford Roadster. We were both in the same set of ruts, and neither of us could drive out of them. There were four big men in the roadster. After a few minutes of deliberation, they jumped out, two on each side of their car, picked it up and set it out of my way, smiled and waved me on!

Another time when I was coming from Raven, I heard an unusual noise coming from the front of the car. As I tipped the hill where the "Moonlight Inn" was then, I felt the car drop down onto the sandy road. Then I saw one of my front wheels bouncing down the road. It jumped a rail fence and went rolling through a field below the road.

On another occasion when the roads were thawing, I was driving home from Swords Creek. In order to avoid the muddy road, I decided to drive through the creek and by-pass Punkin Center. I had forgotten that the spring rains had swollen Swords Creed beyond its banks. When I reached the middle of the creek, I felt the water gushing over my feet into the car. I had to wade out and go for help!

By this time I was beginning to think that owning a car and driving it was much more complicated than riding horseback!

Then there was also the matter of having flats. Either the rough, rocky roads or the tires with inner tubes caused me to have many flats. One night we had been to see a movie in Richlands. Coming home about 11:00 P.M. we had a flat near the Jamisons'. They loaned us a tire to go home on. In time I became quite adept at changing tires!

We had been so long without a car that when we saw any of our friends or neighbors walking, I always stopped and asked them to ride. On a few occasions if the car were full, I would let someone ride on the running board (adults only!). I picked up school children on my way to school. I also used my car to take sick children home from school. One year I had a little boy in First Grade with a bad heart. His doctor recommended that he go to school only one-half day. So every day during the lunch hour, I took him home. I also made many trips taking one of my brothers and a sister to a boarding school. Then when they went away to college, the Ford came in handy for transportation. I took my parents and younger brothers and sisters wherever they needed to go.

One incident that stands out in my memory happened soon after we bought the car. I had put the car in the garage for the night. It was about two o'clock in the morning, and we were all in bed sound asleep. Suddenly, we were awakened by the loud blowing of a car horn. Everyone jumped out of bed, rushed downstairs and congregated in the hall.

The car horns back then were much louder and shriller than the ones on modern cars. They were used more also. People had to honk for the chickens, dogs, and other animals along the roads and when they wished to pass a car.

Dad was the last one coming into the hall. Rubbing his eyes sleepily he announced, "It's Gabriel blowing his horn. I've been predicting that the end of time was coming soon."

"Sounds more like a car horn," said my younger sister, Pauline. Then she and the twins began to giggle.

"Stop giggling," ordered our mother. "It's no laughing matter, and if it's not stopped I won't sleep another wink tonight."

Our younger brother, age ten, went to his room and came back with his rifle. "Somebody is trying to steal the car," he said.

"Silly," replied Pauline. "Don't you know that if someone were stealing the car, he wouldn't be blowing the horn?" Then she and the twins started giggling again.

"Shut up," ordered Dad. "We'd better be praying."

"Anyway," said our brother, "I'm going to find out what is going on around here."

So clutching his rifle tightly in both hands, he crept stealthily down the hill toward the garage. In a few minutes he came back with a sly grin on his face.

"What did you see?" We all asked together.

"Didn't see nothin," he replied, grinning like a Cheshire cat, "but it is our car horn blowing."

"It's our car horn!" We all chorused in unison.

"What can we do?" I asked of no one in particular.

Each one gave his version of what to do to keep a horn from blowing. Pauline and the twins began giggling for the third time.

None of us knew anything about the mechanics of a car, and we were all at a loss as to what we should do. Someone, suggested that if we just let it blow, it might run the battery down. And we didn't want that to happen!

The horn continued to blow loud and shrill without stopping. It silenced all the other night sounds common in the country. The insects stopped their concert of songs. The cows ceased bawling in mid-air, no doubt wondering what animal that could be!

Finally my older brother, Hubert, said, "I just happened to think about Luther Boyd. I bet he would know what to do."

Luther had owned a car for several years, and was known to have some knowledge of a car's mechanism.

We all agreed that the best thing to do was to take the car down to Luther's since it was such an all-out emergency. He lived a mile or two down Pine Creek.

So my brother and I went down the hill to the garage, unlocked the door and approached the car cautiously. We were not sure what we might find. Of course there was nothing, so I backed the car out and turned it around and headed down Pine Creek with the blaring horn echoing from hill to hill and heralding our coming.

It was a beautiful night. A full moon lighted up the dark, woodsy country road, casting long shadows about. The sky was full of gleaming, twinkling stars. But it was eerie to be driving along at two o'clock in the morning and shattering the night's stillness with the unearthly sound of our car horn. No doubt we were waking the neighbors. In fact, we saw several rushing out to see what was happening. But I did not stop to explain. I was too embarrassed to let anyone know who I was. They probably wondered who was crazy enough to be driving at such an ungodly hour and blowing his horn like mad!

Finally we reached the man's house. Before we had time to get out and knock on the door, Luther came out to see what was going on. We explained our problem to him even though it was evident. In no time he had disconnected the horn and we were on our way back home. What a great relief it was not to hear that horn, and how wonderful to hear silence again!

When we reached home everyone had gone to bed, but the younger sisters were still giggling, muffling the sounds with the bed covers. They said later that they couldn't sleep anymore that night for giggling.

In 1933, my sister, Dora, her boyfriend, our brother, and I drove to White Top Mountain to attend a music festival and to hear the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, speak. This mountain is the second highest peak in Virginia, but our sturdy Ford climbed its 5,520 feet safely to the top where we spent the night listening to mountain music and ballads. The next morning we cooked our breakfast, along with hundreds of other people, and watched the sun break through the early morning fog. Then later on we were privileged to hear Mrs. Roosevelt speak.

The longest trip my Ford took was in 1934 when my sister and I were invited to go with our preacher's family to visit his relatives in Eastern Virginia. We took our car because it was larger than the preacher's.

We went to Richmond first where his brother, a medical doctor, lived. Then we drove to Virginia Beach. His mother lived there in a big hotel on the Beach. She owned a summer cottage at Weems, a fishing village on the Rappahannock River. She said we could go there and stay as long as we liked. So we spent several days there fishing.

We came home via Washington D.C. That was the first time my sister and I had been there, so we stopped and toured the Capitol.

Our Model A Ford served us faithfully and well for six years. In 1936, I traded it to Dolph Wysor in Richlands. With tear-filled eyes, I bade my first car goodbye, and drove a new 1936 Chevrolet home.