The First Car Crash

In reading Clara Cook’s history of our family, Homestead, one of the stories made me feel truly sad for my grandfather Emil. The reason is found in this long quote from page 35:

“The means of travel by horses took a change in 1917 when a Model T Ford was bought. This was a joy to the family, and Garven, who was born that year, was the first baby to have a ride. On one occasion, Pa, Ma, Gilbert, Bennie, Edgar, Ednar, Garven and I went to visit the Andreas family. Ma made sandwiches to take along. We had an accident; the mailman with horse and buggy was ahead of us. Pa just said that [we] would be there in 15 minutes. Pa swerved to pass the mailman and we went off the embankment and the care tipped over on its side. The top and the windshield were smashed and the steering wheel broke off. A farmer from down the way came and towed the car to his place where the steering wheel was nailed back together and the car checked over. We continued on our way in our car with Gilbert driving the rest of the way. On our return, Uncle Arne [Torud] followed us to be sure that we got home safely as our Model T was in bad bad shape.”

Here’s what the Borreson’s 1917 Model T may have looked like:

Don’t you feel for poor Emil: he’s driving his new car and he wrecks it! I’ll be it made him long for those good old horses. Or maybe not. I understand he liked up-to-date things, so perhaps he took it in stride. Then I think: count up those passengers – eight of them, including a baby! They were very fortunate no one was injured or worse. Clara writes that Emil’s son Gilbert drove on the way back. He had been born in 1903, and assuming this happened in 1917 when Garven was born, Gilbert assumed driving duties that day at age 14! Well, maybe even then teenagers were eager to get behind the wheel. 

Then there’s the part about this steering wheel being nailed back together. It made me think of a childhood ditty we tossed at our Ford-owner friends: “A piece of tin, a piece of board, a gallon of gas, you’ve got a Ford.” But Henry Ford knew what he was doing when he made his cars………

The Model T Ford was the first mass produced assembly line vehicle with interchangeable parts that was affordable for the average American. The first one left the plant in Detroit in September 1908, and ten years later, half the cars in the USA were Model Ts.  By 1914, it took just 93 minutes to produce one on the assembly line, and by 1916 the cost of a basic touring car was just $360.

The Model T was the right car for an America with few good roads and many farmers. It was a kind of all-terrain vehicle, tough to handle mud and ruts. But here’s something better yet. A back wheel could be removed, a pulley placed on the shaft, and with the addition of a belt, the Model T could be used to power farm implements like a bucksaw or silo filler. That’s real versatility!

Sid said we can see a Model T stored next to the tobacco shed in the photo in the post, “Raising Tobacco.” I know Uncle Sid was also acquainted with a family Model T truck (not a car) because he mentions taking it to Vosse Coulee for fishing. I’m guessing this was in the mid to late 1930s, which probably means one Model T or another served the Borreson family for at least 20 years.

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