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On the Road in 1912–The Model T

Man in Model T Ford in 1914

“It was a hardship to operate a car in 1912,” recalled Vivian Roeder in reminiscences of her family’s experiences in western Nebraska. “However, the Model T Ford was the poor man’s friend; it opened many new fields; and was an exciting pleasure to those who experienced the first years of its production.”

Roeder said, “We purchased our first and only family automobile in the summer of 1912. At this time Papa was needing faster and more reliable transportation. He was an early western Nebraska homesteader, and a self-taught veterinarian. A Model T Ford was rugged enough to get him over the prairie, so he bought one for about $500.00. . . .

“No option was given on color or tires, so we had black. There was no speedometer or bumpers. . . . The gas tank was located under the front seat. You raised the cushion, and used the red ruler kept there to measure the gas already in the tank. The gas pump attendant at the garage would insert a nozzle and hand pump the number of gallons needed into the tank. You started the motor by turning a crank attached to the front. If the spark was not correctly adjusted this crank would spin in the opposite direction, which we termed ‘kicking,’ and if it didn’t break your arm or wrist it would knock you back on the ground with emphatic authority. . . .

“The prestone gas car lights were very inadequate. The gas was from a tank stored on the drivers side of the car and the pressure was maintained by pumping it up with a hand pump. The head lights were lighted with a match, and quite a task if the wind was a typical Nebraska one. The horn was sounded by squeezing a rubber bulb type Klaxon by hand. It was placed to the left of the driver.”

Roeder said winter driving was unpopular: “Most owners stored their cars. They put them up on blocks to hold the weight off the tires. Papa had to answer his sick calls so we kept our car as near ready to travel as possible. . . . We had an old heavy comforter we placed over the hood to keep some of the cold out and before we tried to start the motor we poured boiling water, from the teakettle, over the manifold. Mama always had bricks in the back of the oven ready to wrap and put in the bottom of the car to keep our feet warm.”

In spite of the hardships of auto travel in 1912, Roeder looked forward to riding down the rough trails of western Nebraska “because they went through several prairie dog towns” — an amusing experience for a child in that era.

Photos. Above, Ed Kolar of Wolbach, Nebraska, in his his 1914 Model T Ford. Below, Mr. and Mrs. Ed Kolar in 1955. NSHS RG2876-2 and 2876-3.

Couple in Model T Ford in 1955

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