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Speaking of Our Past

I’m working on a new book and was surprised to realize how often automobiles play a part in the characters’ lives. Maybe that’s because antique cars fascinate me—they always seem to have so much more character than the newer models. Also, I love listening to people talk and hearing their different patterns of speech. That probably accounts for the fact that my first book Speaking of Our Past, (now out of print, sad to say), was, in part, an oral history. Researching that book gave me the opportunity to ask people about many different aspects of their lives. Here are some of the responses I got when I asked them about the cars they remembered.

“I bought my first car making one dollar a day. Paid twenty-five dollars for it. Bought it from Vernon Brown down on Gwynnbrook Avenue—1925 Chevrolet.” James L. Bowers

“The thing that I was attracted to very much about Miss Margaret Painter was that she had a Dodge automobile. Do you remember the days when any color was good as long as it was black? The car didn’t have a separate starter and generator; it had a combination so after the motor started it acted as a generator. One day I was called to drive my mother and Miss Painter to the garden club. Oh, boy—I was 17 and ready!” George P. Ward

“My first car was a Model-T Ford that I got in ’24, the first 4-door Ford sedan that went up and down this road. My gosh, that was something! You ran out of gas, you had to take the front seat out [because] the tank was underneath the seat. If you went up Dick’s Hill, you might start up all right, but she’d stop on you halfway up. You’d have to turn and back up the hill because that made the gas run to the front. I backed up Greenspring Avenue many a time.” Henry Clay Hipsley

“The first car Fred Dolfield had was a 1904 Cadillac. He took his mother to Reisterstown and had a flat tire. He got some rope at Caltrider’s store and put it around the wheel so he could get home. My first car was a Model-T roadster, a 1926, one of the last ones. They had three pedals there and a hand throttle, so when you were going along you didn’t have to touch a pedal. You had high gear and low gear and that’s all. It was a lousy car with helluva tires. Mine had better tires on it, but Raymond Moser’s had these little old skinny high-pressure tires. You had to patch them all the time. If we made it to Baltimore and back in his car we were lucky…really lucky.” Carl A. vonGunten

“After we got a car, car trips were very popular. We’d go to PenMar, Antietem, Hagerstown, Cumberland, four or five cars together, almost like a caravan. We’d transfer children back and forth, more or less a family day trip. You didn’t go out for a trip like that unless the car was full.” Genevieve Berryman Kelley

“Hoff’s Garage sold Rocknes and quite a few of the local people bought them. I got my driver’s license on Helen Carpenter’s Rockne. It was a nice little car that had a ‘hill hold’ on it and boy, that helped me, because Westminster had a place up there where I think they tried to fail you [when you went for] your [drivers] license.” Morris G. Richardson

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