The progression of automobiles, drivers and life

Any of us who drives a motor vehicle, and that includes probably almost everyone over the age of 16, has at one time or another complained about rude and thoughtless drivers.

In fact, “road rage” is the term used today to describe the actions of those of us who just can’t control our negative reactions to the “impolite, discourteous, profane, violent, vituperative, inconsiderate, reckless and selfish” drivers we encounter as we motor around the country.

Frederick L. Smith was born into a wealthy family in 1870 in Lansing, Mich., was educated at the University of Michigan, where he was quarterback for the Wolverines, and joined the family business after graduation.

Thinking ahead

In 1899 he and his father helped bankroll his cousin Ransom E. Olds in the new Olds Motor Works, becoming secretary-treasurer of the firm. In 1928, Smith wrote the following commentary on the automobile drivers he encountered every day: What the future holds in the way of mechanical improvements, no mere idle dreamer may guess.

It is hard to vision greater speed or endurance — harder still to expect much lower prices where so great a value is to be had at so reasonable a price.

Personally I should be content with motors as they now are if only someone would guarantee motorists who desired less speed and who had acquired (as by a miracle) better manners.

Mixed blessing

The automobile has much to commend it; it is, perhaps, a real blessing in disguise, but it has brought with it a disregard for life and limb and a lack of consideration for the welfare of others that makes even its most ardent proponents qualify their praise with a damnatory “but.”

People careen through the country without time to view the landscape so that they may the more quickly turn around and come back at breakneck speed, again without seeing what manner of country they traverse.

People sprint from green light to green light as though their lives depended on reaching the city without a second’s delay, whereas ’tis a well-known fact that in nine out of ten offices, whether one’s desk is opened at 9:15 a.m. or 9:47 a.m. or 10:35 a.m. makes no vital difference.

Generally speaking, it does not even mean that 10, 20 or any number of minutes are of necessity added on to the latter end of the elastic day.

Driven

The automobile inspires people to hurry faster and faster, people who have no need to hurry. We honk impatiently at the idiot who waits for a split second for the green light to actually show. We depend on shrieking brakes, rather than slower speed and a courteous warning, to avoid knocking down the pedestrians who clutter up our streets.

Automobile drivers, almost universally, are impolite, discourteous, profane, violent, vituperative, inconsiderate, reckless and selfish. Otherwise, outside their (cars), they seem not so altogether undesirable.

I even remember when we used to stop and help a fellow motorist who was in trouble. Not now. It would be a piece of recklessness these days, of course, but we wouldn’t bother anyway. Couldn’t spare the time.

Yes, of course, it’s not the automobile’s fault — it’s just the age we live in. Time for the old guard to pull to one side and let the new era whiz by, spattering up our old fenders and honking derisively as they make us eat their dust.

Chivalry, courtesy, common, every-day politeness are as dead as Pharoah — and as old fashioned as crinoline, hoop-skirts and sound liquor (prohibition with its “bathtub gin” and “rot-gut” liquor was still the law of the land in 1928.) Progress has swept all these non-essentials into the dust-bin of the good old days.

I wonder if progress is not a bit over-rated? So many things that begin with “p” are over-stressed: politics, for example, police, the press, perdition, piety, and prohibition — the list is endless.

Changes

I do not like the look I get from the man whose coat buttons I graze with my fender at 46 miles per hour, and it is not difficult to read the lip language of a person thus startled into expressions distinctly unfavorable and not confined entirely to my own generation (this was long before the infamous and ubiquitous “one finger salute,” so popular today came into use.)

Progress, I suggest, moves forward somewhat callously, careful of the type, if you like, but careless of the individual. The automobile moves forward regardless of everybody and with an astonishingly low estimate of law and order — therein out-progressing progress. Which is going some!

To the new generation, I imagine the automobile appears as a flawless blessing, a quick means of taking your girl there and back and in general a thing as ordinary, accepted and taken-for-granted as a pair of shoes or a cigarette. Which may be, for all I know, just as it should be.

Being possessed of no panacea for the ills attendant on progress, I do not even attempt to prescribe.

So, even in 1928, at the time Henry Ford was finally replacing his long running Model T “Tin Lizzy” with the new and modern Model A, at least some folks were bemoaning the behavior of drivers.

As some wise person once said: “There’s nothing new under the sun!”

About the Author

Sam Moore grew up on a family farm in Western Pennsylvania during the late 1930s and the 1940s. Although he left the farm in 1953, it never left him. He now lives near Salem, where he tinkers with a few old tractors, collects old farm literature, and writes about old machinery, farming practices and personal experiences for Farm and Dairy, as well as Farm Collector and Rural Heritage magazines. He has published one book about farm machinery, titled Implements for Farming with Horses and Mules. More Stories by Sam Moore

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