Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Family Automobiles VIII

To keep this tale chronological I have to insert the Pratt's 1924 Dodge Touring Car in between the folks' Model T (Henry Ford didn't designate model years) and the 1928 Model A.
Presumably the 1924 Dodge replaced the 1915 National which went on the 1919 trip to the Upper Peninsula. My Grandfather Wilmer Pratt died in 1926, leaving Henry at home with his Mother, my Grandmother, Abigail. With Wilmer gone and his two brothers Charlie and Burr dead in the 1918 influenza pandemic, Henry had the entire Watervliet fruit operations, three orchards, on his hands alone, an overwhelming burden with the Great Depression at hand. He sold the Paw Paw Lake cottage, along with the adjacent Swarting's Orchards. Dad and Mom took over the Bowe Farm and orchards to keep them from being lost to foreclosure, and Henry shrunk his operations to the old family farm and orchard south of Watervliet where Vincent lives today. At some point the 1924 Dodge became surplus (I suppose Henry replaced it with a truck or Aunt Eva brought another car into the family when she married Henry, Linda could probably tell us). I was in high school when I became interested in the old Dodge. It was sitting in the corner of a garage-like building behind the old family home with flat tires gathering dust and bird poop. I offered Henry $12 and he said "deal..."
That started a flury of activity on Dick's and my part. We pumped up the tires and hauled it to Watervliet behind one of Dad's cars and parked it under the catalapa tree to the left of the driveway. The first thing we did was to take off the top, frame, cloth and all and throw it into the dump down at the top of the hill behind the house (that was only one of a number of bonehead things that were done regarding that car). Then we patched some rust holes in the body with pieces of galvaized sheet metal and painted it two tone  maroon and tan, cool colors in those days (also matched the colors of our football jerseys). Our model for the car was from "Harold Teen", the comic strip about teenagers that ran in the Chicago Tribune (we also tended to dress like them, especially the felt hat tilted to the front with the brim pushed back). We obtained two 6 volt batteries and hooked them in series to make 12 volts. A 12 volt system that was eventually adopted by all makes was a Dodge characteristic starting with the first touring car in 1915. We pulled the spark plugs and cleaned and replaced them and reattached the wires fron the distributer. What we didn't know was that there was such a thing as a firing order and that you don't just re-hook the wires from the distributer to the plugs in random order. With fresh gasoline and everything ready to go I stepped on the starter and recoiled in horror at the awful clatter and sputtering and backfiring that ensued. I immediately shut it off  Then my father, no automobile mechanic by any stretch of the imagination, gently explained the facts of life with respect to firing order. With the right wire hooked to the right spark plug, we tried it again and the Dodge fired up and after a little smoking as the engine cleared its nose it purred like a kitten. We never had any engine trouble but we did have plenty of tire trouble. The tires were like truck tires and changing a tire or patching a tube required the use of tire irons and large ball-peen hammers. It was helpful that the father of a friend, Bob Pierce, had a garage and repair shop downtown (where Dad and John had the store).
I've told you of some of the things we did with the Dodge (see Paw Paw Lake Foolishness). A fair amount of time in the summer was spent hanging out with Chicago girls out in the Ryan Cottage neighborhood. John was four and a half years younger than I thus didn't share some of the fun and foolishness (and hazards) that Dick and I did being only one grade apart. I went off to college (and seriously considered drivng the Dodge to Golden but never did) and then Dick and I are in the Army and then John is in the Navy. While we are all overseas Dad, my Father, pulled a really dumb stunt. He SOLD our Dodge to a local mechanic for $25. The last I saw of it it was sitting in a garage on the east side of M140 south of Covert. I never did really forgive Dad for that. When Dad finally found his life's talent as a retailer (war surplus) he would sell anything that anyone wanted and a lot of things they probably didn't really want. Among other things he sold without my permission was my special one-of-kind tent that I found and intended to be my family camping tent (when I got a family, that is.).

No comments: