From the time that the check for $5,000.00 fell from the “Horn of Plenty” into my lap on my wedding day, George was tormented with the idea of buying an automobile. The only kind on the market was run by steam. So obsessed was he that he sent for folders. The fact that I was pregnant gave him an alibi too, and he and his brother [David] talked over the various points of Oldsmobiles, White Steamers, and the like. My friends in Oshkosh had an automobile and George’s fancy had settled on that.
It had not occurred to me that such a thing could be practical for us. It was like a dream. Then one day George announced that he was ready to buy but could not get away to do the job. Would David and I do it? I had done plenty of buying in my life, for the house, the children, and other members of our family, but purchasing an automobile was not yet on my list. However, if he were willing to trust me, with David’s advice I would do the best I could.
Mechanics were as completely out of my line as the atomic bomb or astrophysics. I had only the initiative of youth. George made out a list of requisite points that the machine must have, so, armed with memoranda and a checkbook, David and I sallied forth. Michigan Avenue was the earliest rendezvous for horseless carriages and there David and I went. I was to do the talking; David was to listen, and then conjointly we were to report to George by telephone and he would advise.
There were only two autos in Elgin at the time. Mr. Richardson, the Superintendent of the Publishing House owned a single-seater electric, so heavy that it could not travel over unpaved roads and required an all-night charge for each day’s work. He was very elegant, however, as he thundered up Douglas Avenue. The car was so heavy that it sounded like a threshing machine. Dr. Chapel, a dentist, owned the second auto, a locomobile with two seats, back to back. That was like the Radford’s and was George’s choice at the moment.
From Wikipedia entry, Locomobile (1907 model)
I remember that we went in on Thursday with the understanding that the car be shipped in time for me to go to the Country Club party on Saturday. George was unable to go in town before the first of the week. Having been used to waiting for everything, I was utterly shocked at George’s time sense. His immediacy was something unique when I first encountered it, but in three months I had learned to be surprised at nothing.
David and I first sought the locomobile agency and I barged up to the salesman and told him in chipper style that my husband was in the market for a car. He proceeded to show us the works. David asked what sounded to me like intelligent questions and I sprinkled my “It must have so and so’s” (from my list) throughout the conversation. After a lively sales talk, we finally broke away and went on to the office where the Mobile was carried. We found that the Mobile lacked some of the agreed requisites and it cost less than the locomobile.
I remember how that salesman looked at me as I told him the price was too steep. “So cocky, so foolish and inexperienced,” he probably said to himself. “If this woman ever gets out of here the next fellow will sell her, for she doesn’t know a thing about cars.”
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” he said aloud. “Do you think your husband would mind acting as an agent in his town? It wouldn’t mean any extra work, but being an agent would bring the cost of his Mobile down to a mere $600.00. That appealed to me so David and I went into a huddle and the agent led us to a telephone. George immediately told us to buy and ship it and we gave the agent a check and entrained for Elgin. That’s how we did it, girls, in 1901.
Did the car arrive by Saturday? No, dears. It came near nightfall after the function was over, but even had it been on time, the party would never have seen us, for the Mobile was temperamental and not in perfect running condition. Also the driver was new and nervous, and always there was a crowd watching and asking maddening questions.
For weeks our best ride was up Chicago Street as far as the paved road extended (about six blocks) and back again. Most of George’s spare time was spent oiling, greasing, and taking the car apart, and in getting up steam. An enormous curling-iron thing called a torch was first heated by fire on the ground and then inserted into the machine. In about an hour, we were ready to go. We were rated 2-½ Horse Power. Everyone collected to see us go and come. We bought gas in the grocery store and, when we made a trip to Evanston by country roads, we stopped at farm houses for water and laughed after a farmer said, “Your horse drinks water, same as mine.”
In Evanston we created a sensation on the Fourth of July. There were fireworks and we stood on the seat to watch the show. All at once our engine blew off steam. Everybody nearby was startled and then had a good laugh. Mobiles were meant to go, not to stand.
George had had warnings from his family that his bills would skyrocket once he had a car and there was truth in that, but being a “Cook” meant top prices without a car, and it took weeks to find a grocery where I could afford to trade. As soon as I gave my name the price was upped. Still, I kept on searching. Somewhere there would be someone who didn’t worship money. The butcher I centered on had a small establishment but I liked him. He never quivered when I told him my name. I was so happy I rushed home to tell George that I had found a butcher who treated me “as if I were a washerwoman, and I intend to trade with him,” which I did as long as I lived in Elgin.