It was a beautiful Friday in the Spring of 1947. The bell for the first class of the day at Wakefield Rural High School was a few minutes away . Such a day would include a number of exciting things like Jennie Jevon’s freshman English class, John Lane’s shop class, and Fred Settles general science. Fred doubled as both the school principal and my old man. It required toeing the line carefully. When I got into trouble I caught it at school and at home. For me the old man was double trouble.
I reviewed this circumstance regularly, frequently noting that I had not missed a day of school the entire year. The old man’s general science class was first on my list for the day. It passed quickly, then I encountered Vance Lumb. Vance also noted that it was a beautiful spring day. It was still Friday. We had both been on good behavior for the entire year. Then he suggested it would be a complete waste of time to remain in school any longer. “Let’s go” he said. I had already been in Fred’s science class, so he might not miss me the rest of the day. We walked casually out of the school’s rear door to the street.
Vance’s 1926 Model T Ford Runabout was parked under a tree. In order to avoid raising suspicion, we climbed into the car and immediately left the area. After we were out of sight of the school, we stopped, unfastened the top, and folded it out of the way. This was high living in a neat car. Vance and I made like the coolest dudes ever to hit Wakefield. Cool dudes automatically head for the nearest big city, so we headed straight for Clay Center.
Vance had this fine little car because he and his brother, Gary, had to have a way to school every day. As Wakefield was a rural school, the farm kids had to provide their own transportation. This was Vance and Gary’s transportation. Kansas driver’s licenses at the time granted restricted privileges to those 14 and older “for driving to and from school, and on errands for your parents, daytime only”. We never knew anyone to be arrested for stretching these restrictions. We were both 14 at the time.
Vance’s T was a mechanical marvel, and featured more pedals and levers than you could shake a stick at. For Vance, a farm kid, a few levers and pedals were no big deal. On the other hand, there were so many things to do while driving this car, that even Vance could lose his concentration now and then. This was one of those occasions.
For the reader who is unfamiliar with the old Ts, some instruction on the levers and pedals, and their functions is required to understand exactly what happened that day. Following that, it will be necessary to modify these instructions again for Vance’s particular Model T, because it didn’t work like it was supposed to.
According to Vance, when you first start a T, it is automatically in neutral, and won’t go anywhere. After it starts, you must advance the spark lever with your left hand to keep the engine running. After advancing the spark lever, the engine runs more smoothly, and a little faster. Then you can put your left hand on the wheel, advance the throttle which controls engine speed, and carefully depress the low speed forward pedal with your left foot. After the car is moving sufficiently you pull the high speed lever back with your left hand, the car moves more rapidly, and you can remove your left foot from the low speed pedal. All these functions are controlled through a number of belts requiring regular adjusting.
From the schematic you should note that reverse is the middle pedal located between the brake on the right and low speed forward on the left. To go into reverse it is necessary to be sure your foot is pressing on the middle pedal only, not the other pedals. Because the pedals are fairly close together it is best to have narrow feet, and plenty of time to be careful. These circumstances are not always present.
In Vance’s case, the brakes worked quite badly, so it was necessary for him to ease up to stop signs, curbs, trees, and other immovable objects. Then at the proper moment when a full stop was necessary, he would press on the reverse pedal which worked better than the faulty brakes. It was with these controls in mind that we left for the big city.
Clay Center was about 20 miles away, 8 miles straight west then 12 miles north. We were there in no time. To our amazement, we discovered that school in Clay Center was still in session, and the kids we knew were doing what they were supposed to be doing. We drove past Jevon’s where Joyce and her sister lived, but they were in school. For a town of 1,000 people, there was not much to do for entertainment, so we just drove around town looking cool in Vance’s T. You can only look cool for so long, so we decided to head for home.
Clay Center is built around a central square which includes the court house. The main road to Wakefield passed just east of the square. As we approached the northeast intersection of the square, we saw a sedan at the stop sign. The car might have pulled away from the stop sign before we got there, but it didn’t. Vance might have anticipated the stop sooner, but he didn’t. Finally in an act of desperation he pressed on a pedal. There was one pedal too many!
Instead of the brake, which didn’t work, or the reverse pedal in the middle, he got the low forward pedal. This supercharged our forward movement, and we gave a serious jolt to the man in the car at the stop sign ahead. According to Vance, this “huge, burly man got out of his car and started walking back toward us”. We were quaking in our boots.
Vance said “Sorry, mister. I just pushed on the wrong pedal”. With that bit of painful truth, the huge, burly gentleman burst into laughter. He got back into his car and moved out of our way. We returned to Wakefield well before school was over, – but had we been missed?
We missed Jennie Jevon’s freshman English class, she missed us, and according to Meriwilla Myers, she was mad as a wet hen. At her next English class, she asked us where we had been the day before. Then we were assigned a special writing assignment for the next day, explaining in detail exactly where we had been and what we did. Then as a lesson for all the other students, we each had to read our papers aloud in class.
With the public humiliation of these special class assignments, these two 14 year olds learned never to cross Jennie Jevons again. She was destined to be our English teacher for the next three years. We also learned that Vance had one pedal too many in his classy little Model-T Ford.