A Driving Lesson

My grandmother, Mabel Wright Kintner, never did learn to ride a horse or a car, but it was not by want of trying by my grandfather Floyd, who took her out for a driving lesson one late summer Sunday in 1915 after church, where Mabel’s father Joseph Wright was an elder and spent much of his time when he was not working on the family farm or his milk route, not too long after Floyd and Mabel were married.

They both had their hats and dusters on. Floyd put the car in neutral and stepped out. Mabel climbed down from her side, walked around the puttering, cylindrical front end of the Franklin and climbed up behind the wheel. Floyd got in the passenger seat (on the left) and leaned over to encourage Mabel with a few words (this was not her first lesson). Mabel depressed the clutch, shifted into first, released the clutch and off they went, lurching erratically down the farm road, dust billowing behind. In a minute they had reached the end of St. Mark’s Road and had to stop for traffic before making a left turn onto Perryville Road, which Mabel accomplished by revving the engine and popping the clutch. My grandfather’s head snapped back and he would have lost his straw hat had he not been holding onto it already. Mabel shifted into second and started up the hill, but too slowly, and, not knowing that she had to downshift the engine stalled and the car clunked to a stop right in the middle of the road. Cars were going by and some of the passengers, church members whom they knew well, waved and shouted encouragement.

“Put it in neutral,” said my grandfather as he got out of the car. At least he did not have to worry about adjusting the spark because the Franklin had an automatic advance. A quick crank and the car started, and in a few seconds they were on their way. “Keep it in first while you’re going up the hill,” my grandfather had to shout over the engine and road noise. They turned right on Blythedale Road and then had to stop for some chickens in the road. Starting up, Mabel stalled it again and Floyd had to get out to crank it back up.

They turned right in a few yards onto Principio Road and down through the delightful, cool glade along Mill Creek and all was well for a while as they spun along at eighteen miles an hour. Pretty soon they were back on the paved main road. The sun was getting high and it was really quite hot, especially since both my grandparents were dressed in dusters over their Sunday best. The car stalled again, my grandfather (who was a little hot under the collar even on the coolest days) started it and this time he said, “Mabel, if you stall it again you can get out and crank it yourself,” which is exactly what happened. And while Mabel was down in the dust cranking, two carloads of fellow Presbyterians drove by, this time without shouting encouragement at either my cranking, sweating grandmother or her husband, who sat rigidly in the passenger seat in his bow tie looking straight ahead.

A technologically advanced automobile: The 1908 Franklin’s wooden frame, combined with its full set of elliptical springs, produced a baby-buggy ride. Its four cylinder, air cooled transversely mounted engine drove a chain at one side through a three speed (two forward;one reverse) planetary transmission. The driver, my grandfather, Floyd Kintner, sat at the right and steered with a wheel. This was the car he purchased in 1914 for less than half of the original $1,000 price and used to drive to and from his quarry business near Perryville from his lodgings in Port Deposit, and to court my grandmother, whom he had met at the Presbyterian Church. By the next year they were married.

Mabel did not drive but she was by no means a technophobe; an excellent photographer, she recorded her relatives, the farms, her surroundings and plants. Below is one of her images, scanned from a 3 3/4″ x 3 3/4″ celluloid negative that I found not too long ago in my mother’s “magazine closet”, and here is a link to one she took of her father, Joseph Wright Sr. The image below shows the plants Mabel carefully tended for years while the family lived in the house up the hill at Rich Hill Farm before moving down into the big house in 1950.

Click to enlarge:

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