Ah, the automobile. What would we do without it? The car I most remember is a battered old ’61 white Valiant with a stick shift. The clunker almost caused me to gave birth and file for a divorce on the same night. That’s because my husband steadfastly refuses to drive over the speed limit. No thanks to him, I missed giving birth in that auto by mere seconds.
The reason I have cars on my mind this month is because of my new book, Waiting for Morning, a historical romance set in Arizona Territory in 1896. The hero, Dr. Caleb Fairbanks introduces the Last Chance Ranch cowhands to his beloved gas-powered “horseless carriage,” Bertha. When Caleb and backfiring Bertha incite gunfire from former dance hall girl, Molly Hatfield, the handsome doctor barely escapes with his life. Little does he know that his troubles have only just begun.
Today, cars are blamed for everything from global warming to funding terrorism through oil dependency. It might surprise you to learn that it wasn’t that long ago that the old gray mare was held responsible for the social and economic ills of the world.
In 1908, it was estimated that New York City alone would save more than a million dollars a year by banning horses from its streets. That’s how much it cost back then to clean up the tons of manure clogging the roadways each year.
A tree never hits an automobile except in self defense.
Horses were also blamed for traffic congestion, accidents, diseases and, of all things, noise pollution. Hooves clattering on cobblestones were said to aggravate nervous systems. Even Benjamin Franklin complained about the “thundering of coaches, chariots, chaises, waggons, drays and the whole fraternity of noise” that assailed the ears of Philadelphia residents.
The first automobiles to drive west were driven by insurance salesmen and land agents. When an attorney in a small Texas town rose to leave during an important trial, he practically emptied the courtroom. Jurors, witnesses and spectators all wanted to see his two-cylinder Maxwell. An irate judge pounded his gavel and ordered the autorist to “Drive the contraption a mile out of town where there are no horses and permit everyone to look it over so the court can resume its regular business.”
As with all technology, outlaws were quick to see the advantage of automobiles. The auto allowed for a quick get-away and would keep going long after a horse gave out. This left local sheriffs at a disadvantage.
Youths hopped on the auto band-wagon long before their elders and many ceased driving the family springboards entirely. Frontier lawmen suddenly found themselves issuing stern warnings, not to outlaws, but to racing youths.
Remember: When everything’s coming your way,
you’re in the wrong lane.
The automobile was supposed to make the world a safer, saner, quieter and healthier place. That’s something to think about the next time you’re stuck in traffic. But take heart: the safer, quieter, more economical Robot Car is here.
To celebrate the publication of my book, my publisher is running a fun contest. To enter all you have to do is write a paragraph or two about the car that played a part in your life’s story and send to:
Margaret has published more than 40 books and is a N.Y. Times Bestselling author and two-time Romance Writers of America Rita Finalist. She writes historical novels set–where else?–in the Old West! She has written for a day time soap and is currently working on a new series. Not bad for someone who flunked 8th grade English. Just don’t ask her to diagram a sentence.