Horse Power to Horsepower


“When a man opens a car door for his wife,

 it’s either a new car or a new wife.” 

                                                                                      Prince Phillip

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. 

American Proverb

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:

That’s it!  The winner will receive a $100 gas card. 

 So what car played a part in your life story?


To order print or eBook click on cover

Better yet, order from your local bookstore.

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22 thoughts on “Horse Power to Horsepower”

  1. What a fun post Margaret! And I had to smile when I saw your reference to the Plymouth Valiant. That was my very first car many years ago – I got it my senior year in college from a girl who would become my future sister-in-law. It was several years old when I got it but I absolutely LOVED that car and drove it for many years.

    The book sounds like such fun – I’ve already ordered it!

  2. Love this post, Margaret. Your story sounds delightful. The only brand new car I ever bought myself was a little bright red 1993 Honda Civic. My kids called it my midlife crisis car and I loved it. Even got my first speeding ticket in it. And my second. Drove it for 100,000 happy miles until I got hit making a left turn. I was ok but my baby was totaled. I wept.

  3. I love this post!!! Bertha sounds equally as interesting as any horse of her time. Perhaps not as lovable, but still…All this talk of first cars made me smile. Mine was a 1973 VW Beetle (the original version). My twin sister and I had to share her, so we named her Ren-bin, a combination of our names Renee and Robin. Good times. 😉

  4. Winnie, I guess we always remember our first loves, even if they’re cars. Like you, I sure did love that Valiant (what a great name for an auto) and cried when the poor thing had to be put to rest. Sniff.

  5. I can only imagine the commotion those first automobiles caused. But how quickly the world embraced them. We couldn’t do without them now. I’m sure Henry Ford would turn over in his grave if he knew we paid $20,000 and up for one now. Wish we could go back to $300 a car. Sure would be nice. I’m glad you made it to the hospital even though I’m sure you wanted to kill your DH. I can just see him poking along and you screaming for him to hurry. Oh my Lord!

    Wishing you lots of success with your new book!

  6. Having been to Philadelphia recently and seeing the narrow cobbled streets, I can understand Ben Franklin’s comments. This was such a fun post, Margaret. I guess the car I should mention would be the Lincoln Continental my parents had. It had the suicide doors and was about fifty feet long. No wonder I had two “boo-boo’s” in it shortly after learning to drive. My dad was so cool about it.

    Best wishes for tons of sales! xoxo

  7. Linda, my husband goes into sticker shock whenever we look at new cars. As he keeps reminding me, we paid only $15,000 for our first house! Of course back then that seemed like a lot of money. I’m sure the folks who dished out $300 for their first car thought the same thing.

  8. Great post, Margaret. So funny. I remember the first NEW car my husband I bought, in about…..1978-ish. A Buick LaSabre that cost SIX THOUSAND DOLLARS! We were so sick at the cost we had profound, prolonged buyers remorse.

  9. Cute post. I love the line about trees only hitting cars in self-defense. Made me laugh.

    My favorite car memory is when I was dating my husband-to-be and he taught me how to ddrive a stick shift. My dad had tried once when I was 16 and I had such a stress melt-down that we never revisited it. I guess wanting to impress a boyfriend weighs more than wanting to impress dad, for I did learn how to drive that old brown Toyota. Good thing, too. it was the only car we had after we were married for several years. Now, my husband wants to buy a stick shift to teach our oldest child on since she’s nearing that age, and you can’t even find them anymore unless you want to fork over big bucks for a sportscar. Not the vehicle of choice for a first-time, teenage driver.

  10. Karen, I learned to drive a stick-shift and I really liked it. Stick shifts makes you feel so powerful. That might not be a good thing when you’re behind the wheel, but, oh, what fun!

  11. I was the happy recipient of my grandmother’s 58 Oldsmobile.. we called her Big Blue… Fixed the radio by duct taping a coat hanger [shaped into a peace symbol] into the antenna slot. Wish I still had the car…

  12. Hi Cate, it kind of reminds me of days past when we used a coat hanger as a TV antenna. You referred to Big Blue with a feminine pronoun. There seems to be more “girl” cars than “boy” cars. I wonder why.

  13. My very first car was an old Comet that was eat up with rust. That is what I learned to drive in. I would hardly pull up a hill but we had a lot of fun in that old car. We would say it was cammed to death because it wouldn’t pull up a hill.

  14. I would never thought that cars were considered a quieter, less polluting option than horses. I can understand how that would seem true initially, but over the last 100 years, that has certainly changed.

    The only car we have had that I hold any sentiment for is our 1972 Land Rover. It is a special car and there aren’t too many of them around. You have to muscle it to drive, I need a step stool to get in, the ride is rough, there is no air conditioning, and the heater isn’t worth much. We still love it.

  15. And here I am always saying how great it’d be to go back to the days of horse and buggy lol! I never knew it was becoming such a problem OR costing so much to clean up after the horses.

    The car I love the most is the one we own now which is a Mazda 2. And everytime I get in it, I offer up thanks to God either silently or verbally. His name is Jupiter. 🙂

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