Americans have long had a love affair with the automobile. In 1908 Henry Ford debuted his Model T with a vision of delivering a car the average American could own. The average American did not live on the Cumberland Plateau.
There are many stories surrounding the first time people around here saw a car, or the first folks to own one. WWI hero Alvin C. York owned a car in the early 1920’s and people would line up around the courthouse square to watch him drive by. Whether it was the car or the hero isn’t entirely clear, but they were certainly more accustomed to Sergeant York than to cars.
Folks were making-do just fine with their horses (or mules) and wagons. But Millard Stepp had a wagon with iron wheels. And those wheels would squeak and groan with every turn. His brother-in-law, Rufus Baldwin, had a car which he drove on Sundays so Millard would occasionally borrow Rufus’ wagon for church. See, Rufus didn’t have iron wheels; he had wooden wheels with iron tires. No, all tires are not created the same – in fact, all tires are not made of rubber. An iron tire is a thin iron strip that encircles a wooden wheel making it more durable.
Carpooling may have originated in these rural communities. Millard’s son-in-law, Eugene Welch, had a car and would often stop to give the family a ride. By the time Eugene’s wife and three kids, Millard’s wife Em, and Berris’ Stepp’s wife and two kids all piled into the car, there was no room left. So Millard and Berris just hopped on the running boards and Eugene took off. The one-mile trip to the Martha Washington Church was never more fun – at least not for the five children on-board; they are the ones who tell the story!
By 1957, Millard was 71 years old. In that year, his youngest son, Cletus, brought home from Ohio a 1937 Chevrolet and Millard learned to drive. He had just one more car in his life, about ten years later he stepped up to a 1947 model.
I don’t suppose any of our readers will remember the first cars around, but do you have an early-car story you’d like to share? Please just click on “comments” below – I’d love to hear them.