I had to drive into town yesterday and it started raining. Well that’s no big deal, I just turned on the windshield wipers, adjusted my speed and was sure to flip on my headlights so the other cars can see me in the decreased visibility. With those small adjustments I continued on my way. But it did make me think about travel just a few decades ago.
There’s a big difference in running to town in my car with a solid windshield which is cleaned by wipers and runningto town in, at the very best, a covered buggy (which common families really didn’t have). More likely they were driving a buckboard wagon, riding a horse or even walking. All of those options leave you very exposed to weather.
And rainy weather just brings on so many more topics
First there’s your wardrobe. Start by thinking of wearing long dresses that dragged through the mud when you didn’t have a washing machine, not to mention that people didn’t have very many clothes.
Now we don’t wear hats very much these days – and just as a fashion statement, I like hats a lot and think we ought to bring them back. But they were a very practical part of fashion – from cowboys whose hat shielded him from both sun and rain to the city dweller who didn’t spend his day on an open range needing a wide brim to shield him from the sun’s glare but still relied on his hat to protect from rain and wind. With the expansion of the automobile hats became less necessary. Of course women’s hats were always changing and even though it seemed like women wore them later than men did, they were all about fashion and little to do with function by the 1960’s.
Beyond head covering, I ran out today in a light sweater, which I often do when I’m just riding in the car. Sure, if there’s serious weather threatening I’ll have heavier coats in the back lest I should have any kind of trouble and end up walking. But if I had to climb up in an open wagon for a ten or fifteen mile trip you can bet I’d be wrapped in something waterproof and as warm as I could get.
And then there’s weather-related health conditions to be considered. President William Henry Harrison served just 31 days before he died from pneumonia which he contracted after standing hatless and coatless during his 2 hour inauguration speech. How easily would those conditions be duplicated on any given errand if you drove an open wagon?
Finally, there’s just the simple inconvenience of trying to get somewhere in the rain. Now the car gets pretty dirty and yucky – mine is dirtier and yuckier than I want to admit – but we have these amazing, automatic car washes. You pull right up to the front, slide your card and in just a few minutes you can drive away with shining wheels, a hot wax, spotless under carriage and of course a nice clean car. Compare that to currying the mud out of your horse’s coat after your little jaunt to town. And you do want to curry him for that horse is one of your most valuable and prized possessions. Cars today cost more than a home did just a few years ago and I think most of us try to take care of them and make them last as long as possible. However, American households average 2.28 cars. Many of you have a four-wheel drive off-road vehicle just for fun. Maybe you have a pickup that you just use to pull your bass boat or RV. However many vehicles you have, we take them for granted. And some folks actually live where public transportation is available!
Transportation, or the lack thereof, certainly was a key element that kept earlier generations centered in the home and farm. Without the ability to run out and grab a loaf of bread, you made your own. For that matter, without being able to grab a bag of flour or corn meal, you grew a little wheat or corn and took a turn to the mill. Cows were milked twice each day and butter churned instead of visiting the dairy section. Hams hung in the smoke house after hours spent killing, scalding and scraping a hog. Vegetables were waiting in the root cellar or dried and hanging from the rafters. Root vegetables were stored in the ground so you needed only to kick off the dirt and enjoy a head of cabbage.
Wow, it all sounds so convenient my trip to the grocery store in the rain is seeming like too much work. Wait, all that farmstead convenience took an awful lot of work on the front end. Once again, my drive to town in the rain just wasn’t too bad, was it?