Sturkie Family History
Grandfather and the Railroad Crossing
~~by Paul D. Sturkie, Phd.

Grandfather was one of the first in his community and generation to own a Model T Ford, when automobiles were rare and highways even rarer. His 1920 model was black, as all fords were then, had three doors that opened and one that didn’t (built that way). The car had a canvas top and was open at the sides. To close the sides, accessory curtains were hung from the top inside and snapped tightly to a catch as the top of the doors. Usually the curtains were stored (folded) under the back seat (no trunk), and were put on only when it was cold or when it rained, then it was most often too late. The curtains had “ising” glass (plastic) windows to peep out of.

Model T’s had three gears; low, high, and reverse, operated by three foot pedals situated fairly close together. When the left pedal, operated by the left foot, was depressed, the car was in low gear, and when not depressed it was in high gear. The middle pedal, depressed by the right foot, threw the car into reverse. The brake pedal was on the right, and there was also a handbrake. These Fords had little power compared to today’s cars.

A 100 mile journey in those days in our part of the country was truly an adventure, and considered an all day trip. One might have one or more flat tires. Most tires were good for about 5000 miles or less, and usually two extra spare tires were carried along. A jack, inner tubes, patching material, and a pump were standard equipment. The car might break down, or get stuck in a mudhole and have to be pulled out by a farmer’s team of mules. On a steep hill, all occupants except the driver might have to get out and push the car. After sustained driving and in low gear, most likely the radiator would overheat and boil over; the driver would wait for it to cool and then refill the radiator with water carried in canvas bags suspended from the car.

Our grandparents, who lived about a one day drive away visited us when we lived in the city. They arrived in later afternoon in their Ford. On driving through the city, they had to cross the railroad, and on approaching the tracks, they heard a bell but did not know its meaning and continued on across the tracks.

At mid-tracks they observed the guard rails coming down, and to avoid being caught, Grandad speeded up, but he was a little late. The descending arms caught his canvas top near the rear and tore it badly. Granddad was incensed and swore that he would sue the city for damages, but my father finally convinced him to do nothing, because he was in error; that he had been warned by the bell and had violated the law, and was lucky not to have been seen and arrested.