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A Look Back: Early auto problems

Since this area, along with the rest of the South, was impoverished following the Civil War, it was slow to adopt the new technology represented by the invention of the automobile.  

Rhe auto itself, in its initial output, was primitive, and the problems experienced by owners were much the same, no matter where they lived.  

The following news items reflect a few of the problems those people who were affluent enough to own cars had with them. 

  • Feb. 14, 1924—Dr. H. C. McRee, Hartselle, Morgan County health officer, and Ella Dale, health nurse, report that on their return from a visit to Johnson Chapel, their automobile was disabled in the attempt and it was necessary for a mule to haul it out of the mud.  
  • March 11, 1924—Today, just after noon, Jim Clarke was severely injured when his large closed car turned over. Mr. Clarke said the auto’s steering gear locked just as he approached a small bridge. A board was off of the bridge, and a wheel was caught, throwing the heavy car over. The windshield was broken, and one side of the vehicle was damaged. Mr. Clarke was cut about the face and his right leg injured. 
  • March 14, 1924—A young man named Doss was seriously injured near Falkville today when the truck he was driving turned over with him. The truck was not being driven fast, but melting snow caused the road to become slippery. His tires would not grip the road so as to minimize the possibility of a skid. Doss’s condition is serious, but it is thought he will recover. 
  • April 28, 1924—E. N. Penick of Decatur was seriously injured today at the foot of the mountain, near Lacon, when the car in which he and his wife were riding skidded into a ditch. Mr. and Mrs. Penick were returning from the Blount Springs resort. Tread depth is a vertical measurement between the top of the tread rubber to the bottom of the tire’s deepest grooves. The shallowness of the tread on assembly line autos makes going either up or down a steep grade unsafe. 
  • May 5, 1924—The oldest son of Mr. and Mrs. J. L. Brasher had an accident on the Bee Line Highway near Flint today. His car was damaged to some extent when it turned over into a ditch. 
  • May 19, 1924—Near Bland’s Crossing, a strong wind sprang up this afternoon. The Rev. and Mrs. B. E. Fulmer were driving in an open car. When the Rev. Fulmer reached for his hat, which was about to blow off, he lost control of the car, which then went down an embankment and completely turned over. It had to be lifted off of the occupants, who also included the Fulmers’ two little girls. The girls were substantially uninjured; however, their parents were badly hurt. 


By far the most common injury from cars in the mid-1920s was as reported in the following items: 

  • July 12, 1924—The son of J. A. Kelley was brought to town today, suffering from a broken arm. The boy was attempting to crank a car when the crank slipped and broke both bones in his right arm. 
  • Oct. 22, 1925—J. R. Miller is suffering from a broken arm. He suffered the accident cranking a car. 
  • Aug. 26, 1926—Three people over the county are suffering from broken arms, occasioned by back-firing cars they were attempting to crank. They are as follows: W. H. Cantrell, G. W. Huddleston and W. A. Wisener. 

Before a starter motor became available, engines were started by human-powered techniques like a removable crank handle which engaged the front of the crankshaft. As we have seen here, the hand-crank method could be dangerous. Broken bones could be slow to heal, and arms might never function as efficiently as before fractures.