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Charles Todd at the recording machine

[Detail] Charles Todd at the recording machine

Primary Source Set C: Americans and the Automobile

Dunnel #13

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This is an excerpt. The full text version of Dunnell #13 is in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Projuct, 1936-1940.

... {excerpt begins}

STATE MASSACHUSETTS

NAME OF WORKER ROBERT WILDER

ADDRESS NORTHFIELD, MASSACHUSETTS

SUBJECT LIVING LORE

DATE OF INTERVIEW June 19, 1939

NAME OF INFORMANT G. O. DUNNELL

ADDRESS NORTHFIELD, MASSACHUSETTS

"Young people these days ain't what they used ter be," said Mr. Dunnell, dealing himself a hand of his favorite solitaire from a worn pack of grimy cards. "When I was young we used to walk. We'd think nothing of an eight or ten mile walk. Although, if we were going that far we generally managed to get hold of a horse. But for walking up the street, and walking down the street, or over to the post office, we never asked anybody to drive us. Even if a team was all hitched up and waiting we wouldn't take it. It would have been right in the way, and might have interfered with what we'd want to do after we got to the place.

I'm not sure but the reason we have so many corner loafers and drug store cowboys is on account of the ... automobiles. Young people like to go places and do things. If they are allowed to drive an automobile, why those that haven't any car envy them. They think the young person with the automobile could drive to San Francisco if he wanted to. They forget that his old man buys the gas and keeps a good check up on what's used. That the young feller ain't got no money of his own. And that the drug store is about as far as he dare go. And that about all the fun he gets out of life is standing on the drug store steps, and making believe to a bunch of other fellers in the same fix as himself, that he's been everywhere and seen everything, so that he don't feel like driving no more.

Once in a while he hooks somebody that ain't got a car to put up money for the gas and oil. But the chances are that the feller paying wants to go to a liquor place where he can show off to the feller with the automobile. By himself, or with the friends held have if none of their fathers had automobiles, held never go near a liquor place. He'd rather have a nice cream sody, or some candy. But just because he ain't never been taught to use his legs to get places - and I don't suppose it does any good for any one family to try to fix it - he ends up in a booze joint.

The young feller that ain't got a car has a tough time, too. He hears the crowd talking about how sick they are of driving around. He ain't never been nowhere. But like all young fellers he's managed to learn how to drive a car. Not being anything but a kid, he listens to the talk, and next thing you know, he's 'borrered' somebody's car.

I ain't got no use for 'Goop' Sauter. He's got a nice mother that he's meaner than dirt to at times. But I don't see how he got into jail. And where his car stealing habit come from. 'Course, there must be something wrong in his top story, or he never would leave cars that he's stole where he does. They point right towards him. I guess, though, it's got so that no body could have a car stole 'round this section without 'Goop' getting the blame for it. They've guessed right too many times now. But he never tries to sell the cars. He never hurts 'em none. He just takes 'em for the ride.

... I tell yer, the damned automobiles complicates things all up. ...And, as for the young people, it's fixing 'em so they can't walk, and I vum, I expect to live to see the day when babies is born with no legs at all, but wheels where their legs is supposed to be! It'll happen, too, unless something is done about it.

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Questions:

  • How did young people get around when G.O. Dunnell was young?
  • What does G.O. Dunnell mean when he says "Young people these days ain't what they used to be"? Why does he blame the car? Do you agree with this thinking?
  • Why does Dunnell tell the story of "Goop" Sauter? Do you think the story supports his idea that the car causes trouble among young people?

Go to the complete interview from which this excerpt was taken.

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