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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

Roy A. Morse

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NOTE: This is an excerpt. The full text version of Roy A. Morse is in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940.

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Date and time of interview Oct. 19-20, 1938


I went to town one Saturday and automobiles were a curiosity in those days so one of the first things I heard when I arrived, was that my neighbor had bought a new automobile, so I goes to the garage and sure enough there was Andy-- my nearest neighbor in a new car, ... so I determined not to be outdone by my neighbors and especially Andy, I goes over to another garage to buy a car ... and as Andy had gotten a Ford I wanted some other kind, so he sold me a car and we got on the train to go get the car.

We arrived in Kearney and had a few hours to wait before going to Omaha so decided to look around a little, maybe we could get a car like I wanted there and save the time going into Omaha for it. We went to the dealer who had the agency for the [car?] I had planned to buy and of course he didn't have one in stock but he had a second hand car that I could buy for less money and it looked all right so I bought it and we drove it home. I arrived home about 9:30 p.m. a proud owner of a new car.

In a few days I could not stand the pressure any longer, so had to take the [car?] to North Platte to show my brother-in-law. I tried to get my wife to go along, but she was too smart for me and stayed home, so I went to ... [?] ... town ... and got the man who sold me the car to go with me. When we started it was in the spring of the year and the roads on the Platte Valley were none too good then, but we got there about dark that night. ([11hrs.?] 80 miles) We stayed the next day and got up early the next morning and ... started home. We had hardly gotten ... started when it began to rain. We worked and drove all day without dinner or [supper?] and we run out of gas near Brady and stopped at a farm house and stayed all night.

Next morning we persuaded the farmer to take his team and take us to town for gasoline and we started again and when night overtook us ...[?] ... we ... were five miles west of Lexington and the car would not run so we walked to Lexington and he got on the train and went home and I stayed all night and hired a guy to go out and ... pull me into the garage. He proceeded to try and find what the trouble was, well I don't think now as I look back that the mechanic knew any more about a car than I did, but he was three days finding the trouble and when he found it he had to order the parts from the [factory?] and that would take five or six days to get the parts and about two days to put repair parts in car, so that meant a week before I could get the [car?] to go home, so I rode the train home and in about ten days my wife drove the team and wagon and took me to Lexington and after the car.

They had the job done with a bill of [$57.00?] against me when we arrived, so I paid for the repairs and started out for home everything went fine until I got within about a mile from home, and it quit again just like it done before so I had to wait until my wife came alone with a team and wagon to take me home.

Within a few weeks I had the car taken apart and hired a mechanic from my dealers garage in town to get needed parts and help me put it together again that time it only cost me $27. I drove the car a few days after that over to see my neighbor Andy, and it broke down again in the same manner, he looked at the car and I told him how it had done the same thing twice before and what it had cost me and you should of seen him laugh. He says "Get into my car with [me?], we are going to town. He went into the garage and bought a little gaget for 45, took it home and put it on the magneto and I never had a minutes trouble with that car after that and I still believe that all the other expense I put on that car was unnecessary if the mechanics had known their stuff.

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  • Why did Roy Morse buy a car? Do you think people still buy cars for that reason? What does that sugest to you about human nature?
  • Describe the problems Roy had with his car. Have you ever had a similar experience with a new technology?
  • How do you think owning a car changed Roy's life? Give evidence to support your answer.

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