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Automobiles in the Progressive and New Eras
The Inventor

In the following interview excerpt, from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940, we meet Buck Sanders. Sanders, a short, blond, and wiry fellow, was born in 1905, the third of eight children. In his early days he drove a delivery wagon for a grocer, but he soon became interested in the automobile business. In 1939 he operated a small filling station and garage in a remote mountain section of North Carolina that attracted many tourists. What were Mr. Sanders' experiences as a business operator? What were the difficulties he found in trying to be an inventor?

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". . . I've designed the motor, and I've gone over the design 20 or 30 times trying to find some flaw or mistake, and there isn't any. I'm trying to get a working model built, but it's a slow job, without any money. If I had the time, and the money - about $1,000 would do it - I could have a model built and patented in no time at all. Well, it would take a month or so. All the parts have to be made by hand, you know. It'll make me a millionaire, if someone doesn't beat me to it. It's really very simple, and I don't know why someone hasn't built it already. Its simplicity is one of its main features. There's nothing complicated at all about it. Nothing to give trouble. No delicate parts.

"In 1928 I invented an automatic carburetor choke for automobiles. Very few drivers know how to use the choke right, and one day it dawned on me that a perfectly simple choke could be made to operate automatically, beyond the driver's control. I was working for John Bryson at the time, and you know he was supposed to be the best mechanic in town. I told him about my idea, and he just laughed. He didn't laugh at the idea of the automatic choke - I didn't mean that. He laughed at the way I planned to solve the problem. In other words, he said it wouldn't work. He could see that an automatic choke would be a good thing, but he couldn't see that I had invented one. It discouraged me. I thought maybe he was right. He knew more about those things than I did, then, or so I thought. So I gave it up for a while. But I kept thinking about it, and I couldn't see any reason why it shouldn't work. I made up my mind to build one, and try it on my own car. I worked on it in my spare time, but before I got it finished, the same thing was patented by somebody else, and was brought out on the Farrmobile! Identically the same thing! John didn't have much to say when he saw it. Today, about half the cars on the market have that choke - half the new ones, I mean. Just about all the expensive cars have it. The man who patented it is rich, and I thought of it two years before he did! At least, I thought of it two years before it came out. If I had gone ahead when I first thought of it, I wouldn't be here today, I'd be sailing around somewhere in my yacht. And when I get my motor built, if I'm not too late, I'm going to build a platform up on the public square, and I'm going to stand there and tell a lot of the dirty -------- around town what I think of them!

"For many years Buck was the man to whom other mechanics brought their troubles when they could not solve them. Buck never failed. No job was too tough or too complicated for him. About five months ago, in October, he learned of a place in the mountains about 65 miles away where there is a small permanent settlement and a rather large number of automobile tourists during the [warmer?] months. The man who has been operating the filling station and garage there was anxious to sell out, so Buck got what money he could - some of it had to be borrowed - and bought the business.

"It's been pretty hard this winter," he said, "but I managed somehow to keep going, and I expect to make some real money this summer. Enough to finish my motor, I hope. I've had to get those mountaineers in the habit of bringing their cars and trucks to me when they need repairs, and that made it necessary to do a lot of work that I didn't make anything on, but it'll pay me in the end. Before I went out there, when a man's car or truck broke down he tried to fix it himself, usually with mail-order parts, but I've got them coming to me now. There are a good many cars and trucks in that country, and the nearest other garage is 12 miles away, across a high mountain ridge in another county. It's not much of a garage, either. The mechanics are just country boys, with very little experience, and I've even got them sending work to me. My idea is to just get along the best I can during the cold part of the year, and then make my year's profit during the tourist season. Tourists pay cash, you know, and most of them are used to city prices. I'll make some money this summer, all right. The tourists are already beginning to come. Last Sunday there were at least 200 cars from other states, and I pumped gas all day long. Nobody needed any repairs, but there'll be plenty of that in time. Just wait until those flat-country cars get up in the mountains and begin to go haywire!

"I might even make some money next winter. I'm showing those natives out there that they can get just as good service at my place as they can in town. I charge them reasonable prices, and do my best work, of course, and I believe by next winter I'll have all the business in the southern part of the county. They can't do any good fixing their own cars, anyhow. I can save 'em time and money, and give 'em more satisfaction, and they're beginning to catch on. That fellow I bought the place from wasn't even a mechanic? He was unpopular, too. I'm making friends with everybody out there. I'm beginning to get some welding business, too. Those farmers are bringing me their broken plows and things to weld, and last week a woman got me to braze a cowbell! Oh, I'll get along all right, even if somebody does beat me to that motor!"
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View the entire interview from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. Use your brower's Back Button to return to this point.