Circa 1912

Last year, I celebrated purchasing a horseless carriage by taking a short trip and driving through New York City to see the Christmas lights. I was enthused to not have to worry about where to hitch a horse. Afterward, I gleefully let everyone know that I’d seen New York in a whole new light; a new era is upon us.

I purchased the machine partly because I wanted to do my part to clean up our cities. Often one has to step gingerly when crossing the city streets. At times the crews fall behind and things really pile up; the smell becomes horrific. One can hardly breathe.

So, I was on my way to helping make things better. Besides I am saving money. My only expense comes when I drive somewhere. I don’t have to feed the machine just to keep it alive. We couldn’t afford one of the fancier models like the Packard, so we went with the Ford Model T, basic, but functional.

But with that all said, my experience hasn’t been without pitfalls.

My wife asked me if we could still make our usual spring trip to Gettysburg. I assured her I was certain that everything would be fine. More people are buying horseless carriages every day, even out in the country. Little did I know what was about to befall us.

We started out late Friday morning, hoping to arrive at Aunt Molly’s that afternoon. I was looking forward to zipping along at the amazing speed of 30 miles an hour. In the past, we’d had to plan in two days to make the trip, with an overnight stop along the way.

Things were going along fine until we reached New Smithville. The roads beyond that point were horrendous. They were bumpy and rutted. I had to slow down considerably. I kept high hopes that the roads would get better and in spots they did, but overall we were not making good time. It became clear we may not make it to Gettysburg before late afternoon. 

Sadly, poor roads were only the beginning of our problems. Just outside Bethel we hit something hard and got a flat tire. I got out and looked around, wondering where we could get help. But it became clear that we were on our own. Happily, the ‘tin lizzie’ carries a spare tire. I had received some instructions on how to change the tire. So I was able to make the repair myself and we were on our way again.

At length, we made it to East Hanover. I noticed that the gasoline was getting rather low. I asked around town but couldn’t find anyone that could sell us some gasoline. It was suggested that I might have luck finding some at Fredericksburg or Harrisburg. I was very worried that we’d run out before making it to Harrisburg, so we backtracked the miles to Fredericksburg. 

At Fredericksburg, I inquired at the bank, the drygoods store, and the hardware store about where we could find some gasoline. Finally, someone said we might find some at Walbert's pharmacy. Fortunately, the pharmacy did have a little. It wasn’t enough though to complete our trip; but it would get us to Harrisburg where, I was told by a local, we would find a proper filling station.

Filling up at Harrisburg was grand. I could feel that the age of the automobile was upon us. 

We began to make good time. I was hoping to make it to Aunt Molly’s before dinner time when BAM something was going wrong with the engine. I got out and looked things over. I didn’t know what to do. Fortunately, a passerby stopped to see if he could help. He didn’t know anything about automobiles but had heard that there was a blacksmith in Mechanicsville who might be able to help us. He offered to hitch up his wagon and tow us there. It meant detouring a little from our planned route, but what else could we do?

At length, we found the blacksmith in question. Fortunately, he’d been tinkering with automobiles of late. He said he’d be glad to take a look at it, but due to the lateness of the hour, it would have to wait until morning. I tried to prevail upon him, but he stood his ground. We were able to find some lodging in town not far from the blacksmith’s shop. It looked like we may miss some of the family activities planned for Saturday.

In the morning, the blacksmith was able to figure out what was wrong and get the engine running again. Something to do with the carburetor, whatever that is.

So we were off speeding on our way again, but just outside Dillsburg we hit a rut and went careening off the road into a ditch. I tried as hard as I could, but I couldn’t get the thing unstuck. Fortunately, I was able to walk to a farmhouse and persuade the farmer to come to pull us out. After hitching up his two horses he was able to pull us back onto the road.

However, then I couldn’t get the engine started. I wondered if we’d have to find our way back to the blacksmith in Mechanicsville. I also began to wonder where my old mare Bailey was.

At length though, and with some patience and good fortune, I was able to adjust the fuel and get the engine started. We limped along, and with the poor roads and sputtering engine, we finally arrived at aunt Molly’s late Saturday afternoon. Sadly, we had missed the family activities and many of the cousins had already left.

Of course, we stayed over Sunday to enjoy some visiting and because everything was closed. I was told that I could get some help and some gasoline from the blacksmith in town on Monday. 

Things went smoother on the return trip, but still, it was no picnic. It is clear that horseless carriages have some maturing to do before they can be useful for most trips.

Addendum Circa 1917

I’m so glad that I’m able to update this story. My wife and I recently took our trip to Gettysburg again. I’m pleased to report that the road conditions were much better. We saw a couple of filling stations along the way and were able to fill up without any problems.
We were readily able to find a mechanic to help us with the one minor problem we had. In all, we made the entire trip in just over six hours. We are living the future.

Authors note

Of course, this entire story is fictional. Many of the details are invented and probably inaccurate. However, it is fundamentally based on truths. It illustrates some of the conditions early automobile adopters faced. They had many challenges.

Within just a few years though, those challenges were either solved or well on their way to being solved. Roads and all supporting automobile infrastructure improved. 

Between 1911 and 1917 the number of automobiles went from about seven per thousand people to over 49 per thousand people. That exponential adoption continued on into the next decade. With the growing adoption came the for-profit fiscal rationale to make all things automotive better.

We are experiencing something similar today with electric vehicles. It is feasible that we will continue to see exponential growth in EV adoption. By 2027, there may be over 14 million EVs on US roads. While that is still a small percentage of the total vehicle fleet, it will be a large enough addressable market to justify the entry of many more businesses catering to EV owners and providing improved for-profit EV services (such as charging).

If there are still doubters and naysayers about the EV revolution today, there won’t be many by 2030. Once upon a time, some people used to shout “get a horse,” but by 1920, that slogan was almost never heard. So it shall be with electric vehicles.

What do you think? How long will it be before mass adoption pushes more EV services to be readily available to EV owners?

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