I'm doing research for a book about author James Agee, whose father was killed in 1916 when his 1915 Model T touring car flipped over. If anyone has answers to these specific questions, I'd be most appreciative.
1) What's the top speed a Model T might be able to reach if traveling downhill on a graded gravel road, assuming the road is in good condition?
2) When traveling at night, what is the approximate range of the beams from a Model T's stock headlights? In other words, about how far in front of the car could you see if there were no other lights besides the headlamps?
3) When Agee's father was killed, a couple reasons given for the crash included a cotter pin coming loose from the steering linkage, and one of the front wheels hitting a rock, which sent the car suddenly into an embankment, causing the car to turn over. How plausible do these reasons sound, considering your knowledge of Model Ts?
4) The car landed on its side in the accident, and it had to be lifted right side up. Considering the weight of the auto, about how many people would it take to lift a Model T from its side?
5) Would a Model T owner in 1916 have to carry registration/identification papers with him while driving? If so, did the Model T have a glove compartment, or would the driver have to carry the papers in his coat pocket?
Thanks for your help!
1. Maybe 30 - 35 MPH. That would be pretty crazy at night.
2. Not much. Magneto headlamps are not too good. Maybe 30 - 40 feet.
3. It would be very plausible to hit a rock and have the steering wheel pulled out of his hands if he were driving with one hand.
4. Model T's are light, about 1500 pounds. Three strong men could easily do it.
5. No. Laws during this time were lax, particularly in the south. Many states had just implemented licensing laws for automobiles. Many people simply ignored those laws. Model T's had no glove compartment.
Thanks, Royce! Your answers provide some good insight into the night of the crash.
About #5, I think 1915 was the first year Tennessee (where the accident occurred) required all autos to be registered. I figured Agee's father had some sort of identification on him, since a family member received a call from the man who discovered the accident, and drove out to the scene of the crash.
Paul - Here's my best guess, but please bear in mind that there are many variables involved & a single specific answer for each question probably cannot be given.
1. Perhaps as much as 50 MPH, depending on the road condition and how steep the hill is.
2. No opinion.
3. Both of those reasons have happened and caused accidents, including deaths. There are many, many other possibilities also that could cause an accident like this.
4. Depending on the embankment or other conditions (thick brush, trees, insects present, etc.), perhaps as few as 3 strong men, or as many as 6 to 8 people, depending on the conditions and the angle of the embankment.
5. A '15 Touring has a storage compartment under the front seat & next to the gas tank for tools, jack, etc. & registration papers could be kept there. They could also be in an envelope attached to the steering column. It would depend on the state if the car owner would HAVE to carry registration papers in the car, but I think it would be very likely to be required.
These are just my opinions and I would welcome other opinions on this also.
Royce and I were typing at the same time.... Oh well.
1. Downhill on a good road it could reach 40-50 mph, but that would be very foolish, especially in the dark. Typical travel speed was more like 15-25 mph back in those days and those roads..
2. 1915 was the first year for electrical headlamps. They were powered directly by the magneto on the car's flywheel without a battery, making the brightness of the lamps vary with the rpm of the engine.
A model T has only two speeds, so driving very slow in high gear in a non battery 1915-18 T means very little light.. If you need extra illumination you may have to slow down even further and rev up in first gear? Too high revs for too long and one of the bulbs will blow - and they were connected in series, so if one blew, both went black (That could have been the cause for the accident - suddenly it went black going downhill too fast to stop in time..)
3. Even without anything wrong with the car, a sudden hole or any other obstacle that twists the front axle on 1909-18 T's with the above the axle wishbone may cause the wheels to flip over to one side and the car may turn over.. Henry Ford himself was in such an accident in the teens, but still waited years until the TT truck was introduced with the same front axle until the wishbone was improved.
4. Three men would be enough, I think?
5.No glove compartment. Some space under the rear seat on a touring for various items. I've seen accessory holders for the registration that was wrapped around the steering column. Laws may have differed in different states.
Still, even with the above limitations, the Ford was better than most of the more expensive competitors during the teens, thus it was a success.
Keith and Roger, thanks for your responses as well. I appreciate your opinions even though, as Keith mentioned, there are too many unknown variables in the story to know the exact reason for the crash. The driver was alone at the time, so even back then the cause was anyone's guess.
Wasn't this story told in a P.B.S. movie a few years ago?
I remember watching it and, although it was supposedly set in 1915, there was an abundance of post-'16 cars with black radiator shells.
Here's the book James Agee wrote about the incident and its aftermath: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0375701230
What street in Knoxville did the accident occur? All it takes is a slight lapse of attention on an earlier T to get in a dangerous situation and overcorrection easily causes a disaster. Darkness and alcohol can add to the situation.
If your going to write a book about a crash that happened 100 years ago,tell the truth!!The truth is he was not texting or reading e-mail at the time!! Bud.
Yes, Mike, a movie version of "A Death in the Family" aired on PBS back in 2002. And thanks, Roger, for sharing the link to the novel.
Jim, the 1916 accident occurred in your neck of the woods, Powell, Tenn., on Clinton Pike just south of Beaver Creek, about where Creekside Tavern is located. People have theorized that alcohol could have played a part, but the official cause was said to be excessive speed over a rough patch of road. By the way, I live not too far from you, in Clinton.
Kenneth, thanks for the suggestion. I'll be sure to point out that Agee's father wasn't using his smart phone at the time.
But if he was interested in writing like his son, maybe he was typewriting and driving..
Paul, so that's where he got the idea for the accident in the book -- one of my favorites, by the way -- I didn't know that.
My 1926 was clocked at 65 mph downhill by my wife following me with a modern vehicle.
She had the 4-way flashers going and said most of the time i was only going 55 mph.
That engine had domed pistons for extra compression and a 3/4 race camshaft, but I never knew the difference from a regular camshaft or why it would go so good.
The throttle lever was not even halfway down and I was not trying for a speed record, it was just that there was no speedometer.
Sure downhill can be really fast, Montana 500 racers runs 70 mph downhill in tuned T's, but that's on modern roads in daytime. We would need to know more about the terrain and the shape of the road back then, but I still think most drivers had to drive rather slow back then due to the generally bad roads.
In the south Ford offered a wide track option - 60" thread width instead of the standard 56". This was to be able to better follow the ruts made by the cotton wagons, traditionally wider than wagons up north.
The option was discontinued in 1916, probably because the roads were getting improved - but improvements may have been done at a different pace in different areas.
This area of Clinton Hy is relative flat and about 1/4 mile from a hill so he could have been standing on it. It also is where the old 25 Drive In Tavern, not a liquor store is located. Do not know when it was built but a long time ago.
Thanks again for your helpful responses.
When the accident was discovered, the car was lying on its side on top of the driver, who had apparently been thrown from the vehicle.
One more question: Assuming the car was still running when it ran up the embankment before turning over, do you think it's likely that the car was still running when witnesses arrived at the scene? In other words, is there anything that would have caused the motor to shut off when the car turned over?
I have just re-read this entire thread and (unless I missed it) I see nothing indicating how much time could have passed from the time of the accident until it's discovery. I mention this because when on it's side the carburetor's float may shut off the flow of fuel and then the running engine would soon use up the fuel in the carb bowl.
Also, with the engine on it's side the proper flow of oil would be prevented and even if the engine were running it would likely seize due to lack of oil flow. My two cents worth, perhaps over valued.
Bill, thanks for your input. Reportedly, the accident was discovered around 8 PM by a passing motorist. Considering there were houses nearby, though, I assume the crash was heard by neighbors and would have investigated the scene first, had the motorist not driven past sooner.
If the motor was found running, is there any way the drive wheels would have still been turning?
This is an interesting discussion. Of course, it is mostly theoretical, since, as noted above, there are so many unknown factors involved.
Presumably the car was in gear at the time of the wreck, so yes, if the engine was still running a wheel would be turning. With the car resting on its side, I expect one rear wheel would be stationary, pressed against the ground, and the other, up in the air, would be turning.
I'm with Bill. If a Model T landed on its side, and the abrupt stop did not stall the engine, I believe the engine would only run a very, very short period of time. I'd say less than a minute. I will not test it on my car tho...
Paul, I'm glad you are looking at the details if it is for the public. My sister-in-law worked for Digital Domain, the company that did the digital work for the movie Titanic. While in production, clips of the movie were shown to historians, and in the scene where the back of the ship rises out of the water, the screws (propellers) were still turning. The historians called fowl so Digital Domain had to re do that section to stop the spinning propellers. My sister-in-law said it was too bad. It really looked cool. There some historical inaccuracies in the movie, but they did fix that one.
So although wheels spinning in the air would make for dramatic effect, I would say it would be unlikely.
: ^ )
The Model T has fabulously bad braking capability. _Even with modern disc brakes, the footprint of a Model T clincher tire is about the same as that of a shotglass and that makes for really poor braking traction (Physicist types may tell you that the width of a wheel has nothing to do with braking traction—and while that may be true of a hard, unyielding steel wheel on a hard, unyielding steel surface, the adhesion of soft, air-inflated rubber on rough-textured pavement is a completely different issue).
With only a handful of highly modified exceptions, all Model T Fords have braking action at the rear wheels only, and that's assuming some kind of aftermarket, auxiliary brakes have been added to the rear wheels themselves. _In the case of a Model T as equipped from the factory, the only effective brake is a single drum in the transmission and the braking impulse is therefore sent down the drive-shaft to the differential where it is then distributed to that wheel which has the least traction. _The handbrake is, for all intents and purposes, useless for stopping.
With these things is mind, it is very important that a Model T driver not let his car get away from him on a downhill slope because (among other reasons) as the angle of decline steepens, the center of gravity of any car is shifted forward, thereby transferring traction from the rear wheels to the front wheels—and if your brakes are only in the back, this is a very bad thing. _Model T drivers, therefore, keep a very tight rein on the car when headed downhill. _Keeping the speed from increasing, downhill, is absolutely critical because beyond a certain value, the car will begin uncommanded acceleration and once that starts, all the driver can do is steer as best as possible and hope not to hit anything. _On rough roads, the Model T Ford's sproingy, undamped, un-shock-absorbed suspension will cause the wheels to dance and hop, becoming intermittently airborne at anything above a relative crawl. _Depending on the road surface, the wheels can spend as much time in the air as on the ground. _Downhill, that's as bad for steering as it is for braking.
Alongside the myth that all Model T Fords were painted black is the public's impression that it is an indestructible, rough-road car. _While it's true the car was designed to operate on the typically horrible roads of pre-WWI America, its ability to do so does not compare with that of any modern econobox. _The potholes your Ford Focus can shake off with no more than a dented rim will shatter the wooden wheel of a Model T, and what follows generally becomes headline news on local TV stations—and this forum. _Spotting potholes at night, at speed, is just about impossible in a modern car and it sure wouldn’t be any easier in the feeble glow of a 1915 Model T's flashlight headlamps. _The Model T, in a modern context, is quite delicate; its legendary, obstinate survivability is only due to a virtually endless supply of spare parts and the tick-tock simplicity that makes the car easily repairable by hobbyists. _A whopping 200,000-250,000 Model T Fords are reputed to survive worldwide, but that’s still only a very modest 1.33% of the approximately 15-million that were built (more than any American car ever manufactured—and for sheer numbers, only the Volkswagen Beetle beats out the Tin Lizzie). _The point is, in percentage terms, the larger the number of units made, the larger the number of units that survive the longest.
I’m verbose and unforgivably pedantic (but my buddies on the forum put up with my ramblings anyway and I love them for it), which means all of my above can be distilled down to one simple sentence: Driving a Model T downhill, at high speed, on a rough road, at night, would be an activity fraught with great danger.
Bob, thank you for the detailed response. It gives me a better idea of how the car handled on the declining gravel road.
Steve and Keith, thanks for your comments, too.
I appreciate everyone's input, and the time you took to respond.