How to Care For Your New Ford — If it’s a 1913 Model T, That Is

By Joe Darby

Here are a few tips, straight from the owner’s manual, on how to care for your new Ford:

–Before running the car at all, make sure you fill the radiator with water and strain that water through muslin to prevent foreign matter from getting into the small tubes. (After all, can we really trust the water that comes out of your backyard hand pump?)

–Likewise, fill the crankcase with oil and when you put gasoline into the car strain it through chamois skin (Never know about the gas that you got from your neighborhood hardware store) and “throw away your cigar.” (Or at least get your wife to hold it.) while putting the gas in.

–When you’re ready to drive, you must know that everything is pretty much controlled by three foot pedals. The one on the right operates the brakes. The middle one puts you in reverse. And the one on the left activates your clutch. (Got that?) Pushing your hand lever forward engages high speed (up to 35 mph!) and pulling it back activates the emergency brake.

Now we’re ready to start her up. But first make sure there’s plenty of gas, oil and water in the car. Also, be certain the shut off valve in the gasoline feed pipe is open, all the grease cups are full, the hand lever is in a vertical position, close the coil switch, put the spark lever in about the third or fourth notch, open the throttle about four or five notches and prime the carburetor if it needs it.

Engage the starting crank and pull up on it. “Two or three times will usually suffice to draw the mixture into cylinders and ignite it.

Wow. I’m not even going to take you through how you actually drive the car, including how to continue working the spark and throttle and “engaging” those three foot pedals in order to have the car do what you want.

These instructions, as you have guessed, are not for your latest 2019 electronic wizard of a car that will park itself, tell you where you’re going and how to get there, play your very own personal music on its multi-speaker system and keep you cool while it’s 95 degrees outside.

No siree Bob. The above instructions tell you how to operate your brand new 1913 Ford Model T. Who could have known that such a simple machine could be so complicated to operate?

Henry Ford had come up with the Model T only five years before, in 1908. He was making a lot of them, using a moving assembly line. He was paying his workers (or soon would be) the amazing salary of $5 a day, which attracted would-be Ford employees from all over the country.

It was only 20 years since the very first American auto, a very primitive horseless carriage built by the Duryea brothers, had taken to the streets. It was only 10 years since the Wright brothers got their little biplane into the air. World War I wouldn’t start until the year after our 1913 Model T was sold. More Americans still got around on horses or foot than they did on autos. Yep, it was a different age altogether.

But for the folks that wanted a car, most chose the Model T, because it was a good deal cheaper than other autos and because it was gaining a reputation for reliability.

It was opening up whole new worlds, especially for people in rural areas, who were now able to make longer trips than they would have tackled with Old Dobbin and the family wagon. Soon, young folks with access to a Model T would be able to go courting on their own, out of sight of ever vigilant chaperones in the girl’s family parlor.

Welcome to the 20th century. Everything is about to change.

Well, putting history and social life aside for a moment, this column was inspired (obviously) by a copy of the1913 Model T instruction book (as they called it — not an owner’s manual) that I have in my possession.

The book goes on to talk about irregular ignition, carbon deposits, valve timing, valve grinding, how to remove transmission bands and a whole bunch of other problems that today’s owner rarely if ever has to contend with. It even tells you how to remove the rear axle, if you need to. And, hey, we thought we were a DIY society, didn’t we?

Anyway, I got a big kick out of looking at the book and I thought it would be nice to share a little bit of it with you. It’s an amazing window into a world that hasn’t existed for a long time. So, maybe the next time your navigation computer goes on the blink, you can take solace in the fact that you don’t have to strain your radiator water through a muslin.