Wednesday, February 8, 2012


John Steinbeck

Families that travel together, stay together

How to Start a Ford Model T Automobile

"Now you ready? Spark retarded, gas advanced. Spark up, gas down.
Now switch to battery — left, remember — left." . . . "Hear that? That's
the contact in one of the coil boxes. If you don't get that, you got
to adjust the points or maybe file them." . . . "Now this-here is the
crank and — see this little wire sticking out of the radiator? — that's the
choke. Now watch careful while I show you. You grab the crank like
this and push till she catches. See how my thumb is turned down? If
I grabbed her the other way with my thumb around her, and she was
to kick, why, she'd knock my thumb off. Got it?" . . . "Now," he said,
"look careful. I push in and bring her up until I got compression, and
then, why, I pull out this wire and I bring her around careful to suck
gas in. Hear that sucking sound? That's choke. But don't pull her too
much or you'll flood her. Now, I let go the wire and I give her a hell of a
spin, and as soon as she catches I run around and advance the spark
and retard the gas and I reach over and throw the switch quick over
to magneto — see where it says Mag? — and there you are."

from John Steinbeck's East of Eden

It is hard now to imagine the difficulty of learning to start, drive,
and maintain an automobile. Not only was the whole process
complicated, but one had to start from scratch. Today's children
breathe in the theory, habits, and idiosyncrasies of the internal
combustion engine in their cradles, but then you started with the
blank belief that it would not run at all, and sometimes you were
right. Also, to start the engine of a modern car you do just two
things, turn a key and touch the starter. Everything else is auto-
matic. The process used to be more complicated. It required not
only good memory, a strong man, an angelic temper, and a blind
hope, but also a certain amount of practice of magic, so that a
man about to turn the crank of a Model T might be seen to spit
on the ground and whisper a spell.

~Steinbeck (1952)