CHAPTER THREE. THE START

Every situation presents its own problem, - a problem largely mechanical, - a matter of power, speed, and obstructions; the chauffeur will win out whose perception of the conditions affecting these several factors is quickest and clearest.

One man will go down a hill, or make a safe turn at a high rate of speed, where another will land in the ditch, simply because the former overlooks nothing, while the latter does. It is not so much a matter of experience as of natural bent and adaptability. Some men can drive machines with very little experience and no instructions; others cannot, however long they try and however much they are told.

Accidents on the road are due to Defects in the road, Defects in the machine, or Defects in the driver.

American roads are bad, but not so bad that they can, with justice, be held responsible for many of the troubles attributed to them.

The roads are as they are, a practically constant, - and, for some time to come, - an unchangeable quantity. The roads are like the hills and the mountains, obstacles which must be overcome, and machines must be constructed to overcome them.

Complaints against American roads by American manufacturers of automobiles are as irrelevant to the issue as would be complaints on the part of traction-engine builders or wagon makers. Any man who makes vehicles for a given country must make them to go under the conditions - good, bad, or indifferent - which prevail in that country. In building automobiles for America or Australia, the only pertinent question is, "What are the roads of America or Australia?" not what ought they to be.

The manufacturer who finds fault with the roads should go out of the business.

Roads will be improved, but in a country so vast and sparsely settled as North America, it is not conceivable that within the next century a net-work of fine roads will cover the land; for generations to come there will be soft roads, sandy roads, rocky roads, hilly roads, muddy roads, - and the American automobile must be so constructed as to cover them as they are.

The manufacturer who waits for good roads everywhere should move his factory to the village of Falling Waters, and sleep in the Kaatskills.

Machines which give out on bad roads, simply because the roads are bad, are faultily constructed.

Defects in roads, to which mishaps may be fairly attributed, are only those unlooked for conditions which make trouble for all other vehicles, such as wash-outs, pit-holes, weak culverts, broken bridges, - in short, conditions which require repairs to restore the road to normal condition. The normal condition may be very bad; but whatever it is, the automobile must be constructed so as to travel thereon, else it is not adapted to that section of the country.

It may be discouraging to the driver for pleasure to find in rainy weather almost bottomless muck and mud on portions of the main travelled highway between New York and Buffalo, but that, for the present, is normal. The manufacturer may regret the condition and wish for better, but he cannot be heard to complain, and if the machine, with reasonably careful driving, gives out, it is the fault of the maker and not the roads.

It follows, therefore, that few troubles can be rightfully attributed to defects in the road, since what are commonly called defects are conditions quite normal to the country.

It was nearly six o'clock when we arrived at Fremont. The streets were filled with people in gala attire, the militia were out, - bands playing, fire-crackers going, - a belated Fourth of July.

When we stopped for water, we casually asked a small patriot, -

"What are you celebrating?"

"The second of August," was the prompt reply. I left it to the Professor to find out what had happened on the second of August, for the art of teaching is the concealment of ignorance.

With a fine assumption of his very best lecture-room manner, the Professor leaned carelessly upon the delicate indicator on the gasoline tank and began:

"That was a great day, my boy."

"Yes, sir, it was."

"And it comes once a year."

"Why, sure."

"Ahem - " in some confusion, "I mean you celebrate once a year."

"Sure, we celebrate every second of August, and it comes every year."

"Quite right, quite right; always recall with appropriate exercises the great events in your country's history." The Professor peered benignly over his glasses at the boy and continued kindly but firmly:

"Now, my boy, do you go to school?"

"Yes, sir."

"Very good. Now can you tell me why the people of Fremont celebrate the second of August?"

"Sure, it is on account of - " then a curious on-looker nudged the Professor in the ribs and began, as so many had done before, -

"Say, mister, it's none of my business - "