CHAPTER THREE. THE START
THE RAILROAD SPIKE
A five o'clock call, though quite in accordance with orders, was received with some resentment and responded to reluctantly, the Professor remarking that it seemed but fair to give the slow-going sun a reasonable start as against the automobile.
About fifty minutes were given to a thorough examination of the machine. Beyond the tightening of perhaps six or eight nuts there was nothing to do, everything was in good shape. But there is hardly a screw or nut on a new automobile that will not require tightening after a little hard usage; this is quite in the nature of things, and not a fault. It is only under work that every part of the machine settles into place. It is of vital importance during the first few days of a long tour to go over every screw, nut, and bolt, however firm and tight they may appear.
In time many of the screws and nuts will rust and corrode in place so as to require no more attention, but all that are subjected to great vibration will work loose, soon or late. The addition of one or two extra nuts, if there is room, helps somewhat; but where it is practical, rivet or upset the bolt with a few blows of the hammer; or with a punch, cold chisel, or even screw-driver jam the threads near the nut, - these destructive measures to be adopted only at points where it is rarely necessary to remove the bolts, and where possibilities of trouble from loosening are greater than any trouble that may be caused by destroying the threads.
We left Kendallville at ten minutes past seven; a light rain was falling which laid the dust for the first two miles. With top, side curtains, and boot we were perfectly dry, but the air was uncomfortably cool.
At Butler, an hour and a half later, the rain was coming down hard, and the roads were beginning to be slippery, with about two inches of mud and water.
We caught up with an old top buggy, curtains all on and down, a crate of ducks behind, the horse slowly jogging along at about three miles per hour. We wished to pass, but at each squawk of the horn the old lady inside simply put her hand through under the rear curtain and felt to see what was the matter with her ducks. We were obliged to shout to attract her attention.
In the country the horn is not so good for attracting attention as a loud gong. The horn is mistaken for dinner-horns and distant sounds of farmyard life. One may travel for some distance behind a wagon-load of people, trying to attract their attention with blasts on the horn, and see them casually look from side to side to see whence the sound proceeds, apparently without suspecting it could come from the highway.
The gong, however, is a well-known means of warning, used by police and fire departments and by trolley lines, and it works well in the country.
For some miles the Professor had been drawing things about him, and as he buttoned a newspaper under his coat remarked, "The modern newspaper is admirably designed to keep people warm - both inside and out. Under circumstances such as these one can understand why it is sometimes referred to as a 'blanket sheet.' The morning is almost cold enough for a 'yellow journal,'" and the Professor wandered on into an abstract dissertation upon journalism generally, winding up with the remark that, "It was the support of the yellow press which defeated Bryan;" but then the Professor is neither a politician nor the son of a politician - being a Scotchman, and therefore a philosopher and dogmatist. The pessimistic vein in his remarks was checked by the purchase of a reversible waterproof shooting-jacket at Butler, several sizes too large, but warm; and the Professor remarked, as he gathered its folds about him, "I was never much of a shot, but with this I think I'll make a hit."
"Strange how the thickness of a garment alters our views of things in general," I remarked.
"My dear fellow, philosophy is primarily a matter of food; secondarily, a matter of clothes: it does not concern the head at all."
At Butler we tightened the clutches, as the roads were becoming heavier.
At Edgerton the skies were clearing, the roads were so much better that the last three miles into Ridgeville were made in ten minutes.
At Napoleon some one advised the road through Bowling Green instead of what is known as the River road; in a moment of aberration we took the advice. For some miles the road was being repaired and almost impassable; farther on it seemed to be a succession of low, yellow sand-hills, which could only be surmounted by getting out, giving the machine all its power, and adding our own in the worst places.
Sand - deep, bottomless sand - is the one obstacle an automobile cannot overcome. It is possible to traverse roads so rough that the machine is well-nigh wrenched apart; to ride over timbers, stones, and boulders; plough through mud; but sand - deep, yielding sand - brings one to a stand-still. A reserve force of twenty or thirty horse-power will get through most places, but in dry weather every chauffeur dreads hearing the word sand, and anxiously inquires concerning the character of the sandy places.
Happily, when the people say the road is "sandy," they usually mean two or three inches of light soil, or gravelly sand over a firm foundation of some kind - that is all right; if there is a firm bottom, it does not matter much how deep the dust on top; the machine will go at nearly full speed over two or three inches of soft stuff; but if on cross-examination it is found that by sand they mean sand, and that ahead is a succession of sand ridges that are sand from base to summit, with no path, grass, or weeds upon which a wheel can find footing, then inquire for some way around and take it; it might be possible to plough through, but that is demoralizing on a hot day.