JUST DONíT TURN THE KEY

By Norris Chambers

            The small farms, along with the sharecroppers, had begun to disappear. The smaller farms had been bought or leased by larger farmers who traded their mules and horses to the farm implement dealers and emerged with tractors and combines that could plow or harvest many acres a day. Ben Gibbs was one of these big farmers and Clifton and I worked for him one early fall season. We were paid the fantastic sum of $1.00 a day for 12 hours work. Preparing the fields for the next yearís crops was a hurry-up job and the tractor was operated 24 hours a day. Clifton worked from midnight until 12 noon and I continued from noon until midnight.

            Ben had a middle sized Allis-Chalmers tractor that pulled a 4 disc one way plow. It also powered the combine that cut the grain and threshed it at the same time. This was a much speedier process than the old reaper for cutting, shocking and hauling to the thresher for threshing.

            We were working in some bottom fields about three miles from home. When I arrived a few minutes before twelve Clifton had stopped plowing. He greeted me when I drove up. He told me that one of the wheels on the one way needed grease. It was very noisy.

            While we were trying to decide what to do Ben drove up. When we explained the problem he told Clifton to take his new Ford V8 and go get some grease while we took the wheel off and got ready for the greasing. Clifton drove off in the new sedan. It was evident that he was very pleased to drive the new vehicle. We removed all three wheels on the plow. They all needed grease.

            We waited anxiously for Clifton to return. Ben said he hoped nothing had happened to him. About this time we saw him running toward us. He quickly explained that something had happened to the car. He said the steering wheel had locked and before he could stop it ran into the ditch at the side of the road. The car didnít seem to be damaged, but the ditch was too deep to drive out of. When Ben asked where it happened he told us it was at the Graham hill. He said that he turned the key off to coast down the long hill and about that time the steering wheel locked and he couldnít turn it. It was in the ditch before he could hit the brake.

            Ben told Clifton to bring the tractor and he and I would take my Model T and get a chain. We would meet him at the hill and see what we could do.

            We went by our blacksmith shop and got a couple of long chains and drove to Graham hill. About a hundred yards down the hill the Ford was in the ditch and was leaning at a precarious angle. Clifton had stopped the tractor a few feet in front of the car and was examining the front bumper. We joined him and made a short inspection of our own.  Mr. Gibbs said he thought the bumper would be strong enough to pull the machine out. It did look pretty strong. I tied one end of a chain to the left side of the bumper and the other end to the rear hitch on the tractor.

            Mr. Gibbs said he would get in the car and try to drive out and told Clifton to apply pressure slowly to the bumper. My job was to stand and watch. This I did very well.

            The plan worked perfectly. After Clifton pulled the car forward a few feet it gained traction and came smoothly out of the ditch and on to the road surface. Clifton turned the tractor around and I removed the chain and put it back in my Model T.

            Clifton wanted to know if the steering was still locked. It didnít appear to be since Ben had driven it up onto the road and straightened the wheels.

             Ben grinned and said, ďI guess there is something you didnít know about this model Ford. When you turn the ignition key off it automatically locks the steering wheel. This tends to make it harder for thieves to jump-wire the engine and steal the car. They have the same problem you did Ė they can-t steer it.Ē This was a good idea, but it didnít slow the crooks much. The switch was mounted on the steering column and turning the key pushed a pin forward to lock the steering. They quickly learned they could break the ignition switch and pull the locking pin from the steering rod.

            Clifton took the tractor back to the field, Ben left in his Ford to get some grease and I returned to the work place where I would be until midnight when Clifton came to relieve me.

            Was this job fun? A small part of it was Ė when the ground breaking was finished and Clifton and I got our pay! You see, there is usually a little fun in just about any operation.

            The lesson to be learned here Ė donít coast down a hill with a 1934 Ford V-8 and turn the key off to save gasoline!