Get a Horse Mr. Ford!

By Bill Schuette

Henry Ford revolutionized the transportation industry in the early part of the 20th century with the introduction of affordable automobiles for the masses. However, the transition between the oat burners and the gas burners was not a smooth one.

In 1914, there were only 765 automobiles registered in Sauk County. But barely five years later, garages and gasoline stations were rapidly supplanting the stables and harness shops which had reigned supreme until then.

This 1903 Michigan Automobile is currently in the collection of the Sauk County Historical Society.

This 1903 Michigan Automobile is currently in the collection of the Sauk County Historical Society.

Henry Ford led the way by producing a vehicle which a person with an average income could afford. "I will build a motor car for the great multitude...constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one, and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God's great open spaces," he is quoted as saying.

The horseless carriage was here to stay. That was an acknowledged fact as we entered the second decade of the 1900s. But there were those who were vehemently opposed to the infernal contraptions. As one might expect, this led to the inevitable confrontation between the horse-drawn and gas-powered carriages. In an attempt to clarify some of the rules of the road, a writer for the Reedsburg Times Press offered a few suggestions in a 1911 article entitled Driving Horses and Autos.

He wrote: “There seems to be a general feeling throughout the country by drivers of  horses that when an auto comes up behind them and begins to honk his horn, that the meaning is to have the man driving the horses get off the earth and do it quickly.

“In fact, the auto driver simply wishes to give the other warning that he is behind him and that he would like to pass him without frightening the team or in any way make him any trouble.

“If his team is afraid, he will usually look for the first good place to turn out and let the auto pass. But I find that it is often the case where, if a man is driving a team that he knows is not afraid of the auto, he will let the driver honk his horn to his heart's content and give not the least sign that he has heard it.”

Most roads during the early part of the last century were not much more than dirt covered trails, which were filled with mud holes and ruts during inclement weather, making it difficult to pass another vehicle.

The admonition continues:

 “There is another notion existing to the effect that, when a man has the right of way, and another comes up behind him going at a faster rate of speed, he must take his chances in getting by in the best way he can. In fact, the party coming up behind, if he gives the other notice of the fact that he wishes to go faster and wants to go by, it is the business of the first driver to get out of his way, either by driving faster or by turning out far enough to let the other pass in safety.

“If, as is often the case, the second man tries to drive by the first, the first will run his horses and not let him by.”

 The correspondent, writing, perhaps from personal experience, makes another observation:

“Also, when he (the horseman) comes to a piece of road where the conditions are such that the second man cannot drive by him, then he will drive very slowly just to hinder the other and thereby show his cussedness.” Do the words, road rage ring a bell?

Finally, he notes that, “The auto is here, and it is here to stay, and the sooner that the drivers of horses and of autos come to understand each other, the better for all concerned.”

 By 1913, the stretch of road between Loganville and Reedsburg was being macadamized—one of the first such improvements in the state—and road reconstruction throughout the county was spurred on by the advent of the automobile. Pleasure trips by car were becoming more frequent, with families driving longer distances on a Sunday outing than during the days of horse and buggy.