There she is, a 1920 Chevy in all her glory.
How much did Rufus pay for it?
I think it was $700 – but it was in 1921, so it may have been second-hand.
Is that Bee in the car?
Yes it is – she was thrilled to have a car. To start with, she couldn’t have enough of driving about Vancouver. And here’s Derek with Rufus. By 1921 Derek was eight and a big kid – and that’s his dad, peering round the windshield behind him.
Was the car hard to drive?
Well, you would think so – a steering wheel like a tractor’s and no synchro-mesh in the gearbox – meaning the driver had to judge the engine revs exactly right when he changed gear – or else.
Or else what?
Or else there was an awful grinding noise and he could miss the gear – the car would be still in neutral – dangerous on a hill.
I suppose driving schools did good business.
I doubt there were any. New drivers just got the salesman to show them the ropes and they were ‘good to go’.
You mean, they had no other instruction?
That’s right. Rufus bought the car one Saturday. He got the salesman to drive him round Stanley Park; then he went round again on his own – “I got stuck once!’ he boasted. He spent Sunday morning being instructed at the dealership – probably about how to look after the car. On Monday morning he drove to the office. That went okay, but he got stuck three times on his way to his club at lunchtime.
It looks pretty drafty – what did he do when it was rainy and cold?
He clipped on those removable canvas sides with windows in them – made of glass or mica. This picture is not of their car, but it was just the same.
Not very convenient.
But it was! It seemed marvellous to people who had never had their own means of getting about. They would put up with anything, just so long as they were free to go wherever they pleased. It was the Lure of the Open Road – and Rufus found it intoxicating.
And Bee, did she think so too?
Oh yes. She loved being able to go to the races at Brighouse Park in Richmond – she enjoyed betting on the horses. And she used to win – much more often than Rufus did. But I think she also liked being able to give rides to friends – instead of always having to accept rides. It made her feel really comfortable socially.
Did Bee drive herself?
She never learned – not many women did in those days. Driving was heavy duty, steering and brakes weren’t power-assisted as they are nowadays, and you started the car by manually cranking the engine with a starting handle!
I suppose they had plenty of breakdowns.
Actually, not many – that old Chevy was primitive but reliable. It had to be, to compete with the Model T. Once Rufus broke down in the middle of the Granville Street bridge at night, but usually, when they had trouble, they’d just run out of gas.
Was the Chevy fast?
Relatively so – it could do 30 or 40 mph. It was the state of the roads that kept speeds down – they were mostly dirt outside city limits. Once it took them five hours to drive the 80 miles from Vancouver to Vedder Crossing in the Fraser valley.
I’m looking forward to reading about it all in the book – it should be out really soon now.
That’s right – keep the faith and watch this space!