Priscilla's World | Advent of the Automobile
Advent of the Automobile

I am now eighty-nine years old and dread the day my car is taken from me. So far my health is good so I may have some time yet. But that thought lurks in the back of my mind. All my family has loved cars since they were invented. It was 1908 when our family bought our first car.

The Hobarts first car with Laura, Mary and Fred.
The Hobarts first car with Laura, Mary & Fred. March 30, 1908

My grandfather, Dwight was one of the first to own an automobile in the Texas Panhandle. Dwight explained to Minnie, “That Model T is prized across the country for its low cost, durability, versatility, and ease of maintenance.” 

Pampa’s first automobile, owned by Dr. V. E. Von Brunow and made by the Knox Company, was a one-cylinder job guided with a steering bar rather than a wheel. All the early automobiles were started with a hand crank (and a few well-chosen words).

This new mode of transportation filled our family with excitement as they drove through town. The sound of the horn honking at the other children to signal “hello” filled the Hobart children with pride and delight.

Minnie communicated the family’s exciting automobile news to her mother in Berlin, Vermont on March 30, 1908.   

“The automobile came and it is fine. It is a large, roomy one, very handsome and so nice to ride in. It is a new one, instead of a second hand one. The nicest thing about it is that Dwight runs it, for I had thought it would be a long time before he would ever take time to learn anything much about it himself. I was so agreeably surprised when the second day he came driving it himself for me to ride. We took various friends for the loveliest ride. Dwight says he does not understand nearly as much about autos as he intends to learn, yet he runs it just splendidly.

Of course, the children are delighted with it. I have been so glad that Dwight is the generous fellow he always is. Instead of being annoyed with crowds of children looking longingly and wanting to ride, he takes them for a ride. He had taken a dozen children I noticed one day. This is only the fourth auto in Pampa. I had thought quite likely I would not have any more chances to ride than before we had the automobile. Dwight has several teams (of horses) here but it is not very often I take a ride. The buggies, both single and double, are usually filled with men and Dwight is always so busy. It is so easy to step into the auto and go. I believe I am going to get lots of rides in it.

This letter is nothing but an automobile letter, Mother dear. I wish I could take you for a ride.

With greatest love from Minnie.”

The ungraded roads with chuck holes and high centers meant comfortable traveling was still impossible. Minnie veiled herself against the dust when riding in their topless vehicle. The automobile provided faster travel than the early buckboards, but bumps, dust and wind still kept comfort at a minimum. *

* Excerpt from A Pioneer Love Story, the Letters of Minnie Hobart, which I wrote in 2008.