​The Tin Lizzie

By Peter Spier

1              In the first years of this century the streets, highways, and country roads loked bery different from the way they appear today.
2          Bicycles were widely used, but horses were the most common means of transportation. Horses pulled trolleys, fire engines, carriages, and various other city vehicles. And in the country, horses did most of the time, pulling cultivators, harvesters, and other form equipment.
3          Gradually, strange motor-driven vehicles, the first “horseless carriages,” began appearing on the streets. They made a racket, smelled awful, and scared horses and passersby alike; but everybody got used to them, even the horses.
4          Early in May 1909 a brand-new Model T touring car – the world would know it as a Tin Lizzie – rolled out of a great factory in Detroit, Michigan, in the northern United States. On that same day fifty-six other Model Ts were built.
5          A few days later, two Model Ts arrived on a train in a small town in the Midwestern United States. The local car dealer was waiting at the station; once his Model Ts had been unloaded and tied one behind the other, a team of horses slowly pulled them over the old rutted dirt road into town.
6          Many persons came to inspect and admire the cars; among the first was George Barnhart, who owned the feed store.
7          One morning Barnhart and his entire family went to the car dealer’s showroom to buy a model T. After spending almost an hour learning how to operate the Tin Lizzie, Barnhart drove his entire family all over the town. Wherever they went, people stopped to stare and exclaim, “Look at that car – just look at that great new car!”
8          When they returned home, Barnhart and his children pulled their carriage out of the stable and carefully backed Tin Lizzie inside. Happy days followed, as Barnhart used his car more and more. For pleasure trips or an occasional business trip.
9          Tin Lizzie was well cared for. Her brass was kept immaculately polished and Mr. Barnhart often went to the stable to buff the lanterns even when it was not really called for. Some problems occurred occasionally, as when the engine quit six miles out of town, and Barnhart had to walk home to get his horse to tow them back to his house.
10        To the children grew up and, in time, the two oldest were allowed to drive the Model T.
11        In 1920, when the Tin Lizzie was eleven years old, and after it had travelled many, many miles, Barnhart traded it in for a new car.
12        The dealer repaired the Model T, and waxed and polished it until it gleamed like new. But several weeks passed before it was finally bought by a young couple, who lavished every bit as much care and attention on it as George Barnhart had years before.
13        The husband’s employment took them far away from the small Midwestern town and Tin Lizzie was driven west to California.
14        There were problems, such as the time the Model T was hit by a truck, and occasionally parts required replacement – but that was to be expected.
15        Those were happy years indeed, because the young couple drove the Model T on trips as well as to work. One day the Tin Lizzie was driven at top speed to take the young husband and wife to the hospital. Several days later, the Tin Lizzie was driven back to pick up the wife and a new baby! This happened three more times over the next six years.
16        In 1929, the husband decided to buy a new car, and so, for the second time, the Tin Lizzie was traded in.
17        Times were hard in 1929, and nearly a year passed before Lizzie was finally sold to a farmer. Lizzie did different work now: carrying milk cans from distant fields, pulling heavy loads of hay, and hauling manure.
18        The Model T began to show its age and the signs of the difficult work. The rear seats had been removed long ago, the stuffing of the front seat was showing through the torn leather, and one of the lamps hung at an angle. Late in 1945, Tin Lizzie was finally retired behind the barn next to some ancient farm equipment.
19        The farmer’s children often played in and about Tin Lizzie until they outgrew that sort of thing. Occasionally friends of the farmer would “barrow” parts of the old vehicle, for many of them still had Model Ts of their own. Each spring after the last rain had fallen the Tin Lizzie had a bit more rust and a few more rips and tears in its top.
20        Meanwhile, some things had changed: horses had disappeared from the farm, and their work was done by a tractor. Also, passing cars looked different each year.
21        One day, bulldozers, scrapers, and earth movers came, building a great superhighway near the farm. Not long afterwards, a curious procession moved past the farm: thirty-four old cars, shining and sparkling like new, on their way to an antique car rally. The driver of one car spotted Tin Lizzie shape half hidden by weeds, and he mentally noted the exact location of his discovery.
22        The following weekend he returned, and after looking Tin Lizzie over, knocked on the front door of the farmhouse and asked the farmer if he would be interested in selling the Model T.
23        The farmer said, “I might, and then again, I might not.” However, he sold Tin Lizzie then and there.
24        A few day later, the new car came to fetch the Model T, and the farmer actually received more  money for the Tin Lizzie than he had paid for it over forty years earlier.
25        The new owner was a successful businessman, and a skilled amateur mechanic as well, who loved old cars, and over the next two and a half years, he lovingly restored Lizzie. He hunted all over the country for parts that were missing, and he painstakingly rebuilt the engine and the body.
26        Finally the day arrived when Lizzie was moved out of the garage, and thee the Model T stood reborn, shimmering in the sunlight, looking exactly as it had on the day it was built. The man who had wrought this miracle was just as happy as George Barnhart had been over half a century before.
27        On beautiful weekends Tin Lizzie goes for drives in the country, on picnics, and to antique car rallies. People in other cars slow down as they pass, and turn their heads, and the children will always say, “Wow! Did you see that old car?”
28        In the city, crowds gather wherever Lizzie is parked and wherever the Model T goes, people stop and say, “Oh, look at that car, just look at that great old car!”

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​The Tin Lizzie

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