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Brass Era Driving Experiences: Why Is This Not a Thing?

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

Brass Era Driving Experiences: Why Is This Not a Thing?

Bill Crittenden
November 17, 2014


It's funny what you can remember when you're reminded of something.

Last night I remembered that before I was ever allowed behind the wheel of a real car, when I was probably too young to see over the steering wheel of a full-size car anyway, my family's yearly trips to Six Flags Great America was one of the places where I got my occasional driving fix.

It wasn't just the obvious bumper cars near the entrance to the park (where I spent my time avoiding other cars...just so I wouldn't be slowed down), but near the back of the park they used to have a collection of small old-timey antique-looking cars powered by little gasoline lawnmower engines and set on rails so that kids could sit on their parents' laps and drive what felt like a real car.

Holding the car to the rail were bumpers under the car, with about two inches of play in each direction before the rail made sure you stayed on the oval track. I loved driving those cars, trying my damnedest to make a full lap without touching the rail. To me it was almost as fun as go kart racing.

I don't recall seeing the fake antique cars past my teenage years, or maybe I stopped noticing them when I got the keys to an actual car.

Even without rails, they were so slow as to be almost harmless even without anything more than a padded steering wheel and loose seat belts for safety.

Real cars of the "Brass Era" (before the mid-teens) were far from safe, but then they were going 40+ miles an hour over rutted roads full of untrained new drivers.

But I think I can handle a Model T at thirty miles an hour on a good asphalt road without a problem. Especially if the brakes are upgraded with better than period-accurate materials, just in case. Which makes me think that it would be just the best damn thing in the world if a museum kept a few running cars that weren't really display-worthy and let visitors (for a fee, duh) drive them around a little track behind the museum.

You know, like those "racing experience" fantasy track day rentals where if you have a big enough wallet and you sign enough insurance papers you can borrow a Ferrari and flog the heck out of it on a racetrack? But with brass lamps and driving goggles. On a much smaller track. And much slower.

Why is there no such thing for a Curved Dash Olds? A replica of the Benz Patent Motor Wagen? 1903 Ford? Early electric and steam cars as well as the gasoline models so that the steampunk types can drive an actual steam car or the early electric models to show off to the next generation the great-great-great-great granddaddy of the Tesla. Y'know, from the days when Nikola was actually still roaming this earth?

Just a small oval track and a few real old cars, no rails, and I'd be happier than a kid at an amusement park.



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