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American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Topics:  Joe Tracy


The New York Times
December 26, 1909

Joe Tracy Explains Points Essential to Prevent Trouble in Driving Car.


Famous Driver Offers Many Suggestions Which, Observed, Will Aid in Freedom of Action.

Two or three years ago it was customary to hear some conservative man say to a friend, "Well, I am not going to buy a car just yet.  I am going to wait until they get all through making improvements year after year.  I am going to wait until cars are perfected before I give up my horses to take this new means of locomotion."  This once popular motor talk is conspicuous only by its absence at the present day.  Not only are cars so standardized as to make the yearly changes but little more than refinements of the same model, but the only question open to a man of to-day is not "Shall I buy a car?" but, "Which car shall I buy?"  Values have advanced and prices have decreased.  The motor car is more luxurious, but less of a luxury than it has ever been.

As an illustration a car which the writer has recently purchased for $1,500 is a far better car, a faster car, a more reliable and serviceable car than machines which sold for upward of $5,000 only a few years ago.  Driving a car nowadays is more popular in the curriculum spread before a youngster of 19 or 20 than even football.

In spite of the fact that the development of motor cars has progressed to such a remarkable degree that the familiar answer, "Yes, it is a very good car for the money" can be applied to scores of makes, there are certain points that a novice should invariably look for in purchasing his new car, assuming that he is spending between $1,000 and $2,000 and getting a real automobile.

The point which occurs to me first as being the most important is naturally the running gear, and in particular the steering mechanism, because upon these depend the safety of the car and its occupants.  It will be noticed on high-grade cars, both domestic and foreign, that the design and construction of these parts has received particular attention.  The jaws and pins of the steering gear are of liberal dimensions and are large and heavy enough to insure that they will not crystallize under the strain of use and the constant vibration to which they are subject when the car is in motion.  The pins and other fastenings which hold together the various parts of the steering mechanism should be so designed and fitted that it will be impossible for them to work loose in such a manner as to disconnect the various parts which combine and form the steering gear.  In a demonstration, of course, the strength of these parts is not brought out, and the intending purchaser should be careful to go thoroughly into this portion of the car's constructions in the salesroom.

It is a great satisfaction to have on one's car wheels which are not only really strong but which look the part. Nothing so adds to the lines of a car as substantial-looking wheels, and I might mention here incidentally that a car with tires considerably larger than the actual size that the weight of a car calls for will save many dollars of tire expense in the course of a year, because while the first cost of the large tires is considerably more than that of smaller sizes, the advance in price will be saved many times over by the advance in mileage.  Furthermore, larger tires are far less liable to puncture or burst, and the owner of an "overtired" car is practically immune from the annoyances of tire trouble on the road.

The wheel bearings and their fastenings, particularly those on the front wheels, should be of the very best, as the failure of a front-wheel bearing or the coming off of a front wheel when the car is traveling at any but the lowest speed may result in a serious accident.  The front springs and fastenings to the axle and frame should be substantially designed and made, for the obvious reason that in most cars the front springs hold the front axle in position.  As an example, in the writer's car the front springs are of the conventional half-elliptic type, of ample length and width.  Both front and rear springs are secured in place by 9-16-inch spring clips with special nuts and lock washers.  Satisfactory experience with these heavy clips in the past proves that they are the best insurance against spring breakage.

Next in importance is the brake system and its mechanism.  The service brake, popularly known as the footbrake, which is used in ordinary running, should be so designed that a fairly light pressure on the pedal will be sufficient to "lock" the rear wheels, although the car can be brought to a standstill from speed in a much shorter time if the brakes are applied in such a manner as to allow the wheels to rotate very slowly and not lock them.  In order to bring about these conditions the drum of the service brake should be fitted to the gear shaft in the case of shaft-driven cars, and to the jack-shaft, or differential shaft, in the case of the double side chain-driven cars.  The reason for this is that the faster the brake drum rotates for any given car speed, the less the brake shoe or brake band pressure required to produce a given retardation in car speed.

Another essential point is that the radiator should be perfectly capable of keeping the motor cool, which means that the water should not book under the most unfavorable conditions.  Other things being equal, the motor with water jackets of large capacity will be more satisfactory than a motor with smaller water jackets.  Provision should be made for draining the water out of the cooling system, and the pet cock or plug provided for this purpose should be fitted to the lowest point in the water passages.  On cars employing a fan behind the radiator to assist in the cooling of the latter, the fan should be well made, and its driving mechanism so designed as to insure its continuous running at the correct speed during all times when the  motor is in operation.

The magneto should be placed so that the important working parts can be readily inspected, cleansed, and adjusted without dismounting the magneto itself; this applies to timers as well.  The spark plugs should be so located as to be easily removed by means of an ordinary open-end wrench, and should not require the use of a special wrench as is the case on some motors.  The ignition wires should be well insulated and suitably supported, so as to eliminate the danger of short circuiting.

The carburetor should be accessible for examination, cleaning, and adjustment, and should not be so placed as to necessitate the removal of the pan or other parts for this purpose.

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