Breezing Along in Uncle Bert's Maxwell
A WELL-INTENTIONED survey recently revealed a sad truth to our Maine highway dreamers who want more money to build more. Meaning to prove we need additional millions to accommodate the bulging tourist business, the survey revealed instead that our coastal route congestion arises with natives who go that-a-way and then come back again.
The hurrying hordes from Massachusetts and Connecticut are outnumbered. Seemingly, this has given pause to a blue-ribbon commission set up recently to solve something or other.
For some reason I remembered a story Don Lancaster tells about the days when his father was road commissioner in the town of Milo.
A proposed new road was fervently opposed by a farmer who said increased traffic would destroy the serenity of his remote area, and his hatred of automobiles was articulated repeatedly. As he was talking to road commissioner Levi Lancaster, he said, "There! Look! Here comes one of the things now!"
The first automobile in our family was owned by Uncle Bert. It was a Maxwell, and it was in the long bygone when an automobile went by once in a while.
Except for old-car buffs, the Maxwell is forgotten save by a few who will remember that Jack Benny used one for a running joke on his network radio series. Mel Blanc made the motor vehicle noises, and his imitations sounded exactly like Uncle Bert's Maxwell.
Uncle Bert and Aunt Grace had no children, so would come now and then to take us nephews and nieces for a Sunday drive. We had to promise to sit in orderly manner and to keep our feet off the upholstery. Uncle Bert kept his Maxwell tidy, and when it was 15 years old it looked new. It was a touring car and the top would fold down. Side curtains were available, but as Uncle Bert put his Maxwell "on blocks" for the winter months he didn't have them.
The Maxwell had at least one fault. It had very little power in its high gear - the cruising gear. Any small knoll would cause it to lose speed and then it would grunt, groan, gasp, and Uncle Bert would need to shift gears.
Usually this would stall the motor and call for a session with the crank. This would happen four or five times on a Sunday afternoon ride, and with a couple of flat tires the trip often ran well into suppertime. Aunt Grace would sit regally alongside Uncle Bert in the front seat and offer advice and information in a kindly manner that caused him to keep a grumpy silence most of the way.
One lovely Sunday, Aunt Grace suggested we all ride over to New Gloucester to call on the Thompsons. Arthur Thompson was cousin to my father and Aunt Grace, and although the Thompsons lived only 10 miles away that was distance enough in Maxwell days so we seldom visited. This made eight folks in the Maxwell, thus reducing the mechanical force still more, even though four of us were "childers." We arrived at the Thompson farm and everybody was glad to see us, and Cousin Myrtle answered the guest demand in
her usual hearty fashion right up to a strawberry shortcake with whipped cream. Waving farewell, we started for home.
Somewhere in North Pownal the lack of fingerboards in those buggy days set up a booby trap for Uncle Bert. At a four-corners he made a left turn, faltered on a gentle rise, and the Maxwell lost speed and stalled. A farmer in his field close by looked up and Uncle Bert called, "Freeport?" - pointing ahead.
Uncle Bert cranked and off we went, and 15 minutes or so later he made another left turn at a four-corners and the Maxwell stalled again.
A farmer in his field close by looked up and when Uncle Bert said "Freeport?" he said eyah. On the third time around the farmer didn't wait to be asked. He stepped over his wall, approached, and lifted a foot to the running board. "This time," he said, "swing right at the top of the hill. Otherwise you'll come by again."
Uncle Bert cranked, and this time we took the right. All the way home Aunt Grace kept saying, "I knew you were wrong each time."