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Milburg Mansfield
The Automobilist Abroad

The Automobilist Abroad
Milburg Mansfield

Mansfield M. F. Milburg Francisco

The Automobilist Abroad

Part I

General Information – The Grand Tour

Chapter I

An Appreciation of the Automobile

We have progressed appreciably beyond the days of the old horseless carriage, which, it will be remembered, retained even the dashboard.

To-day the modern automobile somewhat resembles, in its outlines, across between a decapod locomotive and a steam fire-engine, or at least something concerning the artistic appearance of which the layman has very grave doubts.

The control of a restive horse, a cranky boat, or even a trolley-car on rails is difficult enough for the inexperienced, and there are many who would quail before making the attempt; but to the novice in charge of an automobile, some serious damage is likely enough to occur within an incredibly short space of time, particularly if he does not take into account the tremendous force and power which he controls merely by the moving of a tiny lever, or by the depressing of a pedal.

Any one interested in automobiles should know something of the literature of the subject, which, during the last decade, has already become formidable.

In English the literature of the automobile begins with Mr. Worby Beaumont's Cantor Lectures (1895), and the pamphlet by Mr. R. Jenkins on "Power Locomotion on the Highways," published in 1896.

In the library of the Patent Office in London the literature of motor road vehicles already fills many shelves. The catalogue is interesting as showing the early hopes that inventors had in connection with steam as a motive power for light road vehicles, and will be of value to all who are interested in the history of the movement or the progress made in motor-car design.

In France the Bibliothèque of the Touring Club de France contains a hundred entries under the caption "Automobiles," besides complete files of eleven leading journals devoted to that industry. With these two sources of information at hand, and aided by the records of the Automobile Club de France and the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland, the present-day historian of the automobile will find the subject well within his grasp.

There are those who doubt the utility of the automobile, as there have been scoffers at most new things under the sun; and there have been critics who have derided it for its "seven deadly sins," as there have been others who have praised its "Christian graces." The parodist who wrote the following newspaper quatrain was no enemy of the automobile in spite of his cynicism.

"A look of anguish underneath the car,
Another start; a squeak, a grunt, a jar!
The Aspiration pipe is working loose!
The vapour can't get out! And there you are!"

"Strange is it not, that of the myriads who
Have Empty Tanks and know not what to do,
Not one will tell of it when he Returns.
As for Ourselves, why, we deny it, too."

The one perfectly happy man in an automobile is he who drives, steers, or "runs the thing," even though he be merely the hired chauffeur. For proof of this one has only to note how readily others volunteer to "spell him a bit," as the saying goes. Change of scene and the exhilaration of a swift rush through space are all very well for friends in the tonneau, but for real "pleasure" one must be the driver. Not even the manifold responsibilities of the post will mar one's enjoyment, and there is always a supreme satisfaction in keeping one's engine running smoothly.

"Nothing to watch but the road," is the general motto for the automobile manufacturer, but the enthusiastic automobilist goes farther, and, for his motto, takes "stick to your post," and, in case of danger, as one has put it, "pull everything you see, and put your foot on everything else."

The vocabulary of the automobile has produced an entirely new "jargon," which is Greek to the multitude, but, oh, so expressive and full of meaning to the initiated.

An automobile is masculine, or feminine, as one likes to think of it, for it has many of the vagaries of both sexes. The French Academy has finally come to the fore and declared the word to be masculine, and so, taking our clue once more from the French (as we have in most things in the automobile world), we must call it him, and speak of it as he, instead of her, or she.

That other much overworked word in automobilism, chauffeur, should be placed once for all. The driver of an automobile is not really a chauffeur, neither is he who minds and cares for the engine; he is a mécanicien and nothing else – in France and elsewhere. We needed a word for the individual who busies himself with, or drives an automobile, and so we have adapted the word chauffeur. Purists may cavil, but nevertheless the word is better than driver, or motor-man (which is the quintessence of snobbery), or conductor.

The word, chauffeur, the Paris Figaro tells us, was known long before the advent of automobiles or locomotives. History tells that about the year 1795, men strangely accoutred, their faces covered with soot and their eyes carefully disguised, entered, by night, farms and lonely habitations and committed all sorts of depredations. They garroted their victims, or dragged them before a great fire where they burned the soles of their feet, and demanded information as to the whereabouts of their money and jewels. Hence they were called chauffeurs, a name which frightened our grandfathers as much as the scorching chauffeur to-day frightens our grandchildren.

A motor-car is a fearsome thing, – when it goes, it goes; and when it doesn't, something, or many things, are wrong. A few years ago this uncertainty was to be expected, for, though the makers will not whisper it in Gath, we are only just getting out of the bone-shaker age of automobiles.

Every one remembers what a weirdly ungraceful thing was the first safety bicycle, and so was the gaudy painted-up early locomotive – and they are so yet on certain English lines where their early Victorian engines are like Kipling's ocean tramp, merely "puttied up with paint." So with the early automobiles, they jarred and jerked and stopped – that is, under all but exceptional conditions. Occasionally they did wonderful things, – they always did, in fact, when one took the word of their owners; but now they really do acquit themselves with credit, and so the public, little by little, is beginning to believe in them, even though the millennium has not arrived when every home possesses its own runabout.

All this proves that we are "getting there" by degrees, and meantime everybody that has to do with motor-cars has learned a great deal, generally at somebody else's expense.

To-day every one "motes," or wants to, and likewise a knowledge of many things mechanical, which had heretofore been between closed covers, is in the daily litany of many who had previously never known a clutch from a cam-shaft, or a sparking plug from a fly-wheel.

Most motor enthusiasts read all the important journals devoted to the game. The old-stager reads them for their hints and suggestions, – though these are bewildering in their multiplicity and their contradictions, – and the ladies of the household look at them for the sake of their pretty pictures of scenery and ladies and veils and furry garments pertaining to the sport.

Catalogues are another bane of the motorist's life. He may have just become possessed of the latest thing in a Mercédès (and paid an enhanced price for an early delivery), yet upon seeing some new make of car advertised, he will immediately send for a catalogue and prospectus, and make the most absurd inquiries as to what said car will or will not do.

Since the pleasures of motoring have found their champions in Kipling, Maeterlinck, and the late W. E. Henley, the delectable amusement has, besides entering the daily life of most of us, generously permeated literature – real literature as distinct from recent popular fiction; "The Lighting Conductor" and "The Princess Passes," by Mrs. Williamson, and more lately, "The Motor Pirate," by Mr. Paternoster. "A Motor Car Divorce" is the suggestive title of another work, – presumably fiction, – and one knows not where it may end, since "The Happy Motorist," a series of essays, is already announced.

A Drury Lane melodrama of a season or two ago gave us a "thrillin' hair-bre'dth 'scape," wherein an automobile plunged precipitately – with an all too-true realism, the first night – down a lath and canvas ravine, finally saving the heroine from the double-dyed villain who followed so closely in her wake.

The last entry into other spheres was during the autumn just past, when Paris's luxurious opera-house was given over to the fantastic revels of the ballet in an attempt to typify the apotheosis of the automobile. This was rather a rash venture in prognostication, for it may be easy enough to "apotheosize" the horse, but to what idyllic heights the automobile is destined to ultimately reach no one really knows.

The average scoffer at things automobilistic is not very sincerely a scoffer at heart. It is mostly a case of "sour grapes," and he only waits the propitious combination of circumstances which shall permit him to become a possessor of a motor-car himself. This is not a very difficult procedure. It simply means that he must give up some other fad or fancy and take up with this last, which, be it here reiterated, is no fad.

The great point in favour of the automobile is its sociability. Once one was content to potter about with a solitary companion in a buggy, with a comfortable old horse who knew his route well by reason of many journeys. To-day the automobile has driven thoughts of solitude to the winds. Two in the tonneau, and another on the seat beside you in front – a well-assorted couple of couples – and one may make the most ideal trips imaginable.

Every one looks straight ahead, there is no uncomfortable twisting and turning as there is on a boat or a railway train, and each can talk to the others, or all can talk at once, which is more often the case. It is most enjoyable, plenty to see, exhilarating motion, jolly company, absolute independence, and a wide radius of action. What mode of travel can combine all these joys unless it be ballooning – of which the writer confesses he knows nothing?

On the road one must ever have a regard for what may happen, and roadside repairs, however necessary, are seldom more than makeshifts which enable one to arrive at his destination.

If you break the bolt which fastens your cardan-shaft or a link of your side-chains, you and your friends will have a chance to harden your muscles a bit pushing the machine to the next village, unless you choose to wait, on perhaps a lonely road, for a passing cart whose driver willing, for a price, to detach his tired horse to haul your dead weight of a ton and a half over a few miles of hill and dale. This is readily enough accomplished in France, where the peasant looks upon the procedure as a sort of allied industry to farming, but in parts of England, in Holland, and frequently in Italy, where the little mountain donkey is the chief means of transportation, it is more difficult.

The question of road speed proves nothing with regard to the worth of an individual automobile, except that the times do move, and we are learning daily more and more of the facility of getting about with a motor-car. A locomotive, or a marine engine, moves regularly without a stop for far greater periods of time than does an automobile, but each and every time they finish a run they receive such an overhauling as seldom comes to an automobile.

In England the automobilist has had to suffer a great deal at the hands of ignorant and intolerant road builders and guardians. Police traps, on straight level stretches miles from any collection of dwellings, will not keep down speed so long as dangerous cobblestoned alleys, winding through suburban London towns, have no guardian to regulate the traffic or give the stranger a hint that he had best go slowly.

The milk and butchers' carts go on with their deadly work, but the police in England are too busy worrying the motorist to pay any attention.

Some county boroughs have applied a ten-mile speed limit, even though the great bulk of their area is open country; but twenty miles an hour for an automobile is far safer for the public than is most other traffic, regardless of the rate at which it moves.

Speed, so far as the bystander is concerned, is a very difficult thing to judge, and the automobilist seldom, if ever, gets fair treatment if he meets with the slightest accident.

Most people judge the speed of an automobile by the noise that it makes. This, up to within a few years, put most automobiles going at a slow speed at a great disadvantage, for the slower they went the noisier they were; but matters of design and control have changed this somewhat, and the public now protests because "a great death-dealing monster crept up silently behind – coming at a terrific rate." You cannot please every one, and you cannot educate a non-participating public all at once.

As for speed on the road, it is a variable thing, and a thing difficult to estimate correctly. Electric cars run at a speed of from ten to twenty-two miles an hour in England, even in the towns, and no one says them nay. Hansoms, on the Thames Embankment in London, do their regular fifteen miles an hour, but automobiles are still held down to ten.

The official timekeeper of the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland took the following times (in 1905) in Piccadilly, one of the busiest, if not the most congested thoroughfare in London.

When one considers how difficult to control, particularly amid crowded traffic, a horse-drawn vehicle is, and how very easy it is to control an up-to-date automobile, one cannot but feel that a little more consideration should be shown the automobilist by those in authority.

The road obstructions, slow-going traffic which will not get out of one's way, carts left unattended and the like, make most of the real and fancied dangers which are laid to the door of the very mobile motor-car.