Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - February 19, 1974, Lethbridge, Alberta
16 LETHBRIDGE HERALD Tuesday, February 18, 1974 George Price repairs his own vehicle. 'Depression drivers paid auto bills with potatoes and supplied the parts' Barn mechanic By MURDOCH MACLEOD Herald Staff Writer George Price does his own car repairs as he has done for about 60 years Mr. Price, 611 6th St. S., says he is the second-oldest mechanic in Lethbridge His experience runs from the Model T and the Metz of the First World War era to the V-8 powered cars of the '50s and '60s. He remembers the early Buicks, Studebakers and Hupmobiles as well-made machines, but says cars are better-made now than in the early days of motoring. "Cars didn't stand up as well as they do now, you he says, "They don't wear out as fast nowadays Doing his own car repairs was what first led Mr. Price to become a mechanic. He came to Lethbrtdge at the age of 16 in 1910 from his native Birmingham, England. He worked on a dairy farm, and after two years bought a car. But cars were rare in Lethbridge in the early days, and so were mechanics. "You could probably count the number of cars on your two hands." It was a case of being your own mechanic. Trade papers Mr Price began working as a mechanic in 1915, and got the trade papers he still has when they were introduced for mechanics in 1936. Most cars bad four-or six-cylinder engines in the early days The Model T Ford had a four, and Chevrolet introduced a six in 1929. he says There were a few straight eight engines, and in the 1930s a few Packards had V-12s V-8s were not common at first in average cars, he says. When they were they were more awkward to fix than sixes or straight eights. Mechanics had to get new tools for them. "But we got used to he says, "It just took a bit of time Some early cars varied from the modern nurui in their dme systems as wdl as their engines. Cadillacs. as well as other makes, with chain drive instead of a driveshaf t were an early part of the automotive scene. The Model T Ford had a transmission with planetary gears, says Mr. Price, the same in principle as a modern automatic transmission. One of his own early cars was a Metz. with a two- cylinder, air-cooled engine and a friction-drive transmission. _ Large disc In friction-drive cars, he says, the engine drove a large disc, almost a second flywheel, mounted under the seat. It was fibre- covered, as was a second disc at right angles to it. The second, fore-and-aft, disc, was mounted on a transverse shaft attached by bearings to the sides of the frame. The transverse shaft was connected by chains to the rear wheels. The rear axle was a dead axle and did not rotate Mr Price says the driver controlled the "gear" by a lever moving the second disc across the face of the first Higher speeds were obtained by moving it to the outside of the first, engine-driven, disc, and lower ones by moving it to the centre. He says reverse speeds were obtained by moving the second disc right across to the other side of the first, where it would rotate in the opposite direction and drive the rear wheels backwards. The catch, he says, was there was no crank on the Metz. So when early starters failed the driver had to crawl under and turn the first disc to make the engine turn over Besides the Metz, Mr. Price's own cars have included Chalmers, Hudson, Hupmobile and Essex cars. Oivn shop Most mechanics ran their own shops in the early days, he says. "Back alley mechanics" worked more cheaply than large garages attached to car dealerships. He says there were few service stations in the modern sense As a self-employed mechanic, Mr. Price ran his business in a barn for eight years During the Great Depression, he says, bills were often paid in potatoes (or not at all) and customers had to supply the parts. It was also the time of the horse-drawn car, the Bennett Buggy. Back alley mechanics did good work at a low price, he says, rates for a complete overhaul were for a four-cylinder engine and for six cylinders "Nowadays they won't even grind the valves for that Aside from the barn, he also worked for the Lethbridge Transit System from 1940 to 1948, maintaining the buses. He worked in several dealers' garages, including ones attached to Buick and Hudson outlets and worked on farm machinery for both General Farm Supplies and International Harvester. International's mach- inery was kerosene- powered in 1916 and 1917, he says, and there were no diesel tractors at the time. Every spring and fall found him in the country running engines for planting and harvest. Retired In 1965, he retired at the age of 71. The last 15 years of his varied career were spent at an auto wrecker's, salvaging and rebuilding for sale the still-usable parts of old cars. Motoring and cars have changed a great deal since Mr Price first made a living fixing cars. The cars we've dealt with, but the other conditions have changed as well. There are now paved roads between towns and cities. There are now motels and campsites along the highways. There are now signals, signs and parking meters. Distance has shrunk with the passing years Lethbridge to Edmonton, a trip which now takes five to six hours, was once a two-day affair.