In New Plymouth occasionally we had bad accidents. The worst place was coming into town on old Hwy 30 just at eastern edge of town on that curve where SE 1st meets the hwy. Even tho it is not a sharp 90 degree turn, but a gradual one, folks simply did not slow down soon enough. I have seen multiple car roll-overs on that corner.
Before the 40s, mechanical brakes were the norm, even tho hydraulic brakes had been on some cars for years, most of us still drove older cars. The depression had delayed the replacement of earlier cars by many years. Then WWII delayed replacement again. Not only did most of us drive pre-hydraulic brake cars, but many older cars also had no safety glass. Crashing was really bad because the window’s broken glass simply cut up every one.
Another real problem was tires. Rubber was the single most crucial raw material in WWII. Rubber is used in wiring insulation, bearings, cushions, and many other places than just tires. The world supply of rubber mainly came from SE Asia, controlled by the Japanese. So tires were a major problem. Car junk yards were our primary source of rubber. However bad tires were, inner tubes required at that time in all tires, was even more crucial. We all carried tube repair kits with us. We often thought of trips in terms of how many flats instead of miles!
Safety engineering had not even been invented. If you had a flat you were simply headed for the ditch or a car coming the other way!
The first wreck photo is 1915 Juan May wreck–a roll over. The second wreck photo is 1914 Harry Bean wreck another car crashing into his.
During WWII the country had a 35 mph mandatory speed limit–everywhere. It saved gas, it saved tires, and it saved many lives that would otherwise have been lost because our roads were not keeping up with car sophistication. This may seem dismally slow today, but really it was not bad at all. Mostly our roads could only be safely traveled at that speed. Most farm families had pickups–and large families meant the kids had to ride in the pickup bed. My sisters and I did until I was15.
I remember the phenomenon of “racing with the moon” very well. How magically the moon seemed to not only keep pace as we drove, but was always a tad faster than we were. There are many famous songs written about the moon. Riding in the pickup bed always made the moon seem so much more luminous and beautiful than it is today. A seriously beautiful sight for me.
Another dangerous situation came about as our roads were improved. Back then there were seldom stop signs on any roads. This was exacerbated by orchards that hid cross traffic until the last moment.
I remember a neighbor a mile NW from us, BM Gray, bought a 1946 Ford — the first new car available after WWII. His car was hit nearly the first time he went to town, demolished it, and killing a family member on NW2nd avenue at a blind intersection. This provoked the county into placing stop signs at blind intersections.
The story is even worse. Gray had waited thru the war to build a really nice new barn. A very pretty dove grey with white trim. Well, back then most of us had no insurance, car, barn, or house or life insurance. Gray brought his now demolished 46 ford home, and thinking to salvage some parts from it, put it into his new barn. Many of us went to his house to offer consolation, and he showed us the wreck. The very next week his barn caught fire and burned to the ground. No life insurance, no car insurance, no house nor barn insurance. I often did work for the Grays and in spite of the severity of his misfortune, they took it in stride. Tough pioneer farm folk.
Today we are truly blessed with cars engineered and built for safety. Our roads, now, are similarly engineered for safety. Back then, road began as deer trails, cattle trails or wagon or stage roads through the sage. Barely able to use the adjective, “roads” for most anything. When actual roads were constructed in the 20s the lanes were considered very modern if two cars could pass without going off the road. Then “highways” became 8′ lanes for each direction. This could be hair raising when two trucks passed on a 16′ wide bridge both being 8′ wide! Every bridge had scars caused by such occurrences. It was not until after WWII that the highway regs called for 10′ lanes. You can still find old highways that have 6′ or 8′ lanes.