I love to receive correspondence from folks who have experienced firsthand the history of yesteryear. Such was the case when Martha Culp, widow of Dr. D.P. Culp, former president of ETSU sent me this letter:
“I love to read the history articles on Monday’s Heritage page in the newspaper,” said Mrs. Culp. Although I was born 91 years ago on a mountain farm in Alabama, I consider Tennessee to be my true home. I moved here on Feb. 8, 1968 at 3:30 in the morning. In my first year in a two-room school, it had eight grades. The custom for students was to finish or fail out of the seventh or eighth grade and fool around a year or two. Many girls got married at 15 or 16. My father was not going to allow the future of his 12-year-old first-born daughter be determined in that fashion.”
Ms. Culp’s grandmother and an aunt lived two blocks from a high school and invited her to live with them until she graduated. Her parents accepted their offer: My father picked me up after school every Friday. I spent the weekend with my family, cooking, churning, washing dishes, making up beds, sweeping and mopping, as country girls were supposed to do. We went to church on Sunday, had company for dinner and in the late afternoon, Dad drove me to my grandmother’s in our 1925 Model T Ford. It was an advanced model with a self-starter.”
Mrs. Culp alleged that many people were still driving buggies and two-horse wagons then. They considered her father to be a wild driver, attaining automobile speeds of up to 40 mph. The late university president’s wife related a humorous story: “When I was in the seventh grade, there was a heavy rainy season and all the creeks rose. A small nearby one was so shallow that it was not bridged. All cars and wagons forded it and foot travelers crossed on a large flattened log. The creek was wider and deeper than usual on that Friday when Dad came to take me home. He drove through it with no problem on the way to school, but rain had fallen heavily on the mountain with rainwater heading for that little creek. It was deeper and swifter on the way back, spreading over more than 70 feet of the road. The rain had slowed to a sprinkle.
"Dad had no choice. He drove slowly into the shallow spread of water. There was no problem until we reached the creek bed, where the water was swift and deep, rising to the floor of the car. The engine sputtered and died. Dad tried to start it with no luck. There was no time to spare, for the creek was rising. Dad quickly removed his shoes and socks, tossed them into the back seat and rolled the legs of his overalls above his knees. He took a dry handkerchief from his pocket and stepped out in rushing water up to his knees. He unlatched the side cover of the hood that sheltered the engine, lifted the cover and dried the spark plugs and magneto with his handkerchief. “He closed the cover and climbed dripping wet into his seat under the steering wheel, pressed the starter and the engine responded. He drove out with bare feet and we went home with no further problems.”
Mrs. Culp recalled their previous car was a 1921 Ford that had to be cranked by hand. She said if they had been driving that car, they would have been stranded until a team of mules could be located to pull the vehicle out of the creek, probably the next day.
She concluded the letter with these wistful words: “Though we have owned many cars, that 1925 Model T Ford has always been my favorite.”