‘Some misfortunes that might have been avoided…’
SURELY IT IS NOT frequently man’s unhappy fate to endure such a period of misfortune when he essays to take a lady for a ride in a tri-car as that which fell to my lot one Sunday?
The tri-car in question was fitted with a 6hp twin engine; owing to the trouble it gave, the two-speed gear had been removed, together with the free-engine clutch (which formed part of it) some time previously: my experience might well have happened with almost any belt-driven tri-car.
On the Sunday preceding the extraordinary one of which I write I took a lady friend for a ride in the afternoon, intending to return about 8pm, but after a very pleasant run we were stranded and had to leave the tri-car at Burford Bridge, being ourselves to patronize the London, Brighton and SC Railway. The next chance I had of fetching the erring motor was the following Sunday. My passenger on the previous run, being almost as keen on the tri-car as I am, expressed the desire to come down with me, wait whilst I repaired the motor, and then ride back with me.
Going down by the 10.30am from Victoria, we arrived at our destination in nice time for lunch. I decided that I would repair the motor directly we had finished our meal so as to get all our worry over as soon as possible. (truly what a blessing it is for man not to be able to foretell the future.) Shortly after 4pm I said that the tri-car was ready, but when I tried to start it the back cylinder resolutely refused to fire. This was soon traced to a faulty sparking plug, and mitigated with equal rapidity. The I thought we should run about a mile along the road to Dorking and back to make sure that all was right, have tea, and prepare ourselves for a pleasant run home. We ran round Dorking and everything went like clockwork, so a little before 5pm we stopped for tea. As it would only take us two or three hours to run (save the mark!), we did not hurry ourselves. After a very enjoyable meal we got the tri-car out, and lighting up the lamps made a start some time after 6pm and went about 500 yards when the engine times; this was followed by that quickly throttled roar which says the belt is off. After replacing the belt I found that beyond everything being damp, owing to a heavy dew that had fallen while we were finishing tea, there appeared to be nothing wrong, so after a few minutes’ delay we made another start.
This time we got close on 400 yards when what should I see but a venturesome spark cheerfully jumping from the high-tension cable to a tube of the frame. But, quick as I was, I was not quick enough to prevent another ominous roar, so for a second time I got off to replace the belt; but this time I was better pleased, for I had found the cause of our trouble. After replacing the belt, I wound my handkerchief round that high tension cable, and again we started with unabated zeal. How beautiful it was to hear the continuous buzz of that engine! I leant forward and told my friend that we were all right now, but hardly had those fatal words passed my lips when – what was that? Surely not another misfire? Only too true! Then another, and – for a third time I got off to replace the belt. This was getting monotonous and as the belt was rather slack I tightened it up, so that if the engine did misfire again the belt at least would not come off. Our next was a more successful start and after binding up another part of the high-tension cable where I saw sparking, this time with the aid of a handkerchief belonging to my passenger, and accompanied by the unwelcome tune of a fair percentage of misfires, we made the lights of the Burford Bridge Hotel. We were both absolutely decided that we would not stop at this identical place for a second time. If we only reached Leatherhead it would be something; so, after stopping to take on board another gallon of petrol, we commenced to climb the steep hill which is the next best thing one meets on the Leatherhead road. Owing, however, to the engine misfiring, the machine would not take it, so, after several fruitless endeavours, I began to push the motor up, and my companion, with extraordinary cheerfulness, jumped out and started to help me.
Even should the unenviable task of pushing a tri-car uphill not have fallen to the lot of the present reader, I think that he will not doubt that it is one of the quickest and most infallible means by which one may physically exhaust oneself; it if has fallen to his lot, he will know. After half an hour’s strenuous labour, with my clothes wet from perspiration, and my breath rendered conspicuous by its absence I found that we were at last nearly at the top of the hill. Asking my badly-used passenger to reseat herself in the
fore-carriage and hoping that I should not turn her out again, I enjoyed a short rest while I flooded the carburetter until the petrol ran freely out of the air inlet! Pushing the moot slowly along, I heard the tremblers of both coils work perfectly; so, shoving it until it was well under way (it was still slightly uphill,) I then dropped the exhaust lifter, and – the back wheel skidded on the compression! So I had a little longer rest. After a couple of minutes I had another try, and this time I did succeed in starting the engine before I lost my slightly-regained breath. Oh! The pleasure, the care-about-nothing content that it gave me just to sit again on the seat and feel that the engine was really pulling me. I gained a little hope, a little breath; I said hurrah! And – the belt broke! I lost my bit of breath. After another 10 minutes, during which I put a new link into he belt, we were again ready to start, or, at least, to try to; however as we now had to descend the long hill through Mickleham, we got along fairly well, but the misfires became painfully frequent, and I know that we should have to do something before there was any hope of our being able to climb the next hill.
We did something; as we had just turned the sharp corner at the bottom of the hill and begun to go along the level, when the engine gave a few feeble explosions and stopped, with the petrol feed pipe broken out of its union to the tank! Luckily, we lost very little petrol, but to crown our misfortune, when I had removed the pipe and union, I succeeded in dropping the latter into the long grass by the roadside! It looked very much as if the engine had stopped for the night, especially as we had not a spare pipe and union with us; however by a great stroke of luck, my passenger discovered the old one with the aid of our headlight, and, by binding string round the pipe and then screwing up the union, I succeeded in checking the flow of petrol until it was only a slow drip.
The misfires, however, were not to be stopped so easily, and although I discovered a place just where the high –tension wires passed under a part of the frame where the insulation of the able was completely worn though, and bound it up with the aid of a third handkerchief (also belonging to my passenger!) I did not succeed in reducing the misfiring sufficiently to prevent our having to breast the next hill in the same ignominious fashion in which we had scaled the last.
After putting two mire links into the belt, and getting the tri-car up the next and final steep hill into Leatherhead in the same exhausting manner in which we had climbed the preceding ones, I found myself in Leatherhead High Street.
As far as visible, we shared Leatherhead with a solitary policeman and a cat. I looked at my watch – it was 11.30 pm and we had been over five hours on the road from Dorking to Leatherhead! Leaving my passenger in the tri-car, I went down to the station, only to find. As I feared, that the last up-train that night had gone, and thus vanished any idea of sending my passenger on by train.
I next gained the information from the policeman that they had a telephone close by, so I knocked up a waiter and asked him whether I could use it and if he would get some refreshment for my passenger whilst I did so. After some difficulty in obtaining the right keys, he brought me to the telephone, and, leaving him to see what he could procure in
the way of refreshments, I returned to my friend, and found her in conversation with a lady, in front of whose house I had apparently stopped the motor, and who, seeing our misfortune, had come out and very kindly asked if she could not cut us some sandwiches, or in any other way help us. Having thanked her for her kindness, explained that they were getting something for us at the hotel, and agreed with her that our position was very unfortunate, we said goodnight. At the hotel my passenger had some refreshment whilst I got through to her people on the telephone (a proceeding that occupied 20 minutes) and told them that we had had a good deal of rouble with the motor, but were quite all right and were coming on as fast as possible.
I then swallowed a very large whisky and soda. How fine it was! I had another! I could have drunk a dozen, but considering their size, I thought it best to restrain myself; and as my friend was in another room, I went to see how she was faring. I now heard the conversation that she had had with the lady whilst I had been knocking up the people at the hotel. During my absence, the good leady asked her whether we were married, and my friend with ever-ready humour at once answered “Not yet”! to which the good lady had said “it is unfortunate, isn’t it? It is bad enough when you are married!”
It certainly was unfortunate, and it was a dead certainty that unless I succeeded in effecting a rapid and very considerable change in the running of the motor we should be on the road for the greater part of the night. What could I do with my passenger? Had it been a closed car I should not have minded much, but to be out on the road all night in an open tri-car was likely to prove a trying experience for any lady, and to say the last, my position was not an enviable one. However, the chief thing she seemed to worry about was the anxiety that we were causing her people, and now that I had succeeded in telephoning them she was ready to make the best of things, and was not going to let her spirits be damped by our troubles. Somewhat refreshed, we now left the hotel. I next made the pleasing discovery that I could not start the tri-car in Leatherhead High Street, owing to the gradient, so I took it a few yards back along the Box Hill Road, which runs downhill into the High Street considerably, and when I had got round this the engine was running so slowly that I had to stop it to save the belt. I was determined that I would not stop the engine next time if I could possible help it so, with the policeman stationed at the next corner seeing that the road was clear, I once more pushed the motor back up the hill. Opening the throttle and flooding the carburettor we started off wish a rush and, running fairly fast down to the High Street, I cut off every inch of corner that I could, first running close to one kerb and then the other. Directly we were on the straight again we quickly gathered speed again and commenced to climb the High Street in grand style when there was a bang and a whirr, and part of the belt was wound three times round the engine pulley! It took some time to extricate it but after a struggle I succeeded, and had just commenced to replace the broken link when our headlight calmly ceased to officiate. Owing to its having been in use for over six hours, instead of about one and a half or two, as should have been the case, the carbide was exhausted. I had to knock up the people at a garage to obtain a fresh supply, and half an hour elapsed before our headlight regained its pristine brilliance.
In another two minutes I had finished the belt when, looking at my watch, I found that an hour had passed since we left the hotel, which was just about 100 yards down the road. After another fruitless endeavour to get the motor properly started (if only the clutch had been left on when the two-speed gear was removed!), and spending some time in trying to stop the misfiring by a fluky arrangement of the high-tension wires, and as it only seemed to be wasting time taking the motor back, I turned my passenger out and commenced to push the tri-car up the hill. I could well have forgiven my friend had she begun to worry now. But did she? Not a bit. She cheerfully put a hand on the fore-carriage and started to help me. We had a rest at every lamp-post and after struggling over what seemed an interminable distance, I was fairly winded, as one by one, I reached each of these longed-for goals, and the higher jump the hill we went the further apart the lamp-posts seemed to get. After struggling with that motor up half a mile of hill, which seemed like six, I saw ahead of us the top. After 10 awful minutes of final effort, I reached it. My passenger got in the fore-carriage, and I sank onto the platform. What would I not have given just to lie in the gutter and go to sleep? The desire was frightful in its intensity; I had to stand up and lean on the saddle, for I knew that if I sat but a few seconds more I should forget my troubles in slumber.
Presently, when once again I breathed with comparative freedom, I flooded the carburetter, switched on the current and tried to start the motor, but the back wheel skidded on the compression. I rested a minute, then, pushing until it was going fairly fast again, I dropped the exhaust lifter and again it skidded on the compression. With a great deal of feeling I said “Confound the thing!” and stopped with a pant to regain my breath. My friend asked me if she should get out, and I am afraid I told her rather sharply to stay where she was. She turned her head and said: “Ah, that is the whisky and soda talking!”
My third endeavour to start the motor was successful, and for some distance I just sat on the seat and let the engine do as it liked, so long as it did not slow down. I had not sufficient energy to advance the spark a little. For about a mile we got on fairly well, the ratio of the explosions to the misfires being about five to one; then the misfiring grew considerably worse, and I stopped to endeavour to reduce it. It still seemed to be the high-tension side that was giving all the trouble, and as the high-tension cables, which were about 3 ft long, were wound round and round the frame from the coil case at the back of the engine, I disconnected them and laid them straight along the platform, away from the frame.
By Jove! That did it. The engine veritably leapt away, and how great was my joy when, in answer to the spark lever, the intermittent explosion merged into one continuous roar. It was indeed great, after all our trouble, to see the hedges fly past and the moonlit road slip from under us as it did. This was not to last, for we had scarcely covered half a mile when the misfiring suddenly started again. I found that the high-tension cables had jerked off the platform, and that one of the bad places was resting on a part of the frame, so with the aid of some string I suspended them in mid-air from the brake lever, so that they could neither touch the platform nor the frame! They could not possibly short-circuit like that, and again we went away in grand style. We were now nearing Epsom, and I told my friend I really thought that we should not have any more trouble. But again I spoke too soon, for presently those dreaded misfires recommenced. At first they were not frequent, but they grew steadily worse and worse until, just as we reached Epsom, the engine slowed down and stopped altogether. I disconnected the sparking plugs and tested them. I got a beautiful spark every time from them, so I came to the conclusion that it must be the Longuemare carburetter and I soon discovered that the flap in the air inlet had fractured right across. What on earth would happen next? Was this a little game that Fate was playing with us? Now that the flap was missing it was hard to get a strong enough mixture to start the engine. At the third attempt I got it to run, and it went all right so long as I kept the carburetter agitator pressed down but directly I let it go the engine misfired and stopped. I found that with my aerial system of wiring, and by keeping the toe of my boot on the agitator in a certain way, I could get the motor to run well. Looking at my watch I found that it was 3.30 am. Poor passenger! Whatever time should I get her home? I was thankful that I had been able to telephone her people. Ewell was passed, then I had cramp in my leg through keeping my foot on the carburetter; moved my boot and stopped the motor, and so had another struggle to start. With the exception of this and four or five similar stops, we had no further trouble, and I reached my tired-out passenger’s home at the hour of 4am—25 miles in 12 hours!