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Thumbnail of Charles E. Duryea (source)
Charles E. Duryea
(15 Dec 1861 - 28 Sep 1938)

American inventor , who, with his brother Frank, built the first automobile regularly made for sale in the U.S.

Practical Points on Motor Cars.

Chapter 3, from The Automobile Book (1915)
by Charles E. Duryea

Charles Duryea, about 1894 - head and shoulders
Charles Duryea, about 1894 (source)

[p.14] Delivery of the Car.—The first thing to do, after getting an automobile, should be to get acquainted with it. If possible, have it delivered where you can choose your own time to start it. Many a user's troubles have begun with the arrival of a fine rig at the freight station, where everybody in town could come to watch him have trouble, and show his ignorance. And not a few of the spectators have been envious enough to wish that he would fail “to make it go” properly, while others, at least, were quite willing to enjoy to the fullest any amusement which they could derive from his lack of experience. Under such conditions, few men can retain their self-control and reasoning faculties to the fullest, and quietly make sure of doing the right thing or nothing. As a result, one may race the engine needlessly, drop in the clutch with a jerk, strip or strain gears, lose control of the steering and strike something, start off with a tire flat, or forget to fill the oiler or water system, or do some other wrong thing, which amuses the crowd and mars a good machine. Many a vehicle and its maker have been unjustly blamed for the results of such conditions.

Need of Instruction and Experiment.—Much better is it to have an experienced man start up the vehicle, and drive it to some place where you can study it alone, and at your leisure. But if the experienced man is handy, you will not need these instructions, for he will do the teaching better than any book. In his absence, better have the vehicle towed to your place or take delivery at so early an hour that few loafers are about. Or, remembering that they know even less about the matter than you do, simply ignore them, and take your time. Above all do not invite your friends out for a ride till you have had several satisfactory rides by yourself. Because the car obeyed the will of the demonstrator like a trained horse, there is no reason for you to believe that all you have to do is to look wise. As well invite them to hear [p.15] a piano recital on a new piano, when you have never taken a lesson in music. They will respect your judgment, if you hold them at bay ’till you have proven the new car for yourself.

Examining the Tires.—On receiving a new car, first examine the tires. These are very expensive parts, and quite likely to be damaged, or deflated, in shipment. If damaged, enter a protest, and accept the goods from the freight carrier, only after the damage is noted in writing by the agent. This applies to other parts, as well as to tires. You cannot support a claim for damage if you have already given a clean receipt. If you leave them till the last you are very likely to start off without attending to them and damage them.

Water and Oil Systems.—Next make sure that there is water and oil. If the weather is warm the car will probably be shipped with water in the system, and there is usually oil sufficient for a short run, at least, but, by inspecting, you will be sure. You cannot run without fuel so leave it till the last.

Inspecting the Fuel System.—Inspect the gasolene line, and shut any cocks that may be open, either at the tank bottom, or at the bottom of the carburetor. Otherwise, you may lose much fuel with danger of fire by its running out of an open cock, nearly as fast as you put it in. Depress the float of the carburetor by the means commonly provided, so as to know the fuel has reached and filled the float chamber. Also, examine the carburetor, so as to find how the throttle works. If you cannot determine this, you will need to set the throttle lever at mid-position, and determine the proper way to move it to control by trial, after the motor is started.

Brake Levers and Pedals.—Often the brake levers or pedals are marked, but more often not. Try these levers and see what they move. Get the effect of their movement fixed in your mind, so that, when you desire a given result, you will know how to produce it. To know that a certain lever, if pushed, produces a certain result, will enable one to drive a car much as a parrot talks; but it is not the safe, intelligent, artistic way, and should be avoided. Too many drivers are of the parrot type, and seem to think that they can handle a car best, if every desired result has its own lever, which only needs to be pushed. Skilled drivers know that such a control is not easiest, nor best, and it is certain that a beginner should avoid such a habit. The same is true of the clutch pedal, or lever, and the gear changes. Learn what each is before starting to drive.

Testing the Spark System.—Next investigate the spark system. This will doubtless be properly wired, and ready for use, except that the battery wires will doubtless be [p.16] disconnected somewhere. They must be reconnected. The switches will also, likely, be open or “off.” Before throwing them “on” investigate the spark lever position. It should be retarded; set “late” with reference to the engine motion. The engine direction can be seen by feeling of the starting crank. It has ratchets and will turn the engine only one way. As it turns, note the way the timer or distributor turns. “Advancing the spark” moves it further the reverse way. Retarding moves it in the same angular direction. If the weather is cold and the engine stiff, because of the cold cylinder oil, “prime” it by squirting into each of the cylinders about a thimbleful of gasolene. Priming cups are usually provided, but, if not, the spark plugs can be unscrewed. Do not do this, if it can be avoided, lest you fail to get the wires again connected properly. A beginner should be particularly careful not to change things. The maker knows his business, and the best results will be found by leaving things as the maker intended.

Cranking the Engine.—Next, throw on the switch, and pull up on the crank. Be sure, before doing this, that the spark is retarded, and the clutch not engaged. It is well to look at these two important things, after the switch is thrown on, to be sure that they are not wrong, when you pull the engine over. As the engine turns over one compression, listen for the buzzing of the spark coil, if a buzzing coil is the kind used. This will assure you that you have a spark. If the engine does not start with three to five pulls each over a compression, do not keep pulling. Hunt for the cause of the trouble. Look again to the fuel supply, the position of the throttle, the wiring of the electric system. If the conditions are right, laboring at the starting crank is unnecessary. If they are not right, it is a poor way to remedy them. If the engine fails to “fire,” and there is a proper spark, it is because there is not enough fuel, or because there is too much. In cold weather, or with a cold engine, the fuel does not easily vaporize, and so there is usually too little. But with a warm engine, even a little fuel may prove to be too much.

Testing the Fuel Mixture.—This can be tested by removing a spark plug, and holding a lighted taper, or match, well down in the hole. If the mixture is too little (“lean”), it will not ignite; if too much (“fat”), it will ignite, but burn slowly and with a yellow flame; if about right, it will ignite, and blow out of the hole with violence and noise. In making this test, be sure to keep the face and fingers out of the way of the flame, which will extend a foot or two, and is so hot, that it is liable to burn one's fingers badly, and singe one's face and hair. Usually, it is not necessary to make this test. By turning the engine over a few times, with the priming cocks open, the fat mixture will largely be replaced with pure air, and, if the spark is on, the explosions should manifest [p.17] themselves, as weak “spits “through the cocks, gradually becoming stronger, as the mixture becomes better. When the “spits” are vigorous the mixture is still too fat, because the air admitted through the cocks allows it to ignite, but it will probably suffice to run. Close the cocks and try again. When the engine starts nearly, close the throttle, and slightly advance the spark. Do not let it race, but keep it running till warmed up.

Smoke from the Exhaust.—In the mean time, notice the smoke. If blue, it indicates vapor of lubricating oil, also probably, that the oiler has been feeding, while the engine has not been running; or that the oiler is feeding too fast. This is of little immediate importance. But if the smoke is black, the presence of an excess of fuel is practically certain, and the carburetor may need adjusting. If, as the engine warms up, it seems to get weak and lazy, this, in connection with the black smoke, is sure proof of an excess. Note where the carburetor adjusting needle stands, and turn it so as to feed less. If you make a mistake, you can turn it back to the original place. If there is no smoke, but a decided pungent odor, either too fat a mixture or misfiring is indicated. If the latter, the engine will not run steadily, purring like a cat, as it should, but will jerk, more or less. In such an event, the mixture may be too lean, and the carburetor needle needs opening.

Importance of Correct Adjustments.—In general, the beginner must be careful of adjustments, till he is sure he is right. When cold, the operation is not the same as when the engine warms up, and, in trying to better a carburetor adjustment at starting, one may make it worse for running after a few minutes. Having become satisfied that the engine is not in danger of stopping, because of too little, or too much, fuel,_the next move is to learn to throttle. Try the effect of moving the throttle lever forward and back. Associate the action with the effect. As the throttle is opened, the engine should speed up. Do not let it continue to race, but immediately shut it off. The only object of letting it speed up is to get used to the effect, and to be sure that it does not choke down from excess fuel, as it starts to speed up. High speed is a strong cause of engine trouble. Never race the engine needlessly. It can no more last long at racing speed than can you yourself. If quite cautious, the engine may be stopped, and again started, till one is sure of the ability to do this at will.

Operating the Clutch.—The next step is clutching and driving. With a sliding gear the clutch is in engagement at all times, except when declutched, for the purpose of shifting gears, and is engaged with no effect when the gears are neutral. It gives the same result, as if the clutches of the planetary, independent, friction or roller systems were not [p.18] engaged, and is so treated in this article. To drive one must, with the sliding gear, withdraw the clutch, engage a set of gears, and then gently, very gently, let in the clutch. The beginner should be sure that he engages the low speed gears, so that the vehicle will not start moving at a speed beyond his ability to control it. In the other types the theory is the same, except that the clutch action does not include withdrawal, for the clutches are not engaged, except when the driving of the vehicle is desired. As the engine begins to feel the load of the vehicle, the throttle should be opened, so as to avoid pulling the engine down. As the vehicle begins to move freely, withdraw the clutch, and slightly apply the brake.

Declutching and Braking.—This to get accustomed to the effect of declutching and braking. There is no necessity to fully stop the vehicle, but simply to go through the needed actions, so as to fully accustom the feet to act with the brain, in the work, and, as quickly as possible, make the action of declutching, followed by braking, as nearly automatic as possible. No driver is safe till he has, by practice, become automatic. In a crisis, he becomes rattled, and cannot think what to do, even if he has time to think. He therefore, does only those things which have become automatic with him. This is why the service brake is the only safe brake in emergencies. It will be applied, because it is second nature to use it, when one wishes to stop. The emergency brake will almost certainly not be applied, and too often faith in the emergency brake has been misplaced.

Practice in Steering.—During the practice just described, some steering has been necessary. How much has depended on the space at hand. By letting the car run in a circle a very moderate space will permit much practice and require no steering. A pasture, a race track, a little-traveled wide street, or some similar place, where there is little to run into, and few to discommode, is the ideal practice ground. Having fairly well learned to clutch and declutch, as well as to throttle the engine, some driving should be tried. In this do not aim to run straight, but practice turning, first to one side, and then to the other, thinking, and doing just as you think. In this way, will steering become “second nature.” Notice that, with steering wheels, or cross levers, the motion of the hands is the same, as if they grasped one or the other, or both, of the hub ends of a front wheel. With tiller steerings, the motion is the same as the back of a wheel, or the same as a boat tiller; i. e., in a direction the reverse of the desired vehicle direction.

Make Haste Slowly.—Be in no hurry. Any body can throw in a gear and open the throttle, but mishaps, encountered while learning, sometimes destroy confidence for years. Also make the lessons short. Twenty minutes’ hard [p.19] learning is enough at a time. Stop and look the rig over a while. Study again the various things already learned. Then repeat.

Practice in Gear-Changing.—As soon as driving becomes a matter of some certainty, try a higher gear. This brings in gear-changing. With the planetary, and some other gears, there is no knack to be learned. The gear-changing operation is so simple that it cannot be done wrongly. But, with the sliding gear, some skill is required. To hold the engine from racing, when the clutch is out, and to catch the next speed, without grinding the ends of the teeth off the gears, is a matter requiring some practice and judgment. It must be learned by trial. The proper speed, the time allowance for the vehicle and clutch speeds to get together, and the proper amount of energy to apply to the gear shifting lever, to cause the gears to jump_ into mesh, without noise or damage, become matters of intuition. In reversing, this is more true than in forward work for the movement of the meshing gears is in a different direction. And in reversing, a neat driver will coast forward, while changing the gears, and, as the car comes to a stop under the brake, he will apply the clutch to, at once, start it backward. This should be done very gently, never letting the clutch in full, but always standing ready to withdraw it and check the backward motion of the car.

Things to Avoid.—Let no expert demonstrator impress you with the idea that spectacular rushes forward, or backward, right up to the stopping place, followed by jamming on the brakes and sliding the wheels, is good driving. Such exhibitions resemble sane driving about as much as tight rope walking resembles decent pedestrianism. The wise and skilled driver, handling his own vehicle, does it sweetly and without unnecessary power, or brake application. He aims to coast up to the stopping point, letting the movement of the car die easily and gracefully, and, likewise, he prides himself on getting away easily, and without a shock. Letting one action glide into another sweetly is the essence of good driving. On a hill, particularly, is where this is made manifest.

Hill-Climbing.—The good driver holds to his high gear, till the engine is seen to be laboring; then the gears are shifted, as the engine, released from the clutch, speeds up, and, as the speed of the engine reaches the new relation-ratio, the clutch is let in and the engine takes the load, without the car having perceptibly slacked speed, or, without having received a jerk. It is possible to shift so quickly that the car is forcibly retarded by the gears, while the engine is gaining speed; or, what is more common, to let the car come to a standstill, and require starting again. Both are evidence of bad handling, and un-expert drivers.

[p.20] Principles of Good Driving.—On the road the matter of speed control should be studied. To rush from start to finish, as fast as the engine will carry the car, is not driving, although many novices seem to think so. Always to have the car under control is the first requirement. Never, under any circumstance, drive at a speed in which you do not feel certain that you are in full control of the car, and can turn, or stop, before damage can result from any cause that is, or may likely be, in sight. This means, know your brake, your throttle, and your engine. Know, by trial, how much space you need to stop at certain speeds. Learn to know what resistance the road offers to your progress, and how much you can rely on it to help you to stop. Slow up in bad spots, or at corners, where you cannot see who is coming around the bend. The driver who takes chances that no other car will be coming the other way at such times will, sooner or later, meet with disaster. There is ordinarily no call for such risks. The long array of accidents each year from this neglect prove the folly or criminality of such driving. Take the uphills as fast as you like. If the mechanism goes wrong you will stop by gravity. And as the vehicle comes to a stop, set the brakes to hold it. If they are disabled, turn the vehicle across the road. In climbing bad hills, it is wise to watch the gutter, and be ready to back into the safe one, if, for any reason, the car becomes disabled. A plan thought out, before it is needed, is much safer than trusting to luck after.

Coasting and Braking.—Many rush the down hills. This is bad practice. A lost control and gravity make the matter worse. Particularly, remember here always to keep the rig under control. Cultivate controlling by more than one method. Learn to stop by stopping or throttling the engine. Learn to control by the spark advance, or by shutting down the gasolene supply, as well as by the throttle. Learn to brake with the engine. These things all enter into the full mastery of the car, and one does not get the highest pleasure nor utility, till he is master of his vehicle. You may not have need for all of these abilities, but the man whose float has become leaky or soaked, and will no longer float, may drive home in comfort if he is able to control the fuel supply. Brakes were so inefficient for years, and new drivers blamed the brakes so often for their own incapacity, that most cars have two sets of brakes, but, if for any reason, they should be out of commission, the ability to make the engine handle the car down hill, as it must do up hill, is a valuable accomplishment.

Image added (not in original article) from Horseless Age: the Automobile Trade Magazine (1895), Vol. 1, 20 (source). Text from Charles E. Duryea and James Edward Homans, The Automobile Book: a Practical Treatise on the Construction, Operation and Care of Motor Cars Propelled by Gasoline Engines; with Full Explanations of All the Essential Parts (1915), 14-20. (source)

See also:
  • 15 Dec - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Duryea's birth.
  • Charles Duryea - Anticipations of the Motor Car (1915) - Chapter 1 of The Automobile Book, by Charles Duryea.
  • 19 Apr - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of first operation of a Duryea automobile in the U.S.
  • Carriages Without Horses: J. Frank Duryea and the Birth of the American Automobile Industry, by Richard P. Scharchburg. - book suggestion.
  • Charles E. Duryea: Automaker, by George W. May. - book suggestion.
  • Booklist for Duryea Automobiles.

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