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Thursday, November 7, 2019

When things fall apart: Handbrake failure in 1950s Hinton, West Virginia

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A personal reminiscence from Ed --We often forget about the essential function of the "emergency brake" on automobiles, especially "back in the day."  Growing up in a small town (Hinton, West Virginia) where nearly every street was very steep and most folks parked their cars on the street, there was hardly a week that went by when some man or woman failed to firmly "fix" the emergency brake and their car would roll down the hill, typically into the side of a house.  I ran across this photo in the West Virginia regional history archives as an example of one of these incidents.  Actually in this case, one I remember well, even though I was around seven or eight years old at the time.

I was visiting my grandparent who had a home on James Street (the street in this photo) when Grandmother Garten ran out on the front porch and yelled that a car had just rolled down the street and "and knocked the porch off of Mr. Young's house." 

Back then when few had automatic transmissions with a "Park" function, many folks would just put their gear lever in "neutral" and "sort of set the brake" but things sometimes happened and the car might roll sometimes hours after the owner had departed the vehicle.  Even if the vehicle tranny were set in low gear a car might start to roll if the emergency brake wasn't firmly set.  Today, of course many new cars have dispensed with the old fashioned (and often troublesome) under the dash hand brake (actually foot brake) and fewer cars are being produced with the increasingly old fashioned between the seat hand lever brake, deferring to the so-called electro-mechanical brake.

Always "set" your brake folks!
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