People today are automobile crazy. There are hundreds of choices, big or small, muscle car or economy version, SUV or Hybrid. People are truly automobile crazy. However, looking back to the turn of the 20th century, Niagara’s affection for the automobile was far from universal. Local bicycle dealers were faced with a dilemma, too. Should they continue to sell and service only bicycles, or to feed their families, will the whims of fancy dictate that they switch their product line to include the automobile? Some fans of the early motorcar said that someday everyone will have one. “I never want one,” said a Niagara Falls man who was fond of bicycling. “I like the bicycle and I will never run one of those other things if you give me the best one in the world.”
His sentiment was by no means unique. More than just a preference for bicycles, it shows a fondness for husbandry. “When I drive,” he said, “I want something alive in front of me. I want something I can talk to, something I can feel contending with me, giving me a good fight, something I can master. There is certain feeling of exhilaration when one gets behind a good horse that no automobile can ever give. You can’t fight with a machine. It can’t exhibit eccentricities that one has to watch out for. It can’t be affectionate and prick up its ears. Give me something alive in front of me when I am on the road. But, no machine.”
Yet another man noted that his automobile seemed to do as it pleased, too. Seems as though the mechanical beast truly had a mind of its own. The man took to yelling “whoa” and things like that. Another man with his new machine noted that it took to sputtering and bucking, and raising its front wheels like a bronco. Then it would raise its back wheels, bucking so badly that it nearly threw its riders into the ditch. He stated that the automobile had to be broken, just like a horse.
In the end, horse, or horseless carriage, it didn’t really make much difference. Once again, just a matter of perspective.
Douglas Farley, Director
Erie Canal Discover Center
24 Church St.
Lockport NY 14094