My grandfather, old man Raven, was one of the first Cheyennes to buy a car. He called it a popping machine because of the pop-pop-pop noise the engine made. Grandfather had always been good at handling horses, but learning to drive a car was something different. This was an adventure!
Grandfather bought his popping machine in Forsyth. The salesman at the garage cranked the engine for us. Bang! Boom! Bang! Pop-pop-pop! The car shook and the noise was awful. Grandfather held tightly to the steering wheel.
“You have to watch out when you crank it to get it started,” shouted the salesman. “Sometimes it kicks.”
Grandfather nodded. “Like horse, only kick at other end,” he said in his broken English . . .
The salesman explained to us about the foot pedals and how to shift gears and where the horn button was located. “Now,” he said, “if you’ll wait a minute I’ll get my tools and fix the brakes.”
Grandfather did what the salesman told him to do. Maybe his foot slipped off the clutch pedal, or maybe he was just anxious to go. The engine roared, and the car jerked and bucked, and suddenly we were moving! I heard a shout and looked back. The salesman was running after us, waving his tools and yelling something, but I couldn’t hear what he was trying to tell us because of all the noise . . .
We made a left turn and came to the railroad tracks. Just ahead, a big steam locomotive was coming down the track. Grandfather blew the horn and the engineer blew his whistle. The locomotive was picking up speed and getting closer. Grandfather decided that he had better stop, so he hit the brake pedal. Nothing happened! . . . Now we knew why the salesman had run after us. The brakes didn’t work! . . . Very slowly I opened my eyes and saw that, somehow, we had made it across the tracks. Behind us, the locomotive thundered past . . .
Then I looked at Grandfather, sitting tall and straight behind the wheel, his braids moving in the wind. He was steering straight down the road. His eyes twinkled with pleasure. He was getting used to driving his popping machine. Somehow I wasn’t so afraid any more . . . When the road flattened out, Grandfather sang his wolf song. This was the same song he had sung as a young warrior when he returned to camp with horses taken from the enemy.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Today's quote is an excerpt from a story called, “Grandfather and the Popping Machine,” written by a Northern Cheyenne named Henry Tall Bull. It describes the day, decades ago, that his grandfather purchased his first automobile. I found this quote in the Montana history textbook currently used in many of the state's schools ... it's a little long, but it's a great read.