Auto repairs for less than $5? Yes, but we are talking decades ago.
Back in the summer of 1928, Chester Bjorngaard of Maxbass, N.D., could have gotten a real deal on car repair.
“Dear Sir: We’re writing this letter to you today because we want to help you get your money out of your Model T,” began the car repair offer. It was the “junk mail” of its day, written on a “penny postcard” that was postmarked June 29, 1928. One side of the postcard carried Bjorngaard’s address and the other side was filled with the offer from an apparent Ford dealership in Bottineau, signed by C.R. Gleason Co.
“It’s still as good a car as it was the day the new Model A Ford was announced and there’s no need to sacrifice it,” continued the repair notice. “The Model T Ford is still used by more people than any other automobile. Eight million are in active service right now and many of them can be driven one, two, three and five years and even longer.”
The postcard was pictured in an e-mail sent to me by a friend, one of those mass-mailed missives that pass around nostalgic memories, humorous looks at oddities in life, and political or religious opinions. Some you save. Some you delete. This one captured my interest. “Bring your car to us and let us look it over,” the Gleason Co. offered. “You’ll be surprised how little it costs to put it in tip-top shape.”
The dealership quoted prices that are inviting even eight decades after they were presented. “New fenders, for instance, cost from $3.50 to $5.00 each, with a labor charge of $1.00 and $2.50,” the postcard said. “Tuning up the motor and replacing commutator case, brush and vibrator points costs only $1.00, with a small charge for material.”
A pessimistic argument would insist, of course, that these prices were paid by motorists who worked for far lower wages. A $1 tune-up no doubt was a considerable expenditure when comparing it to the amount of bread and milk that could be bought for that buck. The argument is correct.
Still, the postcard said brake shoes could be installed and emergency brakes equalized for a labor charge of only $1.25. A labor charge of $4 to $5 would pay for “overhauling of the front axle, rebushing springs and spring perches, and straightening, aligning and adjusting wheels.”
I don’t even know what some of that stuff means and it still makes me smile. That Bjorngaard was a lucky man to have the Gleason guys looking out for him and his car costs. “The labor charge for overhauling the average rear axle runs from $5.75 to $7.00,” the postcard continued. “Grinding valves and cleaning carbon can be done for $3.00 to $4.00.”
My dad was 9 years old in 1928. His father might have owned a Model T. Granddad could have had the engine rebuilt and still had money left over to buy Pop some shoes.
“A set of four new pistons and rings cost only $7.00. For a labor charge of $20 to $25 you can have your motor and transmission completely overhauled,” ended the offer.
“Parts are extra.”
There’s always a catch.
Gary Brown writes for the Canton Repository. Contact him at email@example.com