By on June 12, 2013


So I was looking for a photograph or diagram of the “friction drive“, an early continuously variable transmission used in the 1906 Orient Buckboard made by Waltham Mfg and I came across this period advertisement, selling an accessory child’s seat for the Buckboard. The Buckboard was exactly that, a buckboard horse cart with a one cylinder gasoline engine. Like many early runabouts the Orient Buckboard was a two-seater. There was no room for the rest of the family. Some companies, like Ford, offered a third “mother in law” seat out back, but Waltham decided to go in the other direction.

advert347The detachable child’s seat for the Orient Buckboard cost an additional $25, a not insignificant sum in light of the fact that the cheapest version of the Buckboard was $375 (without headlamps and a folding roof), but as the ad,  from the trade journal Motor Age and aimed at car agencies (i.e. dealers) pointed out, it made the rather primitive motor car a bit more marketable.

"Mother-in-law" seat on a Model T runabout

“Mother-in-law” seat on a Model T runabout, Piquette Ave Model T Factory

The child’s seat mounted in the front of the Buckboard got me thinking. I babysit my year old grandson once a week. Under state law here in Michigan, I’m not even allowed to put his car seat in the front passenger compartment of the car, let alone drive around with him exposed on the hood of the car. Never mind the fact that sitting in his rear-facing car seat he wouldn’t be endangered by an activated airbag in the event of an accident, the law is the law.

child seats_r

Sometimes I wonder how those of us who are here today got here without the safety nannies telling our parents how to keep their kids alive long enough to reach adulthood. Heck, I would never have graduated from grade school because some days in the carpool there were 10 kids in a six passenger sedan. “There’s a policeman. Hide under the dashboard!” Yes, I made my kids wear bicycle helmets and nobody can ride in a car that I’m driving without being belted in but like I said, sometimes I wonder how we made it here without the do-gooders.


Parents have always been concerned about safety. I’m sure the parents 109 years ago that opted for that optional child’s seat on their Orient Buckboard figured that was safer than holding the kid in Mom’s lap. At the Henry Ford Museum’s Driving America exhibit, there’s a display about auto safety, including a selection of car seats that date back to the 1950s or earlier. From our perspective some of them are clearly death traps. The landmark General Motors Infant Love Seat seat that I used for my two oldest kids (who now have kids of their own) would probably not meet the government safety standards of today.

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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25 Comments on “Just For A Kid – Not Quite DOT Approved...”

  • avatar

    Yeah, well you know, there are a lot of people who I wish were still with us, who probably would be if they were wearing seat belts.

    I’m not sure why you think having a rear-facing child seat would protect the child from an airbag.

    • 0 avatar

      Either because his car doesn’t have a passenger side airbag because it is fairly old or because it has a passenger side airbag disabling function because it is fairly new would be my guess.

  • avatar

    Children are treated like the heir apparent because they ARE the heir apparent. Smaller, later families, heterogeneous communities that don’t talk to one other, and the strident rejection of God mean that there is no plan B to give any meaning to your life.

    • 0 avatar

      As if all the political nattering wasn’t enough, now we get religious preaching. *sigh*

      To be back on topic, you know, CARS:

      To answer the question how any of us made it without the safety nannies? Approx 20 million didn’t.

      • 0 avatar

        Like the extreme rants we get here from both sides *aren’t* religious?

        Say on, Dan. I’ll never agree with you but some of the most civil, intelligent and thoughtful people I’ve known have been deeply religious.

        • 0 avatar

          Yeah, and some of the most civil, intelligent and thoughtful people I’ve know haven’t been religious. What’s your point?

          • 0 avatar

            That on the basis of what he wrote, dissing him for merely holding religious beliefs is exactly what I’d expect from someone calling himself “Ubermensch” but not knowing that you need to do something about the missing umlaut.

          • 0 avatar

            I wasn’t dissing him for holding religious beliefs. I was dissing him for sharing them on a car site when it is irrelevant to the discussion, i.e. preaching. Learn the difference.

            FYI – I know about the missing umlaut. I belief the site wouldn’t let me use that in a user id, I can’t remember and really don’t care.

          • 0 avatar

            Strapping your child into a giant crash couch is very cool when that couch is on top of a Redstone. On the ground it’s just another symptom of the safety at every cost hysteria that’s ruining this hobby we love.

            I watch the world because I want to know why it works, or failing that how it works. Identifying the disease isn’t preaching. I’m probably less religious than you are but I’ll call a spade a spade when I see someone digging my grave with it.

  • avatar

    I was born in 1948 and seat belts and softer dashboards with fewer hard protrusion sorts of knobs and levers did not start showing up till the 60s. I can well recall at about age 5 having my mothers right arm swinging across my chest to keep me in the seat when hard breaking was required… Not that her arm would have done any good in a real crash. But I also recall my dad telling me to dive into the foot well area and curl up covering my head when he thought an oncoming car in the wrong lain was going to hit us …. Fortunately he managed to avoid it by swerving into a corn field… I sometimes wonder how his 49 Hudson and we would have faired if he had not been a good driver… Drum brakes bias ply tyres simple suspension designs (some would call them buckboard type) narrow winding roads, ( recall those 3 lane roads with one traffic lane each way with the “passing lane” between them) where safety was not part of the ‘design criteria ‘. Driving before the rise of the interstate system was a very different thing back then.

    One has to keep in mind that over most of the USA for most of the 50s there were very few chances to drive much faster than 45 or 50 mph and in fact a lot of travel would have been on rural roads with lots of them being dirt/gravel that at best would have been oiled to control dust. Over roads like that 35 would have been pushing it considering the tech of many mass produced cars. Think back to standard maintenance back then dozens of grease points that if you used dirt roads would have needed attention every 1500 to 2000 miles as would your oil and filter change intervals

    The buckboards you used to illustrate this piece I doubt would have been used at speeds much above those attained when they were being propelled by a horse rather than their one cylinder engine with its cv transmission

    Did safety lag behind the increase in road speed caused by post war tech improvements…. Sure any time the rate of injury and death in cars was increasing at a greater rate than the average speed of traffic then it is fair bet it is falling behind…. Look at the deaths per 100,000 miles traveled figures over the last 100 years.

    And of course there were a lot fewer folks living in this country then and a lower % of them had private autos.

    It is not now and was not then a simple problem.

    • 0 avatar

      Great comment. Gives the needed perspective that not every trip in a car back then resulted in the lurid 4×5 B&W photos of highway carnage we think of today.

  • avatar

    When the whole car industry goes electric, we’ll look back and wonder how we survived sitting over 20 gallons of gasoline every day.


  • avatar

    Ronnie If your still looking for Pics I can ask the owner of my company if I can take some, he has a 1908 (i think) Orient in our back warehouse. He was actually driving it in the parking lot a few weeks ago.

  • avatar

    Without the dogooders I think you lose more people now, but you gain a lot of future progress. I read somewhere (here?) a very persuasive piece on how much resources are wasted keeping children in car seats years longer than the research says it helps. Is it more medicine must be better? Car seat lobbyists? What?

    I know one thing for sure, the dogooders rarely have any care for wasted resources. People die every day due to to lack of resources but you can rarely pin it on the dogooders’ waste.

  • avatar

    The seats that I question are the aftermarket rear-facing third row seats for the Jeep CJ’s. I saw one in use recently, and the kids have no crush space. Also, the large spare tire is right in front of them. The kids were about 6 and 10, but they were already aware enough to be embarrassed to be back there, what with all the ill-defined eye-contact etiquette rules. I thought of Brian Regan’s “Big Family” comedy routine. “I wonder what those signs say.”

    • 0 avatar

      We had Volvo wagons (240 and later a 740 Turbo) when our kids were little. Those cars had rear-facing third-row seats which the kids liked when little. We got a minivan when we nearly got rear ended and realized that even if they survived such a crash they would likely replay the scene of their impending fate in their nightmares for years.

      That and they shifted from friendly waves to more innovative sign language.

      • 0 avatar

        Heh. When I was a kid in the 1950s, I had a neighbor with slightly younger kids who liked being in the back of the station wagon with the rear window down. They enjoyed spitting their drinks out the window when a car followed too closely.

  • avatar
    Robert Gordon

    “Never mind the fact that sitting in his rear-facing car seat he wouldn’t be endangered by an activated airbag in the event of an accident”

    What? I can’t believe I read that. Read the advice from virtually every manufacturer and child safety advocate about airbags and rear facing child seats.

    • 0 avatar

      Who says he has a passenger airbag? Who says he cant turn it off? Who says it doesn’t have a weight sensor under the passenger seat? Who is overreacting?

  • avatar

    I saw one of these last summer. The Sandwich (Mass) Heritage Museum had one on display in its car barn. It was startling large.

  • avatar

    One of my earliest memories was riding with Mom as we drove all night (to avoid the heat) at 75 mph from Hays, Kansas to Limon, Colorado in the old family 1941 Desoto. Years later I discovered that 75 mph was top end for that model Desoto.

    My point is that some of us are just born to drive ‘hell for leather’. We seldom have accidents, and when we do they are almost never serious. We don’t drive drunk (except very, very carefully), and we always drive defensively. Mom never had an accident, nor have I, so far.

    From our point of view, the nanny state, however irritating, has done vastly more good than harm by mandating safer cars. Auto safety devices are a perfect example of a market failure. Most people will not buy them on their own. The state has to mandate their use and enforce that mandate. Fasten your seat belt, fool.

    • 0 avatar

      “Fasten your seat belt, fool.”

      That is so true, especially with airbags, which is a supplement to, not a substitute for seat belts. You can tell people that, in a serious accident in which you walk away, barely, you’ll be injured if the airbag doesn’t deploy, possibly seriously. In a serious accident, if you’re not belted you’re dead, even WITH the airbag.

      When Massachusetts mandated seat belts there was such an outcry that the legislature rescinded it! The federal government forced the state to re-enact the law on pain of losing highway funding, so it’s not just fool citizens, but their craven elected representatives who need mandates.

  • avatar

    the child’s seat up front wasn’t so much an attempt to be safer than keeping them in mom’s lap but more about these 3 things: 1) to be able to bring your child(ren) along, 2) to keep them out of mom’s lap so she was not inconvenienced, and 3) put them up front where mom and dad could keep a watchful eye on them.

    my sister sat on a homemade wooden stool in the front seat between mom and dad in our 1972 chevrolet impala. it had a hinged top and a plastic bowl beneath to allow her to go to the bathroom so we did not have to stop every two hours on long trips. that would never fly in todays world. we all survived.

  • avatar

    I don’t remember being in a car seat long. We had vans, so growing up if I sat in the back seat I didn’t need a belt (which my dad got ticketed for one time….. now they would have probably put him in jail.)

    We use to go camping a lot in a converted out Ford Econoline work van. Only had two front seats; sometime I would go sleep or play in back on the shag carpet.

    This was in the 90’s too, but my parents were older than most and grew up in the 50’s; I guess carrying the same mentality. I also remember riding around in the backup of pickup trucks when we were slightly older. That was always fun.

  • avatar

    I didn’t know Watch City had a car mfr! I lived there for years I wonder where the factory was.

    Seems like auto/child safety has gotten to the point where the returns are diminishing, you aren’t a bad parent if you don’t have the newest car or put your toddler in a rear facing seat. There are whole industries ready to convince you otherwise.

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