A look at changes in windshields and wipers over the past several decades.

I was visiting with a reader of National Drilleron a snowy Michigan day last week, and he mentioned that my articles on older pickups brought back a lot of memories – some good, some bad and some indifferent, but that I had a number of areas yet to cover. He did not mention what these areas were; but I am going to write about one last problem these trucks had, and then get back to subjects more attuned to the water well business. This last subject is windshield wipers.

One thing I want to point out to my younger readers is that back in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s pickups, and cars for that matter, generally had flat windshields, not the nice rounded jobs we have today. Some vehicles even had a windshield that was made up of two flat panels with a split right down the middle so the windshield formed somewhat of a modest V. This was claimed to improve the aerodynamics of the vehicle over using a completely flat windshield. Yes, folks, even back then, the engineers and designers were looking for a more efficient machine.

Whether one had a pickup with a one-piece windshield or a two-piece, if it was made in the 1930s, ’40s or early ’50s, it very likely had one windshield wiper that wiped only the driver’s side. The pivot point might be at the bottom of the windshield or the top. My dad bought a new Ford truck in the fall of 1948, and it had one – and only one – wiper. This matched up with the single rearview mirror on the driver’s side that was a round job about 4 inches in diameter. It was a standard mirror on trucks in those days. We later installed what was referred to as West Coast mirrors, or the large rectangular-type that are standard on trucks today. Years later, I actually was able to get a kit through Ford that added a second windshield wiper.

Whether we had one windshield wiper or two, neither was especially effective as they were operated by vacuum. The wiper motor worked off engine vacuum, and needed quite bit of that to do its job. The problem was that cars, pickups and especially trucks of this era were sadly underpowered. Ford bragged that it had a V-8 of 100 HP; GMC, Chevy and Dodge all were powered by inline 6s of similar rating. I understand that a 2011 Ford F-250/350 diesel pickup has 400 HP, and a Chevy or GMC 2500/3500 with a Duramax is right there at 395; we’ve come a long ways, fellows. Anyway, back to our typical underpowered 1940s Ford or Chevy. If we had any load at all in the bed and came to any kind of a hill, we had give the old girl plenty of throttle. This got us up the hill, but it was good-bye to any vacuum to run the wipers. They would come to a complete stop. If it was raining at all, the driver had the choice of going up the hill at a decent rate or seeing what he was doing – not a good choice of options. Many times, the driver had to let up on the throttle; it allowed the wipers to run a couple of strokes, and while the driver could see, his forward motion would slow considerably.

In an effort to improve this inconvenient and hazardous situation, one manufacturer came up with a vacuum booster pump that, I think, was part of the fuel pump and connected to the wiper motor. Thus, the vacuum to the motor was not dependent on intake manifold vacuum, and it was a big improvement.

It wasn’t long, though, before the engineers figured out how to make wipers run electrically. Like any innovation, this was not an instant success, nor developed without a few problems. We had a 1952 Ford pickup that had electric wipers, and after they ran for a while, the mechanism that connected the two blades under the dash would jam. The solution to the jam was to stop, turn off the wiper motor, reach up under the dash and jiggle the mechanism, and then the wipers worked pretty well again. Such was progress in that era. We had at least one vehicle that had electric wipers that were one speed. They either were on or off. In fact, I have an older truck that carries my pump hoist that has two speeds and no intermittent feature.

That pump-hoist truck came from the factory with a windshield-washer system that consisted of a rubber bulb on the floorboard that the driver stepped on hard to squirt the windshield. This thing only worked for a few years, and I understand one could purchase an after-market kit that included a small electric squirt pump to do what the bulb was suppose to do. I had another truck that had a foot-operated washer system with a pedal that came down from the dash, and the driver was required to pump the pedal to get liquid to the windshield; it was not much better than the rubber bulb. Thank God, I don’t have that truck anymore, and I rarely take my pump hoist out in bad weather, so I don’t miss the fact that I don’t have windshield washers.

One thing that the manufacturers never really have conquered is a blade that works in snow and freezing conditions. I experienced this just last week on a long drive in a rather nasty snowstorm. My wiper blades stayed clean most of the way, but if the weather had been much worse, I would have been forced to stop and clean the blades – something I saw many drivers doing. However, the modern vehicles we drive today show a vast improvement as far as seeing in bad weather over what we had in years gone by. One big advantage we had back then was that most of the other drivers on the road were not in a blazing hurry like they are today. On that snowy day last week, I was driving at what I thought was a plenty fast speed on a two-lane road when fellow in a Cadillac passed me like I was in reverse. I hope he made his destination.

Lest you think that all of our wiper problems are in the past, I was talking with my oldest daughter this morning, and she told me of a problem she had yesterday. This daughter, Linda, lives about an hour west of Chicago. She was coming home, driving her 2007 mini-van, the make of which I will not reveal, but it is a very nice machine and has caused her very few, if any, problems. As she preceded in what around here is called a “wintery mix” (snow, sleet, freezing rain and rain all mixed up), the wiper blade in front of her came loose, and looked like it was about to come completely off. Linda was able to get off the highway, stop and attempt to get the blade properly on the arm, but found that some part had broken – the part that attaches the blade to the wiper arm. Using the one-stroke-only feature that almost all vehicles have today, she was able to limp to a well-known big-box store popular in the Midwest and purchase a new wiper blade. She attached it to the wiper arm, and was able to get home without further problem. Linda is a pretty good mechanic, and while I think she learned a lot of it from her father, it probably is mostly God-given. Incidentally, she told me that she wasn’t able to buy wiper blade refills anymore; you have to buy the whole blade assembly, which reminded me of the last time I bought blades and had the same experience.

We’ve had a cold and somewhat snowy late December and early January here in southern Michigan. Usually, we get a good snow, then some warmer days; the snow then melts and becomes slush; the weather turns cold again, the slush freezes into ice, and we have a big mess. This year, the snow has come and not melted; last night and this morning, we got the same mix that Linda got in Illinois yesterday, and it was not a real nice day.

Yes, fans the University of Michigan (UM) football team did get to a bowl game, and after the pathetic performance they put up against Mississippi State, we UM fans almost wished they had stayed at home. The result of this was the firing of our coach; we have a new coach, and the area is all ga-ga over prospects for improvement. Congratulations to my friend Stan Graves in Birmingham, Ala. Stan is an Auburn graduate, and his Tigers really looked like champions in their BCS Championship game.

Folks, stay warm and dry, and work hard and safe until next time.