Popping the Clutch -’46 Plymouth

One benefit of driving a manual transmission is that if you can get it rolling, you can start it, even if the starter or the brushes of the ignition are worn out. When the wheels are rolling, and the clutch is out, the motor is turning. The mechanics work the same way through the application of thermal energy from the internal combustion or kinetic energy from pushing.

So you get the car rolling with the clutch pushed in (engaged!), preferably slightly downhill. Once the car is moving 3-4 miles per hour, you “pop” the clutch, letting it out all at once, which causes the motor to start turning, the alternator  to create electricity, and the fuel pump to feed gas to the pistons. Of course, if you have a bad alternator, no gas or a busted fuel line, this won’t work. You can recharge the battery this way if you can get the car going and drive far enough.

The unfortunate part of this method of starting a car, especially one made of steel, is that you just can’t push it uphill. At one time we had six burly male college students try to push the ’46 Plymouth far enough uphill in a parking lot to roll it down—they just couldn’t move it far enough. But downhill is easy.

You also have to turn the key in the ignition.

On very cold days, and Boone has a lot of them, the 46 Plymouth often did not want to start. People who live in cold climates learn how to keep their cars warm enough to crank through the winter, by using a garage, or even some kind of heating element. If a motor freezes, due to cold weather or lack of antifreeze, the water inside will crack the engine block, which happened to my brother—another story for another time.

Since I was not confident in my driving skills yet saw myself as a strong, invincible woman (hear me roar!), I agreed to push the car down King Street in Boone, the main drag, while my husband managed the popping of the clutch.

Can you imagine how I felt after pushing the car half a block, down to the bottom of the hill, and it still wouldn’t start because my husband forgot to turn the key in the ignition?

I was angry.  I still remember it 40 years later. I roared.

In retrospect, this foreshadowed of the way the next 18 years went. How many times did the spark not come because one of us did not turn the key? No amount of pushing will start a car if the spark is not there because of a short in the system (we had those too—a bad alternator would drain the battery—one reason that I learned about push starting) or some other part was clogged, like a fuel line or gas filter.

A marriage can’t be push-started either, and it too will only roll downhill.

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