Stephen F. Austin State University

Dr. Falvey's Auto wouldn't respond to 'Whoa!' (May 2013)

Dr. Falvey's Auto wouldn't respond to 'Whoa!'
By Van Craddock

East Texans are in too much of a hurry, and for more than a century we can blame the automobile.

A case in point is Dr. J.W. Falvey, a physician who doctored folks around Gregg County at the turn of the century. One day in 1911, Dr. Falvey decided to trade in his horse and buggy for one of those new-fangled horseless carriages.

"If your Ford can make the trip to Marshall and return without any breakdowns, I'll buy one," the good doctor told a Longview auto dealer who took him out for a spin the next day. The salesman started off driving but soon turned the roadster's wheel over to the doctor.

Now, Dr. Falvey wasn't too confident in taking the wheel. After all, for years he'd made his rounds driving a buggy pulled by two matched ponies.

"The roads wee so boggy, rough and crooked, he never knew how long it would take to make a trip," noted a newspaper article on Dr. Falvey published in 1957. For that reason, the doctor always packed his buggy with "various canned meats, packaged crackers, George Washington coffee, skillet, coffee pot, bowl, cup and saucer, knife, fork and spoon."

Travel could indeed be perilous. Once, driving to a rural Gregg County residence to deliver a baby, Dr. Falvey attempted to cross a water-swept bridge. Next thing he knew, "horse, buggy and rider were washed off the bridge and he found himself taking an unscheduled swim."

Soaked and shivering, he managed to lead his horse and buggy to the bank and eventually reached his destination, delivering the baby.

That's when Dr. Falvey decided to take the test drive in the 1911 Ford. He hadn't been behind the wheel for very long when the automobile suddenly was headed straight toward a large pine tree. At that point the salesman yelled for Dr. Falvey to apply the brakes. But all the doctor could think of was to scream out, "Whoa! Whoa!"

Needless to say, the Ford didn't respond to "Whoa!" Thankfully, the auto missed the tree and the rest of the test drive was relatively uneventfully. Dr. Falvey bought the horseless carriage, thus becoming one of the first physicians in Texas to drive an automobile.

Dr. Falvey and his auto soon became a familiar sight on the primitive dirt roads of Gregg County. One day, on his way to Kilgore, the doc was headed up a steep hill beside the Sabine River when the little car "got about halfway up and stopped. After another try, the doctor realized that on the steep grade gasoline could not reach the carburetor.
The doctor solved the problem. "He just turned (the car) around and BACKED up the hill without a bit of trouble … This ability to use common sense and hard work in the solving of problems was a necessity to the old-time rural doctor."

A native of Wells, Cherokee County, Falvey had sold cattle to raise money to study medicine at Galveston, Memphis and Sewanee, Tenn. He graduated from Scotland's University of Edinburgh and practiced medicine for a while in London, England.

He married Lena Walker in 1913. The couple had two children and the family was much involved in Longview's social life. Dr. Falvey retired from his practice in the 1940s after losing his sight. Mrs. Falvey died in 1955.

When the doctor died in 1962, the Longview Daily News called him a "distinguished physician and surgeon who came from a long line of physicians prominent in Texas medical circles."