Friday, April 29, 2011

The I-75 Adventures of Juan Santamarina -- Flying Ladders and More!!

Hi folks -- I am convinced that I-75 between Dayton and Cincinnati is far more dangerous than anything you can run up against while traveling on I-5 or I-15 in Southern California. UD History colleague Juan Santamarina has had more than his share of adventures on I-75, including flying pieces of wood aimed at his windshield, hood, and grill. Here is a short account of his latest heart-rendering event:

Thought you would enjoy my latest I-75 adventures:
I was southbound on I-75, just north of I-275 late yesterday afternoon. There was a tow truck loading a car on the right shoulder and cars were slowing down on the right lane as a result. A Ford Fusion must have been distracted and didn't notice the slowing traffic then slammed the brakes and turned sharply to the right toward the shoulder. Somehow it missed the tow truck/car combo just in front of him and went flying through the grass beyond the shoulder into the ditch and up the other side of it stopping just short of the sound wall and not hitting anything (at that point he was perpendicular to the highway and only stuck in mud and water!). I was a few cars behind but pulled over to see if the driver needed help--so did 2 others. Turns out the driver was maybe 80, a little confused--either by what had just happened or perhaps before....someone else called police who arrived 3 minutes later. Excitement enough?
I was standing on the shoulder telling the cop what had happened when a pickup truck passed us and proceeded to drop his 20+ foot extension ladder out the back, landing a couple of feet in front of us and sliding up the right lane 30 feet forward while cars swerved to avoid it---leaving me to direct cars off the right lane while the cop and tow truck driver fetched the ladder from the right lane and dumped safely in the grass beyond the shoulder. Let me tell you that a big ladder like that hitting the road at 65mph is a little startling!
At that point I told the cop I had enough for one day and if he didn't need me I was on my merry way. He smiled, said thanks and bye.....
First a 2x4 flying at my car, then what was essentially a hit and run, and now this...? I guess I'm free now if these things come in threes--hopefully anyway, even though neither I nor the Benz suffered any damage on this event.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Identification and Significance Questions: Study Sheet for Final Exam, HST 378

Hi folks-- how many of these questions, taken from my The Automobile and American Life, can you answer well?

Exam on Thursday, May 19, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
I Identification and historical significance (50 pts.). Answer five of the following eight (8) people, places, and things in a concise and detailed paragraph, in five sentences or less for each.

Henry Gregor Felsen’s Hot Rod (1950)
African-Americ ans, the Automobile, and Civil Rights during the 1950s
American Graffiti (1973
Don Stanford’s The Red Car (1954)
The Corvette and the Thunderbird during the 1950s
Garten Motors, Hinton, West Virginia
The UAW, The Big Three, and Pattern Bargaining
The 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88
The VW Beetle
Chuck Berry and “Maybellene”
Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Thunder Road (1958)
Cadillac and the establishment during the 1950s and 1960s
Ralph Nader and the Corvair
The Federal Government, the automobile industry, and the 1960s
Crap Cars of the 1970s
Ben Hamper’s Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line (1991)
The Drive-By
NASCAR in the recent pastWomen, Poetry, and Passion, post-1980

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Donks -- Cincinnati, the Individual, and Common Sense

Hi Folks -- Visiting back in Centerville, I read the Dayton Daily News this rainy Easter morning and found an rather lengthy article on Donks and the City of Cincinnati trying to take them off the road. Seems that the police argue that these cars are unsafe, and expose gas tanks and other parts to vulnerability during a crash. The owner of Fatt Boyz accessory shop in Kettering Ohio is worried that his business will lose lots of money if Cincinatti's stand starts a trend among municipal governments. Donk owners claim racial profiling, while anti-crime advocates assert that these cars are associated with gangs. Another example of American individuality being squelched for the common good.
Well, these cars are stupid. They can't handle, they are a total waste of money, and probably their owners have IQs in the range of 80. But -- if Cincinnati does this, will they also take off the road all the good old boys with their jacked up pickups that are equally as unstable and stupid? Give me examples of crashes involving these Donks? Show me statistically that they are unsafe?

Is this really about about traffic safety?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Musings: Jesus and the cars he would drive

Hi folks -- this Easter, as we think of Jesus an God, my thoughts go back to the What would Jesus Drive question that emerged during 2002 as a response to the question of SUVs and the environment. Years ago I wrote an essay on Christianity and automobiles, and in revised form that can be found in Chapter 5 of my book "The Automobile and American Life."

On another website, T.J. Nelson had this to say back in 2002:

This week, an organization called the "National Religious Partnership for the Environment" has started a national campaign to make people feel guilty for driving SUVs. The centerpiece of this campaign is the slogan, "What would Jesus drive?". This, of course, has driven people into paroxysms of laughter, with jokes like "A Christ-ler" and comments that, being a carpenter, He would have needed a van with a ladder rack on top. White, of course. With a statue of his mother on the dashboard.

Guaranteed Overnight Delivery truck One person suggested that Jesus, the ultimate eternal surfer, would most likely drive "a cherry 1940s flathead V-8 Ford woody with surfboards on the roof".


However, in all seriousness, this question can be answered authoritatively. One need only turn to the Bible to find what cars were driven in those days.

In the beginning, God himself made mention of His favorite car, when He described to Jeremiah His plans for the Israelites.

  Jer 32:37
Behold, I will gather them out of all countries, whither I have
driven them in my Anger, and in my Fury, and in great wrath; and I
will bring them again unto this place, and I will cause them to dwell
Clearly, God was driving, not a bus, but a Plymouth Fury and a car called an "Anger", which is no longer being produced. Later, however, the Lord was seen driving people around in a Valiant:
  Jer 46:15
Why are thy Valiant men swept away? they stood not, because the LORD
did drive them.
The Lord frequently drove people out to important occasions, if they didn't have their own car:
  Judg 1:19
And the LORD was with Judah; and he drove out the inhabitants of the
mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley,
because they had chariots of iron.

Station wagons were also popular in early times. God saw that they were good, as they could not only carry an assembly of people, but would shield them in a crash.

  Ezek 23:24
And they shall come against thee with chariots, wagons, and wheels,
and with an assembly of people, which shall set against thee buckler
and shield and helmet round about: and I will set judgment before
them, and they shall judge thee according to their judgments.
Unfortunately, his followers, being generous in the ways of the Lord, tended to give them away:
  Num 7:6
And Moses took the wagons and the oxen, and gave them unto the

Fords, then as now, were popular, but not universally so, often being left behind in emergencies.

  Gen 32:22
And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two
womenservants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the Ford Jabbok.
Ford dealerships were commonly used as gathering points for women.
  Isa 16:2
For it shall be, that, as a wandering bird cast out of the nest, so
the daughters of Moab shall be at the Fords of Arnon.
The Israelites also drove customized automobiles. There was a distinct preference for brass and molten parts, which are rarely used today because of the difficulty in handling them.
  1Kgs 7:30
And every base had four brazen wheels, and plates of brass: and the
four corners thereof had undersetters: under the laver were
undersetters molten, at the side of every addition.

1Kgs 7:33
And the work of the wheels was like the work of a chariot wheel:
their axletrees, and their naves, and their felloes, and their
spokes, were all molten.
The ancient Israelites took great pride in their wheels. Often they were of unusual design, with wheels inside other wheels instead of at the four corners like today's cars. This may have been done to facilitate performing stunts such as "wheelies".
  Ezek 1:16
The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the color
of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and
their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel.

Ezek 1:20
Whithersoever the Spirit was to go, they went, thither was their
Spirit to go; and the wheels were lifted up over against them: for
the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.
Clearly, the Israelites considered the wheel to be the most important part of the car. But they were also fond of powerful engines:
  Ezek 26:10
By reason of the abundance of his horses their dust shall cover thee:
thy walls shall shake at the noise of the horsemen, and of the
wheels, and of the chariots, when he shall enter into thy gates, as
men enter into a city wherein is made a breach.

Of course, God, with an infinite expense account, could afford to occasionally drive a Rolls Royce.

  Ezra 6:1
Then Darius the king made a decree, and search was made in the house
of the Rolls, where the treasures were laid up in Babylon.

Dodge is one of the oldest car companies, selling the Triumph, Avenger, Colt, and Charger in Biblical times.

  2Sam 1:20
Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest
the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the
uncircumcised Triumph.
Of course, in modern times, circumcision is no longer performed on automobiles.

They were popular gifts.

  Mark 6:28
And brought his head in a Charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the
damsel gave it to her mother.
The Dodge Ram was greatly admired, and frequently customized with aftermarket accessories such as custom leather seats and extra horns of different pitch.
  Dan 8:3
Then I lifted up mine eyes, and saw, and, behold, there stood before
the river a Ram which had two horns: and the two horns were high; but
one was higher than the other, and the higher came up last.
Collisions, however, were frequent.
  Dan 8:6
And he came to the Ram that had two horns, which I had there seen
standing before the river, and ran unto him in the Fury of his power.
Here we see one of the earliest documented cases of road rage.
  Dan 8:7
And I saw him come close unto the Ram, and he was moved with choler
against him, and smote the Ram, and broke his two horns: and there
was no power in the Ram to stand before him, but he cast him down to
the ground, and stamped upon him: and there was none that could
deliver the Ram out of his hand.
There are also very few Japanese cars in the Bible. The Honda Accord is mentioned several times, although one might question the driving skills of the ancient Israelites.
  Acts 5:12
And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought
among the people; and they were all with one Accord in Solomon's

Acts 19:29
And the whole city was filled with confusion: and having caught Gaius
and Aristarchus, men of Macedonia, Paul's companions in travel, they
rushed with one Accord into the theatre.
However, the AMC Spirit was unquestionably the most popular car of Biblical times. They were so highly prized that they were sometimes even described as "holy", and unlike the Spirits of today, had powerful engines, probably V-6 or V-8 turbines with fuel injection and dual overhead cams. Often people were said to be driving around "in an excellent Spirit". The Lord Himself even reputedly owned one, undoubtedly because of their reputation for reliability. They would go wherever you wanted them to.
  Ezek 1:20
Whithersoever the Spirit was to go, they went, thither was their
Spirit to go; and the wheels were lifted up over against them: for
the Spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Engineering the Ride: Ford Engineering, 1952, and the "mechanical man"

An early type two arm friction shock absorber
Ride control certainly has gone scientific!

Hi folks -- one area of auto history that needs much more study centers on ergonomics, ride comfort, and research studies done on ride comfort. These studies have been around at least since the 1920s. As I was reading a 1952 issue of Speed Age last evening I came upon this entry that was a part of a story by Charles J. Yarbough, "A Day with the Ford Engineers." In this article the author goes on to say:
"Close to the top in the fantastic array of instruments used in seeking the ultimate in comfort is a gadget billed as "a mechanical man with a seismograph in his stomach." Engineers developed the 'man' using the human form as a model.
The 'man' is designed with a center of gravity and weight distribution determined from statistics of the average person. Head and legs were omitted and when in use, 'his' lap is covered with instruments.
'He' could be the ideal back-seat driver. Placed beside the driver, its uncanny instruments provide information on riding comfort an car performance, tests springs, shock absorbers and cushions.
Three accelerometers measure the slightest quiver or shake, up, down, or sideways and the unbiased report is an audible as an irate wife.
To determine the course over which the 'man' goes for a ride, survey teams actually built a highway of potholes and bumps. Some of Detroit's worst highway surfaces have even been duplicated on the testing grounds."

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Drunk Driving Tragedies: In Song and Photograph

Hi folks -- an incredible contribution by Ed Garten. I will try to insert song lyrics lter today, as I had difficulty with spacing in copying from email to blog site.

DRUNK DRIVING TRAGEDIES: IN SONG AND PHOTOGRAPH As a young boy and then as a teen, the connections between driving and the use of alcohol were deeply impressed on my mind. My grandfather Carlos Garten, who operated Garten Motors Ford/Mercury in the small town of Hinton, West Virginia from 1945 through the early 1960s, had the only wrecker service in the country. Accordingly, nearly every car accident, both minor and tragic, typically was met first by the ambulance and then by Grandfather's Ford F-350 wrecker truck. My father, Johnny Garten, was the wreaker driver for several years and sometimes would invite me to ride with him when called to the scene of an accident -- a car driven into the river, a car wrapped around a telephone pole, or several cars having met head-on to where one can could not be distinguished from the other what with the intertwined twisted metal. I can recall telephone calls at our home late at night or early in the morning with the dispatcher saying: "Johnny, there's been a bad wreck up on Route 7 just outside of Forest Hill. Get here as fast you you can. Best not to bring Eddie with you this time, its real bad." Several times the wreaks were so horrible and with deaths that my father would stop the wreaker about 500 yards from the accident scene and tell me to sit off to the side of the road and wait for him and he'd pick me up a bit later. Clearly he didn't want me to see the tragedy, the blood, and the death scene. Sometimes on Saturdays while visiting grandfather's dealership I'd sneak behind the shop and look at the car wreaks that had been pulled in from a previous Friday or Saturday night. Certainly the favorite two nights for drinkin' for hillbilly boys. Many times I'd peer into broken windows and see liquor bottles or beer cans on the floor. Other times I'd pull a driver's side door open and see a bloody dried seat. On other occasions I'd silently look at steering wheel columns that had clearly pierced a human body or a broken windshield that had met with an unfortunate head. Youthful curiousity, perhaps, but images that still play on my mind over 50 years later. Tragically, so many of these car crashes had involved alcohol. Why are we often so fascinated with the scene of such tragic accidents? Why do we try to avert our eyes when passing such horrible accidents on the highway, yet turn just before passing to catch a glimpse of the destruction? As John Heitmann knows I have a "coffee table" book (for lack of a better name in the case of this book) whose title is "Car Crashes & Other Sad Stories" by Mel Kilpatrick (Taschen, 1974). This picture book is not an easy one to spend even a few minutes with as all of the photos are of car accidents many of which have involved drunk driving. The phototographer focused on death -- violent death in small town America of the late 1940s and early 1950s. When night fell, he tuned in the crackling police radio band, always ready to rush to the scene of yet another bloody drama with his photographic equipment. Kilpatrick documented these tragedies and produced several thousand horrific photos in black and white But above all he sought out traffic accidents and their victims, who paid for America's post-war cult of the automobile and speed with their lives. Before seat belts and before air bags, Kilpatrick graphically proved why alcohol and driving don't mix. Kilpatrick's photos, unearthed in his darkroom in Anaheim, California, 35 years after his death, are ones that even a strong person can only stare at for so long. Repeat after me: Alcohol and driving motor vehicles don't mix. Recently I was wondering about the many "car crash" songs that have appeared over the years on record. Wikipedia lists a large number of them some dating back to the mid-50s with the song titled simply as "The Death of James Dean." But then I wondered: What might have been the very first "drunk driving car crash" popular song? (Not that this genre of song is popular, mind you). My own research, however, suggests that perhaps the first such song was "Wreck on the Highway" by Dorsey Dixon in 1938. The song became so popular, especially in the rural South, that its lyrics became a US Army basic training chant for soldiers stationed in the South. Dixon's lyrics are haunting: "Whiskey and blood ran together, but I didn't hear nobody pray." The Wreck on the Highway Audio File (MP3 file, ca. 2.9MB, 3:09 min.)

Dorsey Murdock Dixon (14 Oct. 1897-18 Apr. 1968), millworker, songwriter, and country musician, was born into a family of Darlington, S.C., factory workers. His father, William McQuiller Dixon (1875–1939), was a steam engine operator in the Darlington Cotton Manufacturing Company whose seven children followed him into the mill. Dorsey left school after the fourth grade and began working in the Darlington mill when he was twelve. He learned traditional and sentimental songs from his family and neighbors, who would gather at the Dixon house for music making. A local schoolteacher gave him violin lessons, and by the age of fourteen he had taught himself to play the guitar. A disastrous fire in a Cleveland, S.C., school-house in 1923 had lingered in Dixon's memory, and in 1929 he expressed his reaction in a poem. His mother and his brother Howard noted that the words could be set to the popular tune, "Life's Railway to Heaven." Encouraged by their enthusiasm, Dorsey began to compose in earnest, developing a pattern he would follow all his life. His first-hand experiences were cast into poetry and set to traditional and traditionally inspired tunes. His subject matter was overwhelmingly drawn from his religious speculations on local tragedies. A song Dixon had composed on a fatal car accident in East Rockingham, which the brothers recorded in 1938 as "I Didn't Hear Anybody Pray," was recorded by Roy Acuff in 1942 as "Wreck on the Highway." It is unclear where Acuff had learned the song, but he chose to copyright it under his own name. "Wreck on the Highway" quickly became a country music standard and, still today, one will occasionally hear old time country musicians playing it for their audiences at bluegrass festivals. If an earlier "drunk driving, car wreak tragedy" song exists I'd certainly like to know about it, but for now let's assume that this haunting song may have been the first to bring the tragedy of drinking and driving to the attention of a wider public. Again, don't drink and drive, or you may end up in the lyrics of a song.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Visit to RM Restorations and Auctions, Chatam, Ontario

One of several beautiful cars parked outsidethe restoration facility
Two red M-B 300SLs were parked outside the shop.
I wan't supposedto take any photos of the restoration shop but took one before I knew it was prohibited!

Two examples of the many auction cars and motorscycles for sale!

Hi Folks -I attended the Society of Automotive Historians spring business meeting on Monday in London, Ontario. Tuesday we took a trip to Chatham, Ontario to the home of RM Restorations and Auctions. We were given a super tour of the shop -- some 30 people (including two shop women) work at a craft shop where each lead artisian is given a project car. Metal shaping, painting, and all work except fine machine work on done on the premises.

Next to the shop there is a building that contains cars slated for auction.
A sublime morning tour!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Reflections on Detroit

Hi folks, so I started my trip east at the end of last week with a stop over in Detroit before going on to London, Ontario. If you ever get to DEtorit, i heartily recommned staying at the Inn on Ferry Street. This Hotel consists of 3 grand old homes converted into large hotel-like rooms. The staff is most helpful and friendly, and they will run you all around Detroit in one of their vans. It is close enough to downtown Detroit that you can get down to the center of the city and Greektown in five minutes, or the new ball park. Around the corner from the Inn is the Detroit Art institute and the main public library, along with the historical museum. And Wayne state is right there as well.

This morning I took a short walk around the cultural district, and had plenty to think about. I like aspects of Detroit, despite all the press that attack its present condition. The architecture remains quite beautiful, and the near empty streets evoke a kind of melancholy. But one can still feel the greatness of a city that once was at the heart of American industrial and economic growth. The churches downtown are still beautiful if only sparsely attended.

Will it come back? Probably not in my lifetime. Will it become a ghost town? Equally unlikely. Is Detroit's decline a forerunner of a larger decline that all of America will experience within the next two decades? Maybe.

Driving Impression of the New Chevy Cruze

Hi folks -- sorry for being so quiet lately -- just too much to do in SD and then travel to Detoit and London, Ontario. So at the Detroit Airport I got a Chevy Cruze from Avis. Our family was a Chevy family going back to the beginning. When I was very young, my father had a gently used 1948 Chevrolet. Then we acquired in succession a 1954 Belair, Blue and white, a 1962 Chevy II Nova (there was a 1958 lemon yellow and indeed lemon Plymouth Fury in between), a 1972 Chevelle, and finally a 1979 Chevelle that was a terrible car with a defective THM-200 transmission coupled to a 305 V-8. That last car proved to be such a disapointment to my father that I since that time I have hated and decried Chevys and GM products at every turn. So it was with some trepidation that I started off with this Cruze on Thursday evening.

This car beats the old Cobalt all to hell. It handles well (almost too sensitive for my taste) and had a far better interior than I expected. Yet that interior is no better than my 2006 Nissan Sentra, so GM has come a long way, but initially it had a long way to go. Controls all make sense, the seats are comfortable, visibility relatively good, and the style is not bad for what I would still consider an econobox rather than a medium sized sedan that it is touted as.

I think this is a sensible car for a young family needing good, reliable transportation. The bow-tie doesn't mean much to a status -seeker, and it does little for self esteem. But as an appliance car it does the job it seems, but still it doesn't quicken the blood or touch deep emotions. But maybe I am asking too much out of an entry level car.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

HST 378 Class from USD Visits Jay Leno's Garage and then the Show

Hi folks -- no photos yet to post -- photos were a no no while in the "Big Dog" Garage in Burbank and then on the set of the Tonight Show. But it was an incredible experience on April 1. We drove up to LA from San Diego on Friday morning in a number of cars. I took my son-in-law Tony and two students, Michelle Griswold and Patrick Doyle. Traffic was murder on I-5, but we got to the Big Dog Garage just after 1 p.m. The entire class was waiting for us outside the gate! We then had a 1 1/2 hour tour of the facility, which is a working garage that employs eight mechanics. There are so many cars in the collection it is hard to say which cars were my favorites, but off the top of my hat I would say a red Triumph TR-3 and a four cam Porsche Carerra 356. Of course there are plenty of Duesenbergs, Bugattis, Bentlys, etc, and all are fabulous. Ater the tour we had a special group visit to Studio 11 at NBC and the taping of the April 1 Show. That was great fun -- the music was terrific -- indeed the entire experience. After the taping was over Jay went back, changed into his jeans, and came out and met the class. The students asked several questions and Jay was most gracious. He said he thought my book The Automnoible and American Life was a good book, should be added to his book club list on his website, and also said I could come back to the Garage whenever I want. Yesterday was that a highlight of my time here in CA. It took us a while to get back to SD on Friday night. My only regret is that Chuck Berry was in concert at one of the casinos, and that would have been one terrific way to top off the day. But no complaints at all -- Friday April Fools' Day 2011 was one of the best days in my life.