Saturday, June 29, 2013

Technological Antecedents to the Automobile– The Bicycle

Technological Antecedents – The Bicycle
            Concurrent to ICE technological advances were developments related to the bicycle that took place in America between 1880 and 1900. The bicycle created a widespread demand for flexible, personal transportation, and it brought freedom to both women and young people. While the nineteenth century railroads exposed Americans to rapid (for the day) land transport, the very fact that tracks limited transverse spatial mobility opened the door to possibilities for more adaptable movement on roadways. Bicycles, despite their shortcomings associated with muscle power, difficult terrain, and weather, put urban dwellers in motion. In particular, their introduction and diffusion raised important questions concerning the quality of roads, manufacturing techniques, social changes, and legislation. Without exaggeration, the bicycle set the stage for the automobile that followed.
            The bicycle story began in Europe around 1819 with the introduction of a hobbyhorse design. Its historical evolution is traced in David Herlihy’s beautifully illustrated monograph.9 The first mechanical bicycle is credited to the Scotsman Kirkpatrick MacMillian, who in 1839 constructed a home-built, treadle-driven device so that he could more easily visit his sister who lived some 40 miles away. This invention was for the most part ignored until the 1860s, when in France so-called pedal velocipedes were manufactured by carriage maker Pierre Michaux and his son Ernest. These designs were a cross between the modern bicycle and the wooden hobbyhorse. The velocipede’s wheels consisted of wooden spokes and rims held together by a steel band. The front wheel was larger than the rear, and pedals were attached directly to the axle. With ivory handlebar grips, and a seat resembling an animal’s spine, this awkward-looking device weighed sixty pounds. It quickly earned itself an appropriate nickname – “the bone-shaker” – as it traversed the rough roads of that era. In 1869 the velocipede made its way to American shores, where a number of American firms improved its design. An American version incorporated hollow instead of solid steel tubes, and a self-acting brake. To stop, the rider pushed against the handlebars, thus compressing the seat spring and causing a brake shoe to engage against the rear wheel. It was seat-of-the-pants driving at its best, more a curiosity and sport than everyday technology.

            A brief velocipede craze followed in the late 1860s. At the same time, several social clubs were organized. It was difficult to ride the velocipede on the bumpy roads of the day, and one had to walk it uphill. But after 1871 interest in this less-than-practical device waned, in part because so many of the machines built were poorly designed. A radically new design was needed, and that would come as a result of the efforts of Englishman James Starley, who, to this day the British honor as the father of the bicycle industry.
            In 1870 Starley introduced his Ariel bicycle. Like its predecessors, the Ariel featured front drive pedals. However, for greater efficiency Starley made the front wheel as large as it could be, limited only by the length of the rider’s legs, and thus increased the wheel circumference and relative efficiency. Correspondingly, the rear wheel was reduced in size, making it just large enough to maintain balance. Thus, the era of the bone-shaker had ended and that of the “high wheeler” or “ordinary” began.

            English production techniques soon incorporated steel tubes, ball bearings, and solid rubber tires. One riding a high-wheeler could reach 20 mph, but it was dangerous and there was always the possibility of the rider “talking a header,” and flying over the handlebars. It was awkward and precarious, but in Britain a wide following soon emerged as clubs of cyclists were formed.
            The American ordinary craze was fueled by the efforts of manufacturer Colonel Albert A. Pope, a Civil War veteran from Boston who traveled to England, began importing British models, took the lead in establishing the American League of Wheel Men in 1880 and built his own models under the Columbia trademark. By 1884, Pope’s firm made some 5,000 “Columbia” units, and the technological gap between the U.S. and the British narrowed.10 The inherent problem with the ordinary, however, was that its size was connected with the stature of its rider, and thus standardization was impossible. Therefore, economies of scale in manufacturing could not be truly achieved.
The greatest advantage of British bicycle manufacturers during the 1880s lay in superior metallurgical techniques. Birmingham’s W.C. Stiff (an appropriate name given the technology he developed!) perfected a method of weld-less tube manufacture that permitted the brazing of light tubing to solid forging. By limiting the use of heavy gauge metal to stress points, a considerably lighter bicycle could be made without any loss of strength. Throughout the 1880s, American manufacturers were forced to use English tubes if they aspired to build first-class products. The British also modified the ordinary’s design by introducing gearing in the front of the vehicle, thus allowing the rider to pedal easier. These geared bicycles were called Dwarfs or Kangaroos, but most bicyclists saw them as no safer than the conventional design. If safety was an issue, and it certainly was for many women, they moved to a tricycle. American designers also attempted to reverse the large and small wheels of the ordinary, putting the large wheel in the back and gearing it, thus reducing the possibility of a rider going over the handlebars due to a sudden stop or maneuver.
            Americans made valuable technical contributions to bicycle design, particularly during the 1880s and 1890s. Just as the Americans seemed to be taking a lead in bicycle technology, in the mid-1880s John Kemp Starley, nephew of the creator of the Ariel, came up with the concept of the safety bicycle. This design featured a triangular frame, two wheels of about 2 feet in diameter, and a rear wheel driven by a sprocket connected to a chain. While the idea was not totally new, it was the industrial commitment to this design that was so important. Indeed, what emerged was the notion that safety was important, so much so that high wheelers became market curiosities by 1890.

            The social impact of the safety bicycle was enormous, particularly after 1888 when the design was coupled with John Boyd Dunlop’s pneumatic tires. The cycling population expanded greatly, and women, who had shunned the earlier models, embraced the dropped frame safety bicycle design. The dropped frame was introduced in 1888, and shortly thereafter women bicyclists’ skirts were shortened and their ankles exposed. Women began wearing bloomers, leading Elizabeth Cady Stanton to remark, “Many a woman is riding to the suffrage on a bicycle.”11 Further, young men and women could now go for rides without third party supervision. Patriarchal and matriarchal controls were increasingly being challenged by a machine, and as machines would become more complex with the coming of the automobile, so would the resulting social changes.
            Sales leaped forward in the 1890s, and an acetylene flame lamp was introduced in 1895 so that cyclist could travel safely at twilight and in the dark. For several years during the trend-driven Gay 90s, bicycling became a full-fledged boom. Bicycle racing became a popular sport, and many colleges established bicycling teams. Further, the bicycle inspired sheet music, trading cards, and board games. Undoubtedly the most famous of all songs inspired by the bicycle was Harry Dacre’s “Daisy Bell,” composed in 1892 with its chorus:
Daisy Daisy,
Give me your answer do!
I'm half crazy,
All for the love of you!
It won't be a stylish marriage,
I can't afford a carriage,
But you'll look sweet on the seat
Of a bicycle built for two!12
            By 1900, some 300 firms made more than a million bicycles in the U.S., making it a world leader. Innovations that followed included the coaster brake, a springed fork in the front, and cushioned tires. The cost of the bicycle halved from $100 to $50 during the 1890s, and thus American industry liberated the bicycle from its status as a plaything for wealthy sportsmen to a far more popular tool for travel. In doing so, the bicycle literally paved the way for the automobile, including the innovations of Henry Ford that would follow in the first decade of the twentieth century.
            Apart from raising consciousness concerning flexible travel and its impact on road improvements in the United States, no preceding technological innovation – not even the internal combustion engine – was as important to the development of the automobile as the bicycle. The bicycle was the object of scorn by horsemen and teamsters long before the appearance of the horseless carriage. Further, bicyclists gained the legislative right to use public roads in Massachusetts as early as 1879. Key elements of automotive technology that were first employed in the bicycle industry and then subsequently made their way into early automobiles included steel-tube framing, ball bearings, chain drive, and differential gearing. The bicycle industry also developed the techniques of quantity production using specialized machine tools, sheet metal, stamping, and electric resistance welding that would become essential elements in the volume production of motor vehicles.
            An innovation of particular note is the pneumatic bicycle tire, invented by Dr. John B. Dunlop in Ireland in 1888.13 Dunlop was far from working in a vacuum, however, as numerous inventors patented similar designs during the late 1880s and early 1890s. Also, the rubber tire had a long history that Dunlop undoubtedly built upon. Solid rubber tires were first introduced around 1835, and in 1845 Robert William Thompson, a civil engineer from Middlesex, England, patented a pneumatic tire similar to Dunlop’s design. An important issue was how to keep the tire on the rim, and it was not until the early part of the twentieth century before a system employing a wire-reinforced bead was widely adopted. Bicycle tires were the basis of automobile tires in France by 1895 and in the United States in 1896 when the B. F. Goodrich Company scaled up a single-tube bicycle tire for one of Alexander Winton’s early vehicles.

            The greatest contribution of the bicycle, however, was that it provided its owner with the ability to go when and where one wanted to. Sunday trips to out-of-the-way scenic places were now within the reach of the common man and his family. As one commentator of the period poignantly remarked, “Walking is on its last legs.”14 Thus, the bike was the first freedom machine, as it remains to this day for younger children who want to travel beyond the pale of an observing and controlling parent. It demanded, however, muscle power and a willingness to be exposed to the weather. To this day in many European cities the bicycle is an environmentally-friendly alternative to the automobile.15

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Automobile: European by Birth, American by Adoption

European by Birth, American by Adoption
An apt but worn-out cliché concerning the early history of the automobile is that “the automobile was European by birth, American by adoption.” Indeed, the visionary idea of the automobile – in the words of James Flink, “the combination of a light, sprung, wheeled vehicle; a compact, efficient power unit; and hard surfaced roads” gradually became a reality during the last half of the nineteenth century, primarily in Europe and to a lesser degree in America.2 
 Carl Benz and the first automobile, 1886.
 Bertha Benz -- she demonstrated the effectiveness of Carl's vehicle with a round trip from Mannheim to Pforzheim in 1887.
Gottlieb Daimler, working in Cannstadt, Swabia, Germany -- independent of Benz.

A Daimler Motorcycle.

The idea was transformed into a complex artifact, one that quickly hardened in fundamental design. For example, the basic configuration of the modern automobile with the radiator and engine in the front, followed by the clutch, transmission and rear axle drive, the système Panhard, was devised in France in 1891.3

An early Panhard.

A decade later, the 1903 De Dion-Bouton followed this scheme with a honeycomb radiator, sliding design four-speed transmission, and a steel frame, clearly distinct form the horseless carriage. Most importantly, the De Dion used an ingenious rear axle that replaced the cumbersome chain drive with half shafts transmitting power to the drive wheels. And finally, the 1903 “Sixty” Mercedes, despite its chain drive, had a magneto ignition, six-cylinder engine, and speeds capable of 60 miles per hour.4 In fundamental terms, the modern automobile crystallized technologically very quickly, and thus its origins are a most important object for study.
            After the idea and pioneering artifact came the commonly-used term automobile. Tracing its introduction (a semantic history) tells us much about the early history of the automobile in America. As Patricia Lipski skillfully pointed out, the word was French, but key to its adoption in America was its acceptance by New York City’s high society.5 A French term first used in America in 1895 and fully adopted in the U.S. by 1899, other words were proposed and debated during this time – horseless carriage, motocycle, motor vehicle, automation, mocle, autom, polycycle. Members of high society in New York City owned the first cars, including William Rockefeller, George Gould, Edwin Gould, John Jacob Astor, Jacob Ruppert, C. P. Huntington, and Claus Spreckels. This Gilded Age aristocracy paraded their vehicles at Newport, Rhode Island in the summer of 1899, and influenced the newly-published editorial writers of the magazines The Automobile and The Automobile Magazine to endorse automobile as a universally accepted term. In sum, while the beginnings of the automobile are often attributed to a group of visionary tinkerers, engineers, inventors, and mechanical geniuses, the upper classes were the consumers of this product, and they cast a lasting imprint on its place in culture in ways perhaps more complex than just the choice of a term.
            The key innovations associated with this new transportation technology, its gradual diffusion and acceptance, first public impressions, and initial cultural responses are the most significant areas of research. These topics have received considerable scholarly attention.6 While my own interests tend to focus on a later period, coverage must begin here, at the critical moment of creation.
            While the origins of a new technological system are undoubtedly important, historians often work backwards in time to fully trace strands of seminal ideas and techniques. That tendency can often prevent scholars from addressing more recent pressing and relevant matters. With the passage of time, perspectives become clearer, records are discovered and catalogued, and historical actors with a penchant to refute one’s story die. Yet the recent past often has the most relevance for the living, despite the many methodological and practical obstacles in pursuing it.
            Whatever the time frame under investigation, the tension between continuity and change challenges the historian in a unique manner. What distinguishes the historian from the sociologist or philosopher, however, is the scrupulous adherence to chronology and time.
            Technological antecedents to the automobile included the work of Nicholas Joseph Cugnot between 1765 and 1770 on a three-wheel steam tractor for pulling cannons; Richard Trevithick and his experiments with a steam locomotive conducted during the years 1801 and 1803; and Philadelphia inventor Oliver Evans and his “Orukter Amphibolos” or “Amphibious Digger.” All of these early efforts have been described in more extensive detail elsewhere, but are mentioned here to provide a sense of the long sweep of history concerning this form of transportation technology.7

            Steam carriages appeared on the scene primarily in England beginning in the 1820s, although in 1865 horse-drawn transportation interests suppressed mechanical road vehicles with the passage in Parliament of the so-called Red Flag Act. This legislation limited the speed of “road locomotives” to 2 mph in towns and 4 mph on the open highway. It also required that an attendant walk 60 yards ahead carrying a red flag by day and a red lantern by night. Until its repeal in 1896 at the request of wealthy automobile pioneers, the act militated against the development of the automobile idea in Great Britain, for by 1890 there were light steam vehicles capable of speeds of 15 mph over long distances. 
Steam carriage, circa 1870

David Beasley’s The Suppression of the Automobile: Skullduggery at the Crossroads discusses this chapter in history, important in terms of British developments, but tangential to mainstream developments in the emergence of the internal combustion engine (ICE) that would prove key to the automobile’s acceptance in Europe and America.8

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Automobile and Indians

Images from Library of Congress

A 1905 Toledo and six fully dressed indians


Wildshoe Family members identified by Bob Bostwick (Coeur d'Alene tribe press secretary) and Bertha Swan (grandaughter of Phillip Wildshoe) as: front seat: Phillip Wildshoe, his wife Eugenia and baby Eugenia; middle seat: sons David (warbonnet) and Vincent: back seat: daughters Rosie and Anne (child) and unidentified woman, probably from the Kootenai-Salish tribe

[Eskimos, five adults and one infant, sitting in an automobile 1916

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Road Song and Video I missed -- the Breeders, 'Driving on 9"

Thanks to Rob Barnes for calling this to my attention!  You have to see this video -- the very best!


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Some Road Songs, D-F

John Denver: "Back Home Again"

There's a storm across the valley, clouds are rollin' in
The afternoon is heavy on your shoulders
There's a truck out on the four lane a mile or more away
The whinin' of his wheels just makes it colder
He's an hour away from ridin' on your prayers up in the sky
And ten days on the road are barely gone
There's a fire softly burnin', supper's on the stove
But it's the light in your eyes that makes him warm.]

John Denver: "Take Me Home, Country Roads"

I hear her voice
In the mornin' hour she calls me
The radio reminds me of my home far away
And drivin' down the road I get a feelin'
That I should have been home yesterday, yesterday
Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads.

Clayton Denwood: "Down the Road and Gone"

She's the light that leads him on
Well he tried to tell her late that night
But she was down the road and gone.

Clayton Denwood: "Only Just Begun"

End of the road
End of the line
End of everything I thought was mine
End of the story of sadness and laughter
Time to get down to the happy ever after
Been looking down the road where all my dreams have come undone
Feels like the end of something but it's only just begun.

Neil Diamond: "Blue Highway"

Gonna take that blue highway
And leave this sorry town
Stayed too long, but now I'm gone
And I know where I'm bound
I don't wanna take the interstate
It represents all the things I hate
I'm rolling down that blue highway.

Dire Straits: "Telegraph Road"

A long time ago came a man on a track
Walking thirty miles with a sac on his back
And he put down his load where he thought it was the best
And he made a home in the wilderness
He built a cabin and a winter store
And he ploughed up the ground by the cold lake shore
And the other travellers came riding down the track
And they never went further and they never went back
Then came the churches then came the schools
Then came the lawyers then came the rules
Then came the trains and trucks with their loads
And the dirty old track was the telegraph road

Doobie Brothers: "Don't Stop to Watch the Wheels"

I was trashed, ridin' on my 74
Goin' out to even the score
She pulled the top down on her convertible
I've got a lot of miles to cover
But if you think you need a lover
All right
Climb on, hold tight, I got a long ride tonight.

Walter Egan: "Blonde in the Blue T-Bird"

The moonlight night, the highway shines.
A pair of beams approaches mine
And as she pulls up close we share a glance
My heart awoke
The blonde in the blue T-Bird

Walter Egan: "Surfin' & Drivin'"

500 miles to L.A.
500 Miles to my home
When I get back to L.A.
Never again will I roam
Surfin' and drivin' are the only things I know.

Walter Egan: "When I Get My Wheels"

When I get my wheels
Won't see me around
When I get my wheel
Gonna be freeway bound.

England Dan and John Ford Coley: "New Jersey"

Black skies above me
And the concrete down below my feet
At night I'm blinded by the headlights
And the mountain roads are steep.
Two thousand more miles to bear
And I'll be there.

Flying Burrito Brothers: "Wheels"

We've all got wheels to take ourselves away
We've got telephones to say what we can't say
We've all got higher and higher every day
Come on wheels take this boy away
We're not afraid to ride
We're not afraid to die
So come on wheels take me home today.

John Fogerty: "The Old Man Down the Road"

He got the voices speak in riddles, he got the eye as black as coal,
He got a suitcase covered with rattlesnake hide, and he stands right in the road.
You got to hidey-hide, you got to jump up run away;
You got to hidey-hidey-hide, the old man is down the road.

Fountains of Wayne: "Little Red Light"

Sitting in traffic on the Tappan Zee
Fifty million people out in front of me
Trying to cross the water but it just might be a while
Rain's coming down I can't see a thing
Radio's broken so I'm whistling
New York to Nyack feels like a hundred miles.

Fountains of Wayne: "Valley Winter Song"

Hey Sweet Annie
Don't take it so bad
You know the summer's coming soon
Though the interstate is choking under salt and dirty sand
And it seems the sun is hiding from the moon.

Aretha Franklin: "Freeway of Love"

Goin' ridin' on the freeway of love
Wind's against our back
Goin' ridin' on the freeway of love
In my pink Cadillac.

Free: "The Highway Song"

It was a long was for this high road
It was a far way from here
So we walked along the road
Just telling stories as we go.

Some Interesting Cars at the Beavercreek, Ohio Cruise-In, June 14, 2013:

I picked these three vehicles because they stood out as I walked the lot yesterday at the cruise-in. The truck and rod are really different, but I would not want to own them.  the 1954 Pontiac is overdone in my opinion for a Pontiac of that era. But to each his or her own!

Before there were stolen cars there were stolen horses and buggies: Use of post cards to disseminate information.

As some of you know, I am working on a book on stolen cars.  Very early on, insurance companies distributed information on stolen cars using the U.S. postal system. Note that in the above example specifics on a stolen team of horses and buggy is being sent out to police using the mail. Another example of continuity in history!

Friday, June 14, 2013

African American Auto Mechanics -- 1950s

Hi folks -- Kevin Borg has written the book on the history of  auto mechanics, but I can't remember what he said if anything, on black mechanics. Here is a photo of three mechanics, a late 1940s Oldsmobile, and late 1940s or early 1950s Ford.

Studebaker and Nash Automobiles in the Belgian Congo, 1953

Hi folks -- note the above image. The topic of the importation of Automobiles into Africa,perhaps outside of South Africa, remains a wide-open research topic.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Road Song Lyrics: Artists A-C

Aerosmith: "On The Road Again"

Look out pretty mama
I'm on the road again.

Bachman-Turner Overdrive: "Freeways"

Drivin' in a beat up car
The highway is long but we've come so far
Two thousand miles from home
We got to find someplace that we can belong
But, we know, the freeways in life
Are all pointing us home
Don't you know, nothing in this life means anymore
Freeways, freeways.

Richard "Dickie" Betts: "Back On The Road Again"

Back on the road again
Right back where we really always been
Same old hotel rooms
Back on the road again.

Richard "Dickie" Betts: "Highway Call"

Sometimes I feel so all alone
That ain't no place to be
I wish I had my feet under the table
A little child on my knee
Highway call
There's something in your song
Highway call
You keep me rollin' on.

Rory Block: "Gone Again"

Man, will you look at that sweet two wheeler.
Gotta keep moving on open road
Gotta keep moving on open road
All I see is open road
Miles and miles of open road
Keep moving on open road.
Gotta keep moving on open road
Gone, gone.

Brewer and Shipley: "Blue Highway"

People don't pick you up on the blue highway
Oh the blue highway is a road you travel alone
People sure ain't gonna look you up on the blue highway
On the blue highway just keeps leadin' you on.

David Bromberg: "New Lee Highway Blues"

You know that goddam road seemed like it went on forever
Exhaust fumes made our eyes turn red and swell.
With our clothes stuck to the seat and to our bodies
It was a stinking summer trip through southern hell.

Jackson Browne: "Nothing But Time"

Rolling down 295 out of Portland, Maine
Still high from the people up there and feeling no pain
Gonna make it to New Jersey, gonna set it up and do it again.

Jackson Browne: "The Pretender"

I'm going to rent myself a house
In the shade of the freeway.
I'm going to pack my lunch in the morning
And go to work each day.
And when the evening rolls around
I'll go on home and lay my body down.

Jackson Browne: "The Road"

Highways and dancehalls
A good song takes you far
You write about the moon
And you dream about the stars
Blues in old motel rooms
Girls in daddy's car
You sing about the nights
And you laugh about the scars.

Jackson Browne: "The Road and the Sky"

I'm just rolling away from yesterday
Behind the wheel of a stolen Chevrolet
I'm going to get a little higher
And see if I can hot-wire reality.

Jackson Browne: "Running on Empty"

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
Looking back at the years gone by like so many summer fields
In sixty-five I was seventeen and running up one-o-one
I don't know where I'm running now, I'm just running on.


Jackson Browne: "Shaky Town"

And I've followed those highway signs
And I've run down those thin white lines
Like those drivers this old road is all I call my own
That's a big ten-four
From your back door
Just put that hammer down
This young man feels
Those eighteen wheels
That keep turning 'round to take me down to shaky town.

The Byrds: "B. B. Class Road"

We're driving down the highway
Seven days a week
Looking for a number 1
Looking rather bleak.
Well, I'm a roadie
What a job being a roadie.

Canned Heat: "On The Road Again"

Take a hint from your mama, please don't cry no more.
Cause it's soon one morning down the road I'm gone
But I ain't goin' down that long ol' lonesome road all by myself
If I can't carry you, baby, going to carry somebody else.

Tony Carey: "Blue Highway"

I had a wife, she wouldn't keep me
Left a job, a living, and family
There was nothing to keep me, no reason to stay
Went looking for nothing down the blue highway.

Mary Chapin Carpenter: "Down at the Twist and Shout"

Well I never have wandered down to New Orleans
Never have drifted down a bayou stream
But I heard that music on the radio
And I swore some day I was gonna go
Down highway 10 past Lafayette
To Baton Rouge and I won't forget
To send you a card with my regrets
'cause I'm never gonna come back home.

Mary Chapin Carpenter: "Read My Lips"

A few more cigarettes now honey
One more jolt of joe
A couple hours past New York City
A few more turnpike tolls
One more minute away from you
Is a minute that lasts too long.

Mary Chapin Carpenter: "A Road is Just a Road"

A road is only dust and dirt.
On a lonely interchange
The signs all look the same
'cause a road is just a road
and a feeling's just a feeling.

No matter where you go,
from Waterloo to Wichita
A road is just a road
that the one you love is leaving on.

Mary Chapin Carpenter: "Stones in the Road"

And the stones in the road fly out from beneath our wheels
Another day, another deal, before we get back home
And the stones in the road leave a mark from whence they came
A thousand points of light or shame, baby, I don't know.

Marshall Chapman: "Leaving Loachapoka"

Going 90 miles an hour with her hair on fire
Running on a tank full of burning desire
She's heading out on highway number 29
Leaving Loachapoka, Alabama, behind.

The Collins Kids: "Hot Rod"

I found a real cute baby
she's a real swinging baby
And she says we'll go steady
just as soon as I get me a hot rod.
I'm going to take her for a moonlight drive
Across Mulholland Drive
Man I will be really alive
As soon as I get me a hot rod.

Don Conley: "Blue Highway"

Another highway, another heartache
Traveling man routine eight days from home
And all alone in the whining time machine . . .
On this blue highway
Between love and me
Nothing but blue highway
As far as my heart can see

Continental Drifters: "Highway of the Saints"

I'm driving down the Highway of the Saints
Keepin' an eye on a friend of mine
Who wishes no complaints
When all her strength had left her
And hope it become thin.

Alice Cooper: "Slick Black Limousine"

We're gonna fly ya ya yeah
Ninety miles an hour
Swervin' all over the road
Hundred miles an hour
My hand's on the radio
Baby's in the back seat
Bompin' all over the road.

Creedence Clearwater Revival: "Sweet Hitch-hiker"

Was ridin' along side the highway,
Rollin' up the country side.
Thinkin' I'm the devil's heatwave,
What you burn in your crazy mind?
Saw a slight distraction standin' by the road;
She was smilin' there, yellow in her hair;
Do you wanna, I was thinkin', would you care.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

An under-appreciated racing film -- Checkpoint, 1956

If you like sports cars from the 1950s and road racing, this film is for you! I ran across this film on Netfilx streaming, and despite its two star rating it did not disappoint -- actually it is a diamond in the rough. True, the plot is not the best, but the cars are the stars, and the highway and race scenes are simply as good as it gets. Further, the use of engine sounds really enhances the experience.  After watching this film, I could not wait to get in my 1971 Porsche 911 and enjoy the open road. Don't miss this film -- the last 30 minutes of the film and racing scenes are priceless!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

a 1957 Fiat Abarth

This car was also at the Friday night Cruise-In held in Beavercreek, OH last evening. It brought back some memories, going back to growing up in Kenmore, NY and a guy who rented an appointment in the house next to where my cousins lived. His Abarth was green, and all I can remember is this fellow in almost constant agony as he worked on the Abarth in the driveway.  I wonder if he ever got it right.  I doubt that he did..

Another Rat Rod at the Friday Night Cruise In

This is what I would call an exaggerated rat rod. The lime green wheels, front spring and engine detailing is hideous on purpose. Not my cup of tea.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

5 Practical Points of Electric Cars -- A Contribution from Liz Nelson

5 Practical Points of Electric Cars
Electric cars are becoming more and more commonplace now that the world is pushing for an energy crisis situation. In the early 2000s, GM dismantled the EV1s giving a variety of excuses such as there would be no interest in this type of automobile. A decade later, there are a hot commodity and many are joining waiting lists for vehicles such as those offered by Tesla Motors. Aside from the ability to function without a single drop of gasoline, what else makes these vehicles practical for daily use?

1. Battery Life - Currently, some of the best batteries for electric cars can allow a person to travel for 300 miles. To some, this simply doesn't sound like enough driving time. To put it into perspective, the state of Colorado is only 280 miles across. Unless you are planning a cross-country trip, 300 miles is quite a bit of in-town driving per day. This is aside from the fact that solar conversion kits can be adapted to constantly provide power to electric cars as they are on the road as well.

2. Grid-Less - Solar panels can be used to charge your electric cars while they are sitting at home. Instead of plugging them into the grid and spinning your meter, you can adapt solar energy and deep cycle batteries to keep your car energy-sufficient and charging throughout most of the day. With renewable energy sources available, the possibilities are near endless.

3. Gas Prices vs. Power Prices - Unless you are using a self-sustaining system such as solar arrays to power your vehicle, there will be a cost of charging it up. However, the cost for power is far less than it would be for the cost of ever-increasing gas prices. In fact, it would be beneficial for more people to drive electric cars for those who don't. When the demand for an item decreases, so does the price. If even 10-percent of people in your neighborhood owned electric cars, the price of gas could steadily drop.

4. Clean Maintenance - Most mechanics who have worked on electric cars commented on how it is a clean experience. As electric cars use very little in the form of petroleum-based products for continued usage, the undercarriage and engine compartment are virtually oil and grease free. No more pouring Coca Cola on your drive way to remove the evidence of an oil leak.

5. Speed - Electric cars can handle to road as well as gasoline powered ones can. In fact, the first generation of Tesla Roadsters can do 0 to 60 in just under four seconds. Unlike electric scooters that may have a top speed of 60, electric cars can hit the road with as much speed as their predecessors can. Using the same aerodynamics to promote gas mileage, these same principles can save on power usage.

There are many who argue about the battery life of an electric car forcing the issue of how impractical it may be. Could these merely be rants from those who are afraid of change or those who have vested stock in oil companies? Or is there any truth to electric cars being impractical? Currently, consumers have the option of purchasing a wide range of vehicles consuming various amounts of fuel. Will there come a day when the government steps in and puts an end to carbon monoxide-emitting engines?

This is a guest post by Liz Nelson from She is a freelance writer and blogger from Houston. Questions and comments can be sent to: liznelson17 @

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

One Way to Re-Kindle a Romance -- Best Western and the Garten Drive-In Poster Mural

A post from Ed Garten. Thanks, Ed!

What a delight, but in today’s e-mail I received a photo from the hotel chain creative design woman in Missouri who is using the Garten Drive-In Theatre photo as a wall mural.  But I was under the impression it was going to only be used in the lobbies of the Best Western hotel chain but – interestingly – it is being used in the “Romantic Get Away” rooms in each hotel.  See the attached photo of grandfather’s drive-in and with a king sized bed in front of it and in front of the bed they have the rear clip from a 1959 pink Cadillac – tail fins and all J

Note that the creator of this “love nest” bedroom has somehow done a photo shop and inserted a frame from an Elvis movie on the theatre screen with co-star Ann-Margret.  And, of course, there is the requisite hot tub over in the corner.  This is too good to be true!

As compensation for the use of the photograph, she told me she was sending me a “package” next week that would include dinner and two nights at one of the Best Western’s that will feature this romantic get-away room.   I showed the photo to the wife and she said: “You’ve got to be kidding?”  I told my wife that we could “go all the way” in the back seat of a Cadillac. 

When the woman sent me this today I looked at the photo and thought to myself “she is making this up.”  But no its real.

The last Drive-In in the Dayton,OH Area -- The Dixie Twin Drive-In, located in Harrison Township

Thanks to Ed Garten for the photos. according to Ed, the last Drive-In located in the Dayton, Ohio area. A popular venue for B grade films druing the 1950s and 1960s, the drive-in has been the victim of suburbanization, the growth of exurbs, and rising land values in once rural outlying locations. For a time it was one place you could take your date to "spark" away from community controls. That time has passed, as now community controls are lax, anything goes in teenagers bedrooms, and parents are often away from the house for extended periods of time.