Lost Tracks

A streetcar fan’s photo album is a window opening on the vanished workaday beauty of Downtown

HOW ODD THAT THE STREETCAR, THANKS TO STAGE and song, should be associated with woozy precincts of Desire and the romantic coup de foudre , that moment when it’s grand just to stand with your hand holding that of your just met hut consenting fellow passenger. A second’s thought makes you realize that your imagination has boarded the wrong vehicle.

 
 
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The Case Of The Vanishing Locomotive

. . . and the birth of the railroad revolution in America. A mystery solved.

 

The transportation revolution of nineteenth-century America, and the opening of its interior heartland; the advent of large corporate enterprise, and the growing power of the profit motive; the building of the earliest railway systems, and the arrival from England of two steam locomotives, the first ever seen in the Western Hemisphere; the initial success of one of these, and its enormous fame thereafter; the unknown fate of the other, followed by its virtual disappearance from the historical record . . . Read more »

The Myth Behind The Streetcar Revival

Light rail was an attractive, economical, and environmentally sound technology— until the auto companies crushed it. That, at any rate, is what a lot of people believe, and now the nation is spending billions to re-create an imaginary past.

In a crucial scene from Who Framed Roger Rabbit , the murderous Judge Doom reveals a “plan of epic proportions” for transforming metropolitan Los Angeles. He boasts to private detective Eddie Valiant that his Cloverleaf Industries has bought the Red Car electric railway network so that he can dismantle it. Read more »

Confessions Of A Sports Car Bolshevik

What it was like to be young and in the front lines
when Europe mounted an assault on Detroit
with small, snarling, irresistible machines that
changed the way we drove and thought

WHAT’S THE POINT OF BEING A BOY IF YOU DON’T GRASP THE FACT that cars are the package excitement comes in? I certainly did. By the age of eleven I was the kind of boy who knew every Dodge and Hudson and Packard of every model year by heart, tore the car ads from the magazines, rushed to the dealers’ showrooms every October for the epic unveiling of next year’s longer, lower, wider wonders. Small Ontario towns had no Bugatti dealers.Read more »

Designer Of The American Dream

Bill Mitchell’s imaginings brought you the cars of Detroit’s ultimate classic era

THEY SIT LIKE RUINED VILLAS IN THE distant reaches of mall parking lots, in inner-city neighborhoods and backcountry towns, dressed no longer in bright colors but in gray patches and orange primer, the last Chevelles and Biscaynes, GTOs and Sting Rays, the dying echoes of the stylistic opera of Bill Mitchell.Read more »

The Emperor’s Pierce-arrow

When American cars ruled the world

THE CURRENT VOGUE FOR PUSHING TO SELL AMERICAN AUTOMOBILES ABROAD can certainly be called overdue. No one has seriously tried such a thing in generations. To make inroads on the number of Volkswagens in Mexico or of Austin Minis in France or on the sea of Japanese automobiles in Japan might seem unprecedented. But actually it’s just an attempt to recapture former markets. Read more »

Engine Of Liberation

What you owe your car (ending the tyranny of the horse is only the beginning of it)

THE AUTOMOBILE IS NOT AN AMERICAN invention. But an industry capable of manufacturing automobiles in vast numbers at prices the common man can afford most certainly is. And it is this invention that changed the world. Read more »

The Virgin And The Carburetor

When Henry Adams sought the medieval world in an automobile, this stuffiest of prophets became the first American to sing of the liberating force later celebrated by Jack Kerouac and the Beach Boys

Test-driving automobiles, Henry Adams discovered in June 1904, was “shattering to one’s nerves.” Trying out a Hotchkiss for purchase “scared my hair green. Truly it is a new world that I live in,” he continued, “though its spots are old. … The pace we go is quite vertiginous. Only men under forty are fit for it.” He was sixty-six, born in Boston in 1838, when railroads were replacing canals.Read more »

Westward On The Old Lincoln Highway

I had been driving across Pennsylvania’s hills and valleys for five hours when suddenly my destination for the evening appeared ahead. On a high, level clearing in the state’s mountainous southwest quarter, just beyond the immaculate little town of Bedford, stood the Lincoln Motor Court, a roadside lodging almost exactly the way it looked when travelers passed by in Hudson Hornets and Studebaker Land Cruisers. Read more »

Agents Of Change

You’ve probably never heard of them, but these ten people changed your life. Each of them is a big reason why your world today is so different from anyone’s world in 1954

For want of nails, kingdoms are won and lost. We all know that. The shoe slips, the horse stumbles, the army dissolves in retreat. But who designed the nails? Who hammered the nails? Who invented the nail-making machinery? Who figured out how to market the nails in neat plastic blister packs hung from standardized wire racks in hardware stores? • The house of history, that clever balloon frame of statistics and biographies in which we shelter our sense of tradition, of progress, of values gained and lost, is nailed together with anonymity.Read more »