Route 66 News
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Route 66 News
From an historical perspective, the transition from stirrup and reins to throttle and steering wheel was a rapid one. The transition from carriage without a horse to climate-controlled cocoon took a bit longer but not much. Along the way were milestones that marked the quantum leaps in automotive technology that made this possible and also made possible the modern era where more than 95% of all employment is related to the automobile in one way or another.
In the beginning vehicles powered by electricity or steam dominated the urban landscape in America. An advertisement for the 1903 Jaxon gives a hint at why, “Steam is reliable and easily understood.” Of even more importance, there was no need to risk life or limb in cranking the engine. In 1911, that advantage vaporized.
From the very inception of the automobile inventors had devised means to eliminate the need for crank starting a vehicle with compressed air, springs, and even acetylene explosions. None was reliable and many were more dangerous than the manual crank.
In 1911, Charles Kettering introduced an electric starter activated by a short burst of power from a modest size storage battery. In essence, it was simply an improved and larger version of a similar device he had previously invented for his previous employer, National Cash Register. Kettering’s electric starter first appeared on the 1912 Cadillac but by 1916 almost every American automobile manufacturer, except for Ford, offered, or featured the device.
If one word were used to summarize America’s century plus love affair with the automobile it would be power. Moreover, if that word were made manifest in steel it would be in a V8 configuration.
Numerous American and European manufacturers have toyed with the idea since at least 1907. None, however, was reliable, cost effective to manufacture or maintain. To some degree, the engineers at Cadillac resolved many of these problems in time for the 1914 model year.
However, the engines were still expensive to produce and as a result were available in only the most luxurious of automobiles. An attempt to produce and offer a lower priced version in the 1918 Chevrolet did nothing to change that.
It would be the 1932 model year before the legendary V8 became available to the masses. The revolutionary process of casting the block in one piece that made this possible would represent the zenith of Henry Ford’s creative genius.
In retrospect, it seems quite odd to consider with all of the technological advancement made in getting cars to go faster between 1900 and 1920 there was little advancement in getting them to stop. During this period a variety of configurations – cables, wires, or rods – were used to improve on the carriage version of applying something to the wheel to make a vehicle stop. All, however, were trouble prone, wore unevenly and most always pulled to one side making a safe emergency stop almost impossible.
In 1918 Malcolm Loughead (later changed to Lockheed), a builder of airplanes, patented a revolutionary braking system in which fluid hydraulically transmitted equal pressure to all four wheels. In 1922, the performance cars built by Duesenberg were the first to offer this advanced braking system and in 1924 the Chrysler Six became the first mass produced American vehicle to offer it as standard equipment.
In spite of dramatically improved safety and ease of maintenance, several companies continued utilizing the more archaic systems. A few went so far as to brand these brakes as unsafe. By 1938 all manufacturers with the exception of Ford, and Crosley in 1939, featured hydraulic brakes.
Automatic transmissions, power steering, air conditioning and numerous components all contributed to dramatic changes in the automobile and society as a whole. However, one little item introduced quietly in some 1975 General Motors built vehicles transformed the industry more completely than any invention in the history of the automobile – the microprocessor.
As an option on some high-end models, that year a Motorola designed chip recorded distance on a trip. In 1978 they used a “chip” to control fuel flow, spark and combustion. From those humble beginnings has come a torrent of revolutionary innovation.
Memory seats and climate control, stereo systems and DVD players, digital instrumentation and all variety of system monitors are but a few. However, by far the most important contribution has been the ability to make an adjustment, redesign a system, or enhance performance with the mere installation of a new or different chip.
Short of an apocalyptic event that returns man to the Stone Age, it is difficult to imagine anything that could inhibit or destroy America’s love/hate relationship with the automobile. From that perspective, the changes and advancements in automotive technology that loom on the horizon are nothing short of exciting. However, for those of us who still treasure the freedom and independence that comes with being able to keep our vehicles going without the assistance of a technician this euphoria is most definitely tinged with a bit sadness as with the passing of an old friend.
Both fuels were usually stored in barrels and sold through the local general store in gallon cans or containers supplied by the customer. For obvious reasons this was a very dangerous way of distributing these products. However, as early as 1885 alternatives, such as a product marketed as the “Filling Station” manufactured by the S.F. Bowser Pump Company were available.
This self-contained unit featured a storage barrel, a hand operated lever connected to a plunger and an upright faucet lever. The primary shortcoming of this indoor unit was that, as late as 1905, the majority of motorists still needed to carry funnels lined with chamois or cloths to strain fuel into their tanks from five gallon cans.
Sylvanius F. Bowser continued improving his products and in 1905 introduced the Bowser Self Measuring Gasoline Storage Pump. The unit consisted of a secure wooden cabinet, which enclosed a metal tank topped with a forced suction pump operated by a hand lever. The pump was quite revolutionary in that it featured predetermined quantity stops, a vent, and a hose that allowed for the dispensing of fuel directly into the automobiles gas tank.
However, Bowser was not the first to address the needs of the growing motorist market. John Tokheim had evaluated the original Bowser system and found ways to improve on it. His first endeavor was a self-measuring visible gasoline pump patented in 1901 that became the standard for storage as well as distribution of gasoline.
This would be the same year Harry Grenner and Clem Laessig formed the Automobile Gasoline Company in St. Louis, Missouri. With nothing more, than a gravity fed tank and garden hose they began offering pull up service for motorist and established what may be the first gasoline filling station.
John McLean, sales manager for the Seattle district SOCAL, is credited for the next stage in the evolution of the service station, which provided incentive for the development of gas pumps and related equipment. Securing a location on a busy intersection next to the Standard Oil Company bulk plant in 1907, he mounted an upright cylindrical thirty-gallon tank on a wooden post. A valve controlled the flow through the flexible hose. Other innovations included a no smoking sign next to the tank and shelving for the display of Standard’s oil products.
Within a decade, curbside “visible” pumps, improved versions of that devised by John Tokheim in 1901, were appearing in front of bicycle shops, feed stores, garages, automobile dealers, hardware stores, and livery stables. Any business proprietor could have a pump and storage tank installed and begin profitably selling gasoline.
The visible register pumps had numerous advantages. It allowed the consumer to have a more accurate measure of the fuel purchased and by the 1920’s with the addition of dyes to the underground tanks; the new formulated grades of gas or brands were identified on sight easily. As an example Gilmore Oil Company sold Blu-Green gasoline brands, other companies used red or blue to designate premium grades and amber for the cheaper grades.
The success of his initial endeavor encouraged Tokheim to organize the Tokheim Manufacturing Company in the same year. Between 1911 and 1916, under his direction, the company pushed the evolution of the gas pump forward with speed. Listed among the innovative products manufactured during this period would be the Triune Electric Gasoline Pump, one of the first curbside pumps and the first to feature metered discharge in combination with an electric street light post. Another was the Triune Electric Filtered Gasoline Pump, the first known electric pump that used a flow meter and wet hose discharge nozzle constructed in the form of a curbside electric gasoline signpost.
By the late 1920’s electric meter type pumps were rapidly replacing the older visible register models. Loosely known as “clock face” pumps these units first were developed by Erie Meter Systems. Improved versions of these pumps by Tokheim and other manufacturers followed but the overall concept was the same.
Dominated the face of the pumps were two counting dials, one on each side. A large red pointer similar to the minute hand on a clock measured gallons in fractions. After a complete revolution, a bell would signal one gallon. A shorter black hand on the dial measured the total gallons pumped. Variations included a numerical counter that allowed the station owner to keep track of gallons pumped for the day and a glass “tele-gauge” mounted on the side that mimicked the visible register pumps, which helped customers make the transition to the new pumps.
The next evolutionary step in the development of gas pumps paralleled the changing face of architecture in business, namely the Art Deco movement. Introduced in 1933 these were the first pumps with a numeric computer. With the exception of exterior case, this would remain the basic design of the gas pump until the introduction of modern computerized pumps with digital face.
To a large degree, the development of the gas pump paralleled that of the automobile. In the beginning, both were the product of innovation and were simplistic in design. By the 1920’s both had become more sophisticated and both were now being designed rather than simply built. By the 1950’s flash hid the fact that on the inside little had changed. Today electronics have come to both making them more simplistic but yet more fragile and more sterile in design.
I know it is not heaven. However, in all of my travels, I have concluded that on earth it may be as close as we can get.
I love Kingman. Having lived here, off and on, for the past forty years I consider it my hometown. However, tucked away in the mountains along the southwestern edge of New Mexico is a little town that somehow magically becomes everyone’s dream town made manifest.
The difficult to swallow liberalism that would seem normal in a place such as Berkeley intertwines almost seamlessly with a frontier like atmosphere of ranchers and miners there. In the stores and on the streets Spanish is heard as often as English, just as it has here for more than a century.
Just as with the community of Prescott the historic district is vibrant and alive having never succumbed to the abandonment that accompanied the rise of suburbia and the strip mall. Yet the modern era is alive and well as made evident by generic palaces such as a super Walmart.
In the historic district you can grab a first rate Mexican lunch at a bargain price in a café that seems lifted from small town America circa 1950. Afterwards it is but a short stroll down the street to shop at a food co-op reminiscent of the Bay area circa 1969, to look for quality camping gear at an Army/Navy store in operation since 1946 or check into a fully restored turn of the century hotel.
If you prefer something more rural for the setting of your after lunch stroll there is the Big Ditch Park, a beautiful strip park on the banks of a small stream under towering trees just one block from Bullard Street, the main drag.
There is a thriving section of art galleries and a vintage watering hole, a near perfect time capsule of the neighborhood tavern southwestern style as it was about 1950. In addition, there are two fine museums, an indoor antique mall, and sidewalk coffee shops.
Open desert spaces, as well as numerous ghost towns, are just a few miles from town. Lakes and rivers in the nearby mountains provide many opportunities for the angler. More than 1,510 miles of trails wind through 3.3 million acres of national forest and wilderness.
If your lure to adventure is history, it abounds here in spades. There are mines that have been in operation since 1799 and a steakhouse in a saloon built in the mid 1860s. There are graveyards with towering monuments among the pines, cliff dwellings, and state parks with stone monoliths worthy of Easter Island.
Billy the Kid walked the streets here. His first arrest and first escape from jail took place here. His mother is buried in the Memory Lane Cemetery.
Teddy Roosevelt hunted on the XSX Ranch. Kit Carson worked as a teamster in the mining camps in the mountains to the north of town. Butch Cassidy laid low under an assumed name on the nearby WS Ranch. Judge Roy Bean, famous as the hanging judge who made his own law west of the Pecos ran a store in a rough and ready mining camp a few miles from town. At a resort built at a nearby hot springs the Chicago White Stockings, now the White Sox, held their spring training.
This wondrous little gem is appropriately named Silver City.