*click on photos to enlarge/photos courtesy of GM archives via Buick a Century of Progress press kit
As we stand on the threshold of the Great Depression Part II the phrase of the week seems to be “to big to fail”. I have heard this a great deal as of late, especially in regards to General Motors. I have but one question in response. When was the last time you saw a Studebaker, Hudson, Nash, Packard, or Hupmobile dealership? The demise of General Motors is a terrible thing to contemplate. The world wide economic implications would be staggering. Likewise with the resultant blow to morale. Still, the mere contemplation of such a thing speaks volumes about the state of the American auto industry as well as the nation. There was a time, less than a half century ago, when the very idea that the American automobile industry would not dominate the worlds markets was an unthinkable one. To imagine the very possibility that there might come a time when there was no American automobile industry was inconceivable. Thirty five years before this it was the American automobile manufactures that spearheaded an industrial miracle to become the arsenal of democracy. Jeeps, planes, and all manner of war materials rolled along assembly lines and from factories where mere months previously gleaming Fords and Chevrolet’s were built.
Trucks sold to the Russians through the Lend Lease program transformed that nations lexicon as Studebaker became synonymous with indestructible. Jeeps utilized in every theater and most every continent set the stage for the creation of post war workhorses such as Land Rover and Land Cruiser. In the decades before 1940 it was the American automobile industry that put the world on wheels. American Bantam was instrumental in the creation of Japan’s first automobile manufacturer, Datsun. In Australia Packard outsold Rolls Royce by a wide margin and in the early 1920s two of three vehicles in the world, including tractors, were built by Ford Motor Company. The lessons learned from the past depression seem to have been forgotten. Leadership and the can do American spirit that transformed the world appears to be a lost art in our state houses and boardrooms.
As we contemplate the ramifications of the demise of GM, or Ford or Chrysler, perhaps it would be wise to also consider what once made these and similar American companies the envy of the world.
*click on photo to enlarge/photos courtesy of Rock City and David Jenkins
Scattered here and there along the back roads of America are delightful time capsules from an era when the station wagon was yet to be replaced by the mini van and a family vacation meant road trip. Perhaps one of the most legendary remnants from that seemingly magical era is Rock City. http://www.seerockcity.com/Flash/index.htm Made famous through advertisements painted on road side barns from Oklahoma to Michigan this iconic attraction has survived into the modern era little changed from the time when the Edsel represented the latest and greatest offering from the Motor City. The most notable change I noted on a recent visit was that the city of Chattanooga was a much cleaner place and as a result you can really see seven states from the overlook. The history of Rock City is a fascinating one that predates the automobile by at least a decade or two. The first modern visitor was missionary David Butrick in 1832. His fascination with the stunning views from the summit and the whimsical formations of stone inspired others to visit the mountain citadel of the Cherokee. During the Civil War the summit with its commanding view of the Tennessee River far below became a hotly contested piece of real estate. The battles for control are counted among the most bloody of the entire conflict. The dawn of the century marked an era of new beginnings on the mountain as wealthy residents built fine homes on the slopes to escape the sweltering summer heat of the river valley. In 1924 Garnet Carter initiated construction of an exclusive residential development on the forested slopes in an effort to capitalize on the mountains popularity. Frieda, his wife, had a fascination for European folklore which led to the naming of the subdivision project Fairyland a with streets given related names such as Peter Pan Lane. This fascination also sparked an interest in transforming the rock formations that dominated the summit into a storybook garden with all manner of gnomes, goblins, wild flower gardens and winding trails. With the onset of the Great Depression the Fairyland housing project began to wither on the vine. So, Garnet Carter turned his attention to promoting his wife’s garden, an attraction that was already widely known throughout the southeast and that had opened to the public in 1932. In 1935 the now legendary barn painting advertisements were initiated and the rest, as they say, is history. Tens of thousands of visitors explore the mountain top treasure, wander the trails through Fat Man’s Squeeze and introduce their children to the goblins and gnomes hidden throughout the caverns every year. The legendary “See Rock City” barns are now memories preserved in black and white photographs but Rock City is a legend that lives on.