This train of thought began with the penning of my monthly column, The Independent Thinker, that I write for Cars & Parts magazine. This particular column dealt with the fine line between eccentricity and visionary and how that line was often blurred during the infancy of the American automobile industry.
As examples, I noted the heated steering wheel available as an option on the 1917 McFarlan and the odd eight wheeled beast that was Milton Reeves ideal of the perfect automobile, the Sextauto. At some point this line of thought deviated to the evolution of society as chronicled through the changing costs of goods and services, how quickly something seen as being on the cutting edge of technology can become an historical curiosity, and the changing concept of transportation.
Take a look at these labor rates. Now, consider that when this card was mailed, a new Ford was $480, a very nice home was around $3,000, and $20 a week was a good wage. Now, consider that a top of the line Packard could set you back $4,000 and some change and the price for a Duesenberg started at around $10,000. Now, were these really the good old days?
By expanding the view we have of American society in 1930, we see that the average life expectancy of a man was just a shade under 50 years of age. We also find the Green Book for the Negro Motorist was a popular travel companion for a large segment of our society, at least if they hoped to find a motel or restaurant that would accommodate them.
Most major highways, including Route 66, were still graded gravel roads at best. In fact, Route 66 was not fully paved until 1937 and US 6 was not completely paved along its entire course until the early 1950s.
This morning I was evaluating the upcoming trip to Auto Books – Aero Books in Burbank and found another opportunity to reflect on changing times. In 1930, when the road over Sitgreaves Pass was still US 66, a main highway, a trip from Kingman to Burbank could easily be a twelve hour or more drive. Now, it is very possible to do it in five, dependant on traffic congestion, an aspect of travel that has not improved.
Years ago, I remember talking to a friend, a retired truck driver, about his adventures on this road. Don had started driving flat bed produce trucks from Los Angeles to Needles and Kingman in 1936 at the age of 17.
He said that with a load, twelve hours from Los Angeles to Needles was considered good time. Of course there was always at least one flat tire, so he carried two spares and a tube repair kit, and overheating, so he carried water for him and the truck. None of these stir fond thoughts of a Route 66 cruise across the desert, especially in July or August.
The flip side, the modern era, is not without its share of problems. Still, it is nice to know that in this day and age, and in this country, I have a wider array of choices than Don did in 1937. I can poke along old Route 66 and still make time on the interstate if need be. I can also savor the desert or insulate myself from its searing heat.
For me one of the great joys in this, the modern era, is that I am now old enough to be able to play “remember when” and smile when thinking about the good old days, that period of time stuck between 1960 and 1980. Isn’t life grand.
Its funny how this stuff works. When I was talking with Don, his picturesque language made it possible to feel the sun scorching the back of my neck as I labored to break down a tire along the road somewhere west of Essex. Still, he managed to smile and refer to that time as “the good old days.”