Tag Archives: history

Road trip!

Probably no one appreciated the value of a nationwide road system for quickly transporting troops and military vehicles more than Dwight D. Eisenhower. As a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel in 1919, Eisenhower headed up the Transcontinental Motor Truck Convoy of 72 vehicles and personnel. It was a cross-country trip whose purpose was to see how well heavy military vehicles traveled America’s roads. They didn’t travel very well at all. Trucks and tanks needed constantly to be pulled out of gullies or quicksand along the unpaved roads. It took them 2 months to travel from New York to San Francisco along the 3,400-mile-long Lincoln Highway.

https://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/eisenhowers-1919-road-trip-and-interstate-highway-system

https://www.google.com/maps/dir/New+York/San+Francisco,+California/@33.9202582,-134.3387145,3z/am=t/data=!3m1!4b1!4m14!4m13!1m5!1m1!1s0x89c24fa5d33f083b:0xc80b8f06e177fe62!2m2!1d-74.0059728!2d40.7127753!1m5!1m1!1s0x80859a6d00690021:0x4a501367f076adff!2m2!1d-122.4194155!2d37.7749295!3e0

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space

The Autobahn society

In 1913, a group of wealthy German automobile enthusiasts started building something new: a motorway—a road for automobiles only. It was designed for fast driving. You wouldn’t have to slow down or stop for horse-drawn wagons or buggies. It had four lanes—2 lanes for each direction with a wide median (grassy area) between them. It was called the autobahn.

The first 19 kilometer section near Berlin was experimental. It was a success!—a dream to drive a car on—and so through the teens, 20s and 30s the autobahn got expanded. It didn’t get expanded very quickly, though. Work stopped while Germany fought World War I. After they lost the war there was economic depression. For the many Germans out of work, the autobahn must have looked like a project for rich people who could afford cars. The autobahn was built a piece at a time, financed by local government or wealthy investors.

During that time of economic crisis, the Nazi (National Socialist) Party was gaining popularity. The party leader, Chancellor Hitler, at first rejected having anything to do with the autobahn. After all, the Nazis were supposed to be about helping the little guy, the guy who couldn’t afford a car. Eventually, though, Hitler recognized the propaganda value of seeing Germans at work on the motorway, making it seem as though the German economy were booming. He had himself photographed with a shovel wherever the autobahn was being constructed. Hitler also recognized the value of having a nationwide road system for quickly transporting troops and military vehicles (cue the ominous music).

https://www.britannica.com/technology/Autobahn-German-highway
http://www.german-autobahn.eu/index.asp?page=history

The History of Autobahn


https://www.dw.com/en/the-myth-of-hitlers-role-in-building-the-autobahn/a-16144981

September 4,1891 – The Autobahn designer is born


https://www.handelsblatt.com/today/politics/forgotten-victims-forced-to-build-hitlers-highways/23565576.html?ticket=ST-10699747-56oMPtRo1mMjfEKh6CGW-ap4
https://www.carthrottle.com/post/vr266r7/

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space

Gravel, tar and steamrollers!

I tried, but couldn’t draw a tarmacadam picture half as wild as this one from an old French postcard of road-builders on le Champs-Élysées.

In Scotland, John Loudon McAdam designed roads made of layers of crushed stone, which are then steamrolled. Edgar Hooley improved McAdam’s process by covering the gravel with hot tar. The tar kept the gravel from forming wheel-ruts, and protected rubber tires from the sharp-edged stones. This whole shebang is called the tarmacadam (tarmac) process. Streets in Paris, France were the first to get paved this way. By the late 1800s the United States began paving tarmacadam roads. Driving a Model T would be less bumpy—and safer.

 

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tarmacadam

What’s the Difference Between Tarmac and Asphalt?



https://www.magzter.com/article/Education/How-It-Works/The-History-Of-Tarmacadam

http://www.bbc.co.uk/nottingham/content/articles/2009/07/03/edgar_hooley_tarmac_feature.shtml

Here’s what a steam roller looked like—

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space

I’m clicking on all 4 cylinders this morning

Why don’t we drive steam cars today? What happened?

In a steam engine, a burner heats water in a boiler to create steam which pushes a piston in a cylinder. The burner and boiler are outside of the cylinder, so we say a steam engine is an external combustion engine.

A real simple diagram of 4 pistons pushing a drive shaft around.

What if you could put the heat and fuel inside the cylinder? That would be an internal combustion engine. Instead of just one, the internal combustion engine has several cylinders with moving pistons. Each cylinder gets a squirt of air and gasoline injected into it. As each cylinder connects with a spark plug, a spark ignites the gas and makes a little explosion. The explosion pushes the piston. The piston pushes a drive shaft. The drive shaft turns a car’s wheels.

Whew! Complicated, huh? But it works great.

https://www.carid.com/articles/how-does-internal-combustion-engine-work.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_internal_combustion_engine
https://www.britannica.com/technology/internal-combustion-engine
https://www.tuev-nord.de/explore/en/remembers/a-brief-history-of-the-internal-combustion-engine/
https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Internal_combustion_engine
This is cool. A rotary engine—https://twitter.com/intent/like?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1084506431850713095%7Ctwgr%5E&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.motorbiscuit.com%2Fthe-interesting-history-of-the-internal-combustion-engine%2F&tweet_id=1084506431850713095

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space

How a steamer engine works

Last post I wondered why a steam car doesn’t have a smokestack. Here’s what I think the differences are between a steam car and a railroad locomotive.

Here’s a simplified diagram of how a steam car engine works.

The locomotive burns wood or coal in a firebox to heat the water in the boiler.
The steam car uses kerosene or other liquid fuel that gets transformed into vapor through pressure. The fuel heats a burner which spreads the heat over a wide surface to heat the water in the boiler.

Here’s the burner. Kerosene goes in as a vapor—like the burner on a gas stove. The gas comes out through the little holes where it catches on fire.

In the locomotive, hot smoke and steam (from the cylinder) are combined and expelled through the blast pipe. They leave a vacuum behind as they shoot upwards which draws air into the firebox and makes the fire burn hotter.
In the steam car, the water in the boiler is contained—it’s under pressure as it becomes steam. The steam only leaves the boiler through a pressure-relieving valve or else it goes into a condenser as water, to be heated into steam again.

Here’s the boiler for a steam car.

I suppose there is an exhaust pipe for the burnt-up gas on the steam car but I didn’t see one.

https://kids.kiddle.co/Stanley_Motor_Carriage_Company

Historic Engines – Stanley Steamer


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanley_Motor_Carriage_Company

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space

Oh, yeah, we got your steampunk

The steam engine and railroad extended civilization’s reach. There was hardly a city on Earth you couldn’t get to by railroad.

It seems almost selfish and ungrateful to point this out, but…once you get used to the idea of traveling wherever you want, you start to think about traveling whenever you want. How much fun would it be to travel where the rails don’t go—and not worry about a train schedule?

Of course people still traveled on horseback or by horse-and-buggy. Horses need food and water, though, and they poop (that made a town’s streets pretty unsanitary). If you travel long distances, you’ll want to replace your horse at intervals so you don’t run him to death. There are drawbacks to long-distance horse travel.

So you think, why not use steam to power a personal car—like a small locomotive? There were disadvantages: the boiler needs time to heat up before you can use it. An engine strong enough to propel a car has to be big. Fuel (coal or wood) takes up space. You have to keep feeding the fire. You need gallons and gallons of water. Many challenges to overcome!

Nevertheless, there were steam-driven road-machines, and they were magnificent.

The Stanley Steamer

Jay Leno takes us for a ride in his White steam car—https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBU8IPyUyTk
And check out this baby—https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9FuCDRRb7k
Face it, the guy really knows his steam—https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Me8b0ed59s
I’ve been to the Pioneer Steam and Gas Engine Society shows in Western Pennsylvania and they are a blast! Maybe next year we’ll get our sanity back—http://pioneersteamandgas.com/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steam_car
Here’s everything you need to know about how a Stanley steam carriage works—http://www.stanleymotorcarriage.com/Parts/howitworks.htm
I must admit, I can’t figure out why there isn’t a smokestack. I know the steam car is using liquid fuel instead of wood or coal. Is it because the whole design is contained and under pressure? I guess that’s it but I would expect there to be some exhaust.
This article makes the case for stream-driven cars—https://www.carkeys.co.uk/news/why-does-nobody-make-a-steam-powered-car

Big old machines

Railroads go everywhere

Soon railways stretched across Great Britain, Europe, the Americas, India, Russia, Africa, Australia—the whole world. Travel became safe and affordable. You didn’t have to be an explorer or spice trader or soldier to wander to a new country. You could travel as a ‘tourist,’ just for fun. Railway lines from neighboring countries linked up with each other. Land-locked areas were connected with port cities. And the father of all science-fiction writers asked himself, “With all these improvements in travel, exactly how long would it take for someone to circle the globe?”—but in French.

History of the railroad in Europe—https://europeanrailroads.blogs.wm.edu/briefhistory-of-railroads-in-europe/

And Canada—https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/railway-history

Here is the fascinating story of railroads in India. Their railway system began in the days of the British Empire (the Raj). The railroad changed the country and saved many lives in areas struck by famine and drought. Food and water could be brought quickly to remote parts of India.

Timeline: 165 years of history on Indian Railways

History of the railroad in Russia—https://www.railstaff.co.uk/2015/09/25/history-of-russian-railways-part-1-the-tsars/
George Whistler, the American engineer brought in as consultant to the Tsar’s project, was James’ dad (James the guy who famously painted his mother. That James Whistler).

In both Africa—https://utahrails.net/articles/central-africa-railroads.php
and Australia—https://www.infrastructure.gov.au/rail/history.aspx
there was no unified vision of a continent-wide rail system. Different regions or countries laid track but each chose its own gauge (so some tracks were wide, some narrow) which resulted in regrettable setbacks. The railroads couldn’t connect to each other. Many lines had to be rebuilt. Some locomotives and cars were unusable.

Latin America—http://logisticsportal.iadb.org/node/4213?language=en
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Trochita
Paul Theroux wrote a travelogue, The Old Patagonian Express, about his journey from a Boston suburb to the south of South America, all by rail.  He wrote a similar travelogue, The Great Railway Bazaar, taking a rail trip from London to Tokyo (he rode the Trans-Siberian Railway—all the cars piped in loud, over-produced Christmas music ha ha—just kidding). I read these 2 books decades ago, and dimly remember some adult content so I shouldn’t recommend them to you guys until you graduate from high school. On the other hand…

…I can recommend Jules Verne. If you haven’t seen the movie Around The World in Eighty Days (the good one—Michael Todd directing David Niven and practically every character actor or celebrity of the day), read the book first. It’s the most fun of Jules Verne’s work. Both book and movie (yes, there are cringey moments from today’s viewpoint) are highly recommended by me.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Around_the_World_in_Eighty_Days
https://www.imdb.com/video/vi2559950361?playlistId=tt0048960&ref_=tt_ov_vi

https://www.biography.com/writer/jules-verne

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jules-Verne

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space

Simpler time

Loyal readers of this blog know that as you travel east or west, local time is determined by how far you are from the Prime Meridian. Each degree of longitude means 4 minutes of time difference. Wherever you happened to live in the United States in the 1800s, your town kept local time depending on when the Sun was highest—at noon. Your town’s time might be a few minutes different from the next town to the west or east.

That changed when the railroad connected the country.

Trains must keep to schedules! The boys in the railroad scheduling department didn’t want to pull out a sextant to know when the train would pull into the station in Grand Rapids or Medicine Hat or Lake Tahoe. They needed time to be simpler. So they dreamed up the idea of time zones.

“On November 18, 1883, America’s railroads began using a standard time system involving four time zones, Eastern, Central, Mountain and Pacific.”

That meant everybody in one time zone all kept the same time. If you travel over to the next time zone, you change your watch or clock by one full hour. A time zone represents 15° of longitude only roughly. Mostly it’s the states’ boundaries—not the actual meridian—that determine the split. If the state is too big to conveniently fit into 15 degrees, then county lines are used to define the time zone.
https://www.mapsofworld.com/time-zone-map/usa.html

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space

Steamboating

Robert Fulton was a portrait artist who had the good sense to get out of the art business and into something that made money.

American portrait artist and inventor Robert Fulton was fascinated with the possibilities of steam power. He had acquired some political and financial backing—and an exclusive license to run steamboats on the Hudson River. After designing a steam-driven submarine, he came up with a steamboat design.

“Fulton had immense success with his steamboat Clermont in traveling the 150 miles of the Hudson River from New York City to Albany in just over 30 hours. Fulton recognized the economic potential of using steamboats to move people and goods up and down the Mississippi and in 1811 the New Orleans became the first steamboat on the mighty river thus ushering in a new era of river transportation and a romantic period defined by sidewheelers and sternwheelers.”

Just as we saw with the opening of the Erie Canal, farmers and small businesses suddenly had an affordable way to get their goods to a big market like New Orleans—or from there to the rest of the world.

They built ’em even bigger than this.

If you want the real flavor of steamboating in its heyday, you can read Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi here: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/245/245-h/245-h.htm
What a book! Young Sam Clemens is taught to pilot a riverboat by the master, Mr Bixby. He encounters all the characters of that time and place, because literally every class of people rode the riverboat.

You can still take a cruise aboard a steamship today: https://www.steamboatnatchez.com/
or build a scale model of the Clermont: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=et3ZgVyi968
whose gear train really works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAVLH23qZcA

History of Steamboats on the Mississippi River


https://www.britannica.com/topic/Charlotte-Dundas
https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/theymadeamerica/whomade/fulton_hi.html
https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-steamboats-4057901
https://kids.kiddle.co/Steamboat

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space