Steam Locomotives and Cars

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There is a museum in my town devoted to the photography of O. Winston Link (see here). He was fascinated by steam locomotives and spent years – the declining years of the steam locomotive – taking pictures of them, recording the waning days of these mighty, almost living concatenations of steel, iron and fire.Link 1

It was the late 1950s and steam and coal were rapidly being supplanted by diesel-electric. Winston Link knew the sun was setting – and time was of the essence.

Today, one only sees steam locomotives in museums – and in the black-and-white stills of O. Winston Link.

They are are longer living things.

One can listen to old recordings and hear the whistles and hisses to get some sense – at much remove – of what they were like when they were alive. But it’s an echo from the past, rapidly receding.

Few men are still living who know how to operate a steam engine. All those levers, all those pressure gauges. They are as impenetrable as the controls of H.G Wells’ time machine. A handful of septuagenarians possess the knowledge, have the skills – but they are fading from the scene. Once they are gone, all that will remain are the static displays, the photographs, the 2 pictures

The car is headed down this dead-end road to oblivion, too.

At least, as something more than a mere appliance. A disposable appliance fewer and fewer people have any emotional attachment to.

It is no great mystery why.

For the first time since the dawn of the car, the young are not much interested.

Here are some metrics:

* Since 2001, the average yearly number of miles driven by those in the 16-34 demographic has declined by 23 percent.

This is unprecedented in modern times. The young almost axiomatically drive more – or at least, they used to.

* 26 percent of young Americans in the 16-21 bracket don’t even have a driver’s license.

Also unprecedented. Most people over 40 today will agree that getting their hands on a driver’s license  – and the keys to the family car – as soon as their 16th birthday rolled around was one of the big events of adolescence.

Today, not far from 30 percent would rather 3

Or, ride a bicycle.

* In 2009, the 16-34 year-olds took 24 percent more bike trips, according to a National Household Travel Survey.

See here for a bunch of stats that suggest young Americans’ love affair with the car is not only over, it never even began.

So, how come? What’s changed?

Well, for one, driving isn’t much fun anymore. Just getting a license has become a huge hassle, courtesy of “graduated” license requirements that treat every 16-year-old as a presumptive moron (in preparation for a society that treats every adult as a presumptive moron) who cannot be trusted – in some cases for years – to drive at night or with others in the 6

That pretty much nixes using a car for anything other than going to school or work  . .  alone.

Forget dates, forget road trips with your friends.

There goes the two main reasons most teenagers want a car. They’re no longer freedom mobiles. No longer fun.

They are a hassle.

An expensive hassle.

Everyone knows about the cost of gas. It’s more than doubled since Gen X (my generation) was in high school back in the ’80s – when teenage kids with part-time jobs could not only afford to drive their own cars, they often drove V-8 muscle cars.

$20 to fill up . . . with premium.

But it’s not just the gas. It’s everything associated with cars.

Have you priced an oil change lately? A quart of oil approaches $5 – four times what it cost in the ’80s. Synthetics are closer to $10 a quart. The minimum wage, meanwhile, has not increased four-fold over the same period to 7

Tires – “cheap” tires – cost $75 a piece.

Vehicle registration costs are at all-time highs – as are traffic fines, which in some states (CA, for instance – the birthplace of car culture) can exceed $300 for minor offenses.

The death of a thousand cuts.

But these are mere incidentals.

The real money pit is the car itself. To buy it, to maintain it, to insure it. Because of what government has done to it.

Thanks to the Cash For Clunkers program, for instance, good used cars are scarce and so – expensive. Getting something decent – something mechanically viable as transportation – is increasingly beyond the means of teens and 20-somethings to buy outright. That means a loan. Which you won’t get if you don’t have a decent, steady and verifiable income (forget cutting grass on the side in summer). And the young are so saddled with debt already – $50,000 is the average unshakeable debt albatross hanging around the neck of every recent college graduate – that the prospect of signing up for more is about as appealing as guzzling an asparagus and sardines 5

New cars are also debt ball and chains – even more so.

Last year, the average price paid for a new car was over $30k – a new record. Not coincidentally, mandates from DC dictating new car parameters – how they’ll be built, the equipment they must have – are also issuing forth at a record pace. Cars are in a very real way not designed by engineers. They’re designed by bureaucrats. And we all know how much bureaucrats care about saving you money.

It’s true, of course, that one can buy a new car for less than $30k. But the point is it’s getting harder to avoid cashing out most of your savings – or signing up for 5-6 year debt indenture – in order to get behind the wheel of a car.

New or used.

Then there is insurance. Which you must buy if you want to own a car. Surprise, insurance costs have gone up by about 10 percent across the board since 2008 alone. Funny how forcing people to buy something tends to make it cost 8

But rising premium costs are not solely due to the mafiosi nature of insurance. Repair costs are through the roof, because materials costs have increased (a function of increased oil/energy costs) and also because modern cars are cosmetically quite fragile. They have unprotected front and rear clips covered by easily ripped rubber, with easily cracked and smashed plastic grilles and headlight “assemblies” that usually can’t be repaired and which often cost a small fortune to replace.

Even minor impacts – such as accidentally backing into another car while trying to maneuver out of a parking spot – can result in thousands of dollars’ worth of damage. If the air bags deploy, forget about it. The car will almost certainly be totaled if its pre-accident value was less than $5,000 – because the cost of replacing a couple of deployed air bags can all by itself put the tab close to the 50 percent of the car’s value threshold – at which point it is usually consigned to the 9

These costs bounce back at us in the form of ever-upticking premiums and deductibles. Even if you’ve never wrecked, the fact that it could happen – and if it does happen, the tab is likely to be high – means you pay more. It means we all pay more.

And the only way out – since we can’t say no to insurance – is to say no to the car itself.

Which is an easier and easier decision to make, especially for the under-40 crowd that will determine the automobile’s future . . . or lack thereof.

Because cars – because driving – is no no longer enjoyable. You’re hassled – and dunned – at every turn.

Older people still have the fond memories to compensate – and also (more so than the young) the resources to indulge. But the up and coming generations don’t have the great memories to sustain their passion, aren’t emotionally invested – and to a great extent, can’t indulge in cars for fun even if they happen to be so inclined.

And so, they are walking.

At least when you’re on foot, you don’t have to sweat cops demanding you “buckle up” at gunpoint. Nor do you need to spend years dealing with rigmarole to get your permission slip to walk. And you can – for the moment – walk at your own pace, as fast – or as slowly – as you like.

It is free.

You can go where you like, when you like, how you like. If the mood hits you, just pic

This is what cars once gave us – freedom. And don’t anymore. They’ve become the opposite of free. Everything about them is micromanaged, controlled, dictated. From their design to how we’re allowed to use them. We don’t even own the damned things  – not really. Not even if they’re “paid-for.” Because you’ll never be allowed to stop paying the insurance on it, or the property tax either.

Is it any wonder the car is going the way of the steam locomotive?

Throw it in the Woods?

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  1. This makes me take pride in possibly being one of few if not the only under-30 person who understands what a Stephenson link is and the beauty of the D-valve inside of steam chests that self hones. Of course, I’m a mechanical engineer nerd who collects pre-50s textbooks on power and steam systems.

    All that aside, I would wager the fun also left because the adventure is gone. A modern car is an appliance no matter what you do to it. Older cars, carb and early fuel injection cars, are an adventure to operate, even within the confines of the law, because you have to operate them, not merely drive drive.

    My metropolitan is an example of adventure. Keeping it running (it is not restored) requires skills developed and lessons learned, along with tools in the trunk and loads of experimentation.

    I figure once a bigger part of the baby boomers start kicking it and their toy cars end up for sale by children who have no idea how to maintain or even operate them, it will be a glorious time in the least for the few millennials who have an interest in them.

  2. I don’t think it’s just cars, it’s nearly anything that people have had a passion for in the past. I believe government schools drive this out. Any sort of passion, independence, or even higher intelligence exhibited by a child is crushed and the school recommends the child be placed on drugs. My wife’s child went through that (she said no to the drugs) and now his only passions are watching TV (often a movie he’s seen a dozen times before) and playing video games, although he will sometimes read a book for a change of pace. When he gets bored with those, he sits around waiting for “the day to end”.

    Our 16 month old will not be going through that.

  3. Loompanics – Michael Hoy

    On May 8, 2006, Loompanics stopped accepting orders. Several Loompanics titles are transferred to other authors.
    According to a WHOIS search “Martin Koot” of Phuket, Thailand secured the domain name “loompanics . com” on 21 August 2011 and has since posted some articles and ads from the old site.

    Last Earth Distro & FS Books acquired most of Loompanics back-stock
    Some titles are being reprinted by Paladin Press and Delta Press


    2003 Catalog Reviews

    “The word that best describes these rants, raps, outcries and artworks is
    anti-authoritarian. …you’ve probably got nothing else like it.” — Booklist

    “…the hairiest, most anarchistic and amoral, most challenging arti-
    cles… ideal reading for open minds, or minds struggling to open them-
    selves. . .” — Trajectories

    “…the best-aimed controversial pieces, many on subjects shunned or
    forbidden to mainstream media. Grr; heh heh, tsk tsk; more power to
    ’em.” — Whole Earth Review

    “Throw away your newspapers and magazines and execute a well-
    placed kick into your TV set.” — bOING bOING

    Typical Warez:

    FAKE I.D. We are very proud of this amazing section. It contains the most comprehensive and excellent selection of books on I.D., fake I.D. and related subjects ever offered for sale. (Pages 22 thru 38)

    FAKE ID BY MAIL AND MODEM by Trent Sands

    Thanks to the wonders of computer technology, fake ID is better than ever! ID cards such as driver’s licenses, Social Security cards, union cards, employee and student ID cards are so real-looking that only seasoned professional ID checkers can tell the difference!

    Loompanics Title Index

  4. We are not asked to throw ourselves into the fire. To take bullets for the future. All we are asked to do is to cease embracing lepers.

    If you are dedicated to a life of voluntarism, peace, virtue, reason, you do not have to go scrub your face against the power of the state like an old crumbly cheese on a cheese grater. All you have to do is say no! to the people who support you being thrown in jail by thugs in blue for following your conscience.

    It is not an act of self-sacrifice. It is an act of self-affirmation that is required.

    And it’s hard sometimes. We wish to hug the dead and think we have friends. We wish to sit around a table with people who want us killed for disagreeing with them.

    And we want to think that we are eating: not our children’s future. Or the hopes and virtue of humanity. But, you know, a little duck a l’orange and some mashed potatoes.

    But we are eating the future, and the children, with those who support the state. It’s not a meal that I want. And I would suggest it’s not a meal that you should accept either. The more you eat that, the more you die.

    There’s something called the Stockholm Syndrome which is where you fall in love with your captors. We bond with power, it’s the way you survive throughout history with those that have the capacity to kill us at will.

    You might want to look into your heart and see if you have: Livestockholm Syndrome.

    Ghosts Kneeling Before Guns – Stefan Molyneux – From 17 minute mark to the end of video.

  5. Dear Eric,

    Re: Ecologically Correct bicycle lanes and Bus Rapid Transit lanes

    The problem as always, is coerced political “solutions” to social and economic problems.

    I’m a car buff, but I also see a place for free market MRT, free market BRT, and free market bicycle paths. Only free market though. Never top down via government.

    The free market place is a metasystem with an astounding ability to arrive at optimal solutions to social and economic problems.

    Absent coercion, the free market place would have evolved solutions that do not sacrifice motorists to cyclists, or cyclists to motorists.

    The “public” nature of transportation infrastructure under statism kills these market based solutions even before they see the light of day.

  6. Cars? Gen-Z don’t need no stinking cars. We have our nose buried in our IPads and take virtual trips on Goog Earth. No time either, we are too busy flipping burgers and sending 3,000 text messages, pics and videos on our $120.00/Mo. Verizon devices while waiting for the mass transit bus.

    • That’s exactly it, Gary.

      There are still young people interested in cars – just as there are still people interested in steam locomotives. But it’s a small (and dwindling) group.

      Imagine yourself as someone born around 1995. Growing up with cars that – for the most part – have zero personality. You mention iPads. Quite so. No one is emotionally attached to these throwaway devices. When the next generation comes out, toss the old one.

      But then there is vinyl. Remember how we took care of our records? The tactile pleasure? The cover art? Those things endure; those things cause attachments to form. I still have a collection of vinyl dating back to the late 1970s, when I first began to buy records. I will always have these – and enjoy the physical interaction, the reality of a physical record, the hiss and skip on a turntable. Even though I also have an iPad – for the same reason I have a modern car.

      But I also have an old car.

      And no new car will ever be anything more than an appliance to me.

      • I am with you Eric. I love my 99 & 82 Honda motorcycles and old out of print politically incorrect books that are verboten on the Yahoo/ Google/ NSA Internet. But I also see the value in computerized fuel injection, a talking Garmin GPS and my Blackberry.

        • Fucking Garysco, it’s hard not to like you.

          Also @ eric. Vynal records? In our age bracket? Mang, you’re fucking weird. Vynal is Only something those a year or two older than us did.

          And, … I hate the empire.


          • Vinyl (and Bakelite before that) were OK except for all the scratches, clicks and pops while playing. It was always a search for the golden ring of tone-arms, ruby or diamond needles and such. 128 & 196 bit MP3’s kick ass by any comparison.

            But I do have a never ending fascination with the wonderful timbre that can only come from a warm and fuzzy vacuum tube radio & amp. No transistor chip ever made can duplicate that full sound.

  7. I am no more a fan of Lincoln than you are, but you are overstating your case. The benefits of the railroad network far exceeded any abuses in creating it. Do you seriously argue that the railroads should never have been built at all?

    How exactly would you have encouraged the quick settlement of the vast areas between the East and West Coasts to knit the country together? The technology available was the railroad. You say many people lost their money, their livelihood, their land, and their lives on account of railroad corporatism. Many, many more made money and good livelihoods, bought and settled land, improved their own lives and those of their descendants, and created communities.

    What choice was there to get the job done besides a certain amount of corporatism? The other choices were nationalized railroads like Imperial Russia’s, or exclusive regional railroad corporate franchises like those in Second Empire France. At least in America there were so many competing lines by the time the system was in its heyday that you often had a choice of lines and routings for shipping and travel.

    A cross-country journey in wagons took months and often cost lives. The transcontinental railroad reduced that to maybe a week by the 1880’s, and you could do it in reasonable comfort. Rate wars brought Kansas City – Los Angeles fares down to $1.00 at one point.

    Despite the bare-knuckle tactics of some of their promoters the railroads brought many more benefits than evils, to rich and poor alike.

    In any case, the destruction of the mature railroad network was an error for which the US is paying dearly.

    • There were railroads who got the job done without corporate welfare.
      Back in the day one could still do business like that without government and some people prided themselves on not doing it.

      • There was, in fact, a railroad built *at the same time* as the original corporatist railroads, connecting east and west with no government subsidies and no protected land grabs: James J. Hill’s Great Northern Railway, which runs from St. Paul to Seattle. It was notorious in its day for being *vastly* more efficient than the corporatist railroads, which intentionally laid track in horrible ways since they were paid by mile laid, embezzled government funds to a ludicrous degree (look into the Credit Mobilier scandal), and ran in odd patterns to suit the desires of the politicians who funded them.

        • May 1998 — In 1987, several railroad executives believed there was a better way to run a railroad.  After finding an opportunity to acquire a rail line, they mortgaged their homes, withdrew personal savings, and arranged additional financing to purchase a 2,000-mile Midwestern line, which they named the Wisconsin Central (WC).  Now, ten years later, their annual reports and numerous customer service awards have proved that a railroad can be managed to reward investors handsomely and also satisfy shippers.  Moreover, Wisconsin Central Transportation Corporation is not only managing an expanded version of its original line, located primarily in its namesake state, but recently made the bold decision to operate newly privatized railroads in New Zealand, England, Canada, and Australia. …

          Inevitably, the success of Wisconsin Central attracted the animosity of those who resent achievement.  The vultures were ready to pounce whenever misfortune struck.  And they did pounce in the aftermath of a train derailment caused by a broken switch in the small community of Weyauwega, Wisconsin, in March 1996.  Thirty-five cars derailed, almost half of them containing liquefied petroleum gas.  One car exploded, but the heroic efforts of the train’s conductor minimized the extent of the fire.  No one was injured. 
          Government agencies on the scene seized control.  The 1,700 residents living within a radius of two miles were forced to evacuate their homes—for 16 days.  Officious government bureaucrats, in a power play impervious to any rational  risk/benefit analysis, refused to allow the railroad to take steps that would have minimized the disruption to the public.  (A near riot erupted among some evacuees until government officials finally allowed them to return briefly, but singly and in full hazardous-material gear, to retrieve their household pets._  For its part, the railroad generally received praise and good will for its conscientious handling of the needs of the evacuees.  Over 97 percent of the affected residents and businesses settled with the railroad within months.  All but one of the remaining cases were settled out of court. 
          But the Wisconsin newspapers climbed all over the railroad, sensationalizing its safety record and operating practices.  The politically reflexive Federal Railway Administration picked up the cue, sending a small army of inspectors to the property to examine all aspects of the railroad’s operation.  Fines were levied against the railroad, primarily for nit-picking violations of regulations whose impact on safety was questionable. 

          Published in Fusion Magazine, Vol. 4, Issue 8, March 2009

          Ayn Rand once said that the purpose of her novel Atlas Shrugged–which tells the story of a U.S. economy crumbling under the weight of increasing government control–was “to keep itself from becoming prophetic.” She may not have succeeded. As a number of commentators have noted, the parallels between today’s events and those dramatized in Rand’s 1957 novel are striking.

          In a recent Wall Street Journal column, for instance, Stephen Moore observed that “our current politicians are committing the very acts of economic lunacy” that Atlas Shrugged depicted 52 years ago. In the novel, he points out, politicians respond to crises “that in most cases they created themselves” with more controls and regulations. These, in turn “generate more havoc and poverty,” which spawn more controls, “until the productive sectors of the economy collapse under the collective weight of taxes and other burdens imposed in the name of fairness, equality and do-goodism.”

          This certainly seems like an apt description of, say, the housing crisis. For decades, Washington promoted homeownership by people who couldn’t afford it: think Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the Community Reinvestment Act, tax incentives to buy homes, housing subsidies for the needy, among other programs. And when people started to default on their mortgages by the truckload? The government didn’t scrap its controls, but instead promised to bail out delinquent homeowners and irresponsible bankers and impose more regulations on all lenders (responsible or not).

          But what commentators miss is that Rand’s novel provides the explanation for why this is happening–and the cause is not some inexplicable “lunacy” on the part of politicians. The cause is our very conception of fairness, equality, and the good. “Why,” states the hero of Atlas Shrugged to the people of a crumbling world, “do you shrink in horror from the sight of the world around you? That world is not the product of your sins, it is the product and the image of your virtues.”

          In Rand’s novel, government puts the needs of the meek and less fortunate first. For instance, the Anti-dog-eat-dog Rule is passed to protect some long established, less-efficient railroads from better-run competitors. Why? Because it was deemed that those “established railroad systems were essential to the public welfare.” What about the superior railroad destroyed in the process? Its owner needs to be less selfish and more selfless. The Rule fails to stem the crisis, and the country sinks deeper into depression. But, wedded to the ideal that each must be his brother’s keeper, government imposes more burdens and regulatory shackles on productive companies in the name of bailing out the struggling ones–only to drive the country further toward disaster.

          Sound familiar? These are the same slogans invoked and implemented today. We must be “unified in service to the greater good,” President Obama tells a cheering nation. We must heed the “call to sacrifice” and “reaffirm that fundamental belief–I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper….”

    • Is it your place, then, to decide whose life is worth the most? I don’t consider it to be mine. I never denied that some people benefited from the railroads — clearly they did. Even government isn’t irrational enough to undertake a project that benefits literally nobody. And in your mind it’s okay to rob, displace, destroy, and kill, as long as you can soothe your conscience by declaring that some people benefited, and so that creates an improvement in some mythical calculus of “overall good?”

      I do not argue that the railroads never should have been built. I argue that, if they were to be built, they should have been built *peacefully,* just as I expect everything else should be done. Should I be able to tear down your house and put up a supermarket? Think of the benefit to your neighbours! Sure, it might suck for you, but many, many more people will have their lives improved. It will bring jobs and goods to the local community! Who can be against that?

      • Darien,
        If you will not make the decision, others will decide FOR you.
        Reach down and find your balls, sir.

        Because those who will make the decision for you (and enforce it as “the will of the people”, “the will of God/Allah”, “the public good”, etc – and they will enforce it with guns, with tanks, etc.)

        Those who beat their swords into plowshares, will farm for those who do “not.” – Thomas Jefferson
        And those who are willing to beat their swords into plowshares, are DECENT people.
        Psychopaths NEVER give up the ability to use force. (Not willingly, HA! AT ALL, they’ll cross their fings and promise, and grab an axe handle when you turn your back.)

        Because psychopaths will TAKE that ability, honorable people MUST decide for themselves – and ACT on that decision. That’s part of the reason for the Second Amendment – to prevent psychopaths from being the ONLY source of force – permitting psychopaths to run the country unopposed.

        Sad thing is: Like with guns: The only solution to a “bad guy” with a gun, is a “good guy” with a gun.
        The only solution to these psychopaths, is to be a little psychopathic ourselves.
        To be MEN.
        To be human.

        If we are perfect little fleshling automatons – we are psychopaths just the same, merely psychopaths of a different type.

        You can choose to be a follower or a leader. Leaders can work together; so can psychopaths, and make no mistake – they do.
        Followers can work with anyone… (The following? Anyone?)

    • “What choice was there to get the job done besides a certain amount of corporatism? The other choices were nationalized railroads like Imperial Russia’s, or exclusive regional railroad corporate franchises like those in Second Empire France.”

      – There were in fact many other choices consumers of that time could have selected.

      History of Rail Transport in the United States

      Even if there are no good choices available, one can always be a producer and bring a new choice into existence through ones own effort and ingenuity.

      Since you’ve come here, I’m assuming you’re not yet a zombie. Not sent by googul to maliciously bite into our flesh and to consume and devour us all.

      No, you’re merely blind to the mortal danger your fellow walking dead countrymen represent to you, and the urgency and peril you should be assigning to you and your loved ones current predicament.

      Make no mistake, the invisible predator ghosts gnawing on everyone and their progeny are searching for you and hungry to infect you as well. If you don’t learn how to see these monsters, and learn to speak out against them soon, it will eventually become too late for you. Your demise will be inescapable.

      Ghosts Kneeling Before Guns: The Story of Government – Molyneux

      – In my opinion, this video is Stefan Molyneux’s greatest video. At 19 1/2 minutes in length, it is well worth watching all the way to the end.

      • Dear Tor,

        Left a comment at the Molyneux YT vid:

        Bevin Chu
        1 second ago

        Molyneux is correct.
        In any age, the number of people capable of original thought is always vanishingly small.
        Most people flatter themselves.
        They say, “Had I lived back in the era of [fill in the blank], I would have defied the Conventional Wisdom!”
        Nonsense! They would have done no such thing. They would have been among the “walkers” in “The Walking Dead” shuffling along and mouthing socially acceptable mainstream platitudes.
        We know this because that is precisely what they are doing today.
        They lack the intellectual faculties to connect the dots for themselves.
        As a result, they sneer at the Non Aggression Principle and rationalize government coercion.

        • Sneer at virtue, and cheer at brutality. That’s people in a nutshell. Growing up employed in property maintenance since I was a young boy, I’ve seen the darkside of people considered to be great, and the brightside of others thought to be small.

          Here is a gem of a film I saw last night on TCM. It’s the tale of a simple mute French custodian. The story, music, and starring role performance are all courtesy of Jackie Gleason. Directed by Gene Kelly. It was released in 1962.

          Gigot – Jackie Gleason

          Though the film was drastically cut and re-edited by some nameless butcher at the movie studio, I found it a compelling and moving story.

    • “How exactly would you have encouraged the quick settlement of the vast areas between the East and West Coasts to knit the country together?”

      How does that make every kind of theft and coercion a “benefit?” If it was really right and good for people, it would have happened naturally over time.

      My father worked for the Great Northern Railway when it was being built across the north of the country in the early 1900s (he was born in 1887). They suffered every imaginable setback and problem in the course of that, but never accepted government subsidies or control.

    • Robert,
      I wish I had a good citation for this, but… LONG out of print. And I’ve been out of model railroading (ties in to source materials) for decades.
      “Offending” lines:
      What choice was there to get the job done besides a certain amount of corporatism? The other choices were nationalized railroads like Imperial Russia’s, or exclusive regional railroad corporate franchises like those in Second Empire France. At least in America there were so many competing lines by the time the system was in its heyday that you often had a choice of lines and routings for shipping and travel.

      That last line is incorrect.
      There WERE MANY, MANY, MANY lines…. Mostly small lines, local – and ALL on different gauges. Standardized gauge tracks are a “recent” thing – 1870s – 1900s or later.

      No RR company wanted another company’s cars to work on their tracks – it meant reduced fees, reduced income for the RR. So, each individual RR ran with it’s OWN track width (gauge), forcing interchanges between “competing” railroads.
      The smaller companies got consumed by the larger for a while, and ultimately, there was a standard gauge created… But a LOT of companies went belly-up in the mean time, through both fair means and foul.

    • Why was the rapid settlement of the Great Plains such a good thing? Ask the “red man” – and the bison, if they agree.
      If Thomas Jefferson had not abandoned his libertarian principles re: the Louisiana purchase, it would not have become an issue. Manifest Destiny – snort. It drove us all the way to Hawaii where FDR sacrificed his Navy so he could get Americans to let him (and draft them to) fight Hitler.

    • Insurance – for a 16-18-year-old – is commonly in the range of $2k annually.

      What kid can afford that?

      Some have parents who put the kid on their policy – even buy them a car. But that is probably a minority, simply because these days buying a teen a car of their own is an indulgence that more and more parents simply cannot indulge.

      So, the kid gets limited use of the parents’ car. It’s not his – so he has no attachment to it. No real interest in doing anything with it (other than using it to get to work, etc.).

      Much as I bitch about stuff, I thank the motor gods I was born when I was. For us Gen Xers, it was completely doable to own our own cars – paid for with lawn mowing or McDonald’s money. We were able to say no to insurance, too. Mandatory coverage was not yet all-but-universal in my youth – and even if it was technically mandatory, one could evade it simply because the system didn’t have the pervasive know-everything-about-you-in-real-time capability that it does today. One could, for example, simply check the box that said “I have insurance” and be reasonably confident they’d never catch you. Today, the DMV knows immediately if you cancel your policy. The DMV and insurance mafia are in bed together like Liberace and what’s-his-name.

      Besides all this, there is the graduated license rigmarole.

      What’s the point in having a car when you can’t drive it with your friends in it? Or at night?


      • eric, I have seen the teen and car play out forever. In Tx. it’s much cheaper to buy the kid a car(you don’t have to buy a new one as I told my sister who drove a POS and bought her prince son a brand new one), in fact, you need to buy a car without much worth and the insurance for that child to drive will save you bundles over putting them on your car policy. It’s probably a different story in other states although I do know other states where this hold true.

  8. @ Robert:

    Only government could take a railroad (Anthrax) and have it run three hours slower from NYC to Chicago, than you could do it in 1938.

    • Anti-Federalist: I don’t like “Anthrax” either. So let’s privatize the air and highway systems. Abolish Anthrax and let the private railroads get back into the passenger business, this time on a level playing field. Then we’ll see what’s competitive and what isn’t. By the way, the privately-owned Florida East Coast Railway is building a Miami – Orlando high speed line entirely with private capital and mostly on its own right of way. It should relieve some of that South Florida highway congestion and feed Disney World. If FEC is successful, you may see more private passenger rail operations even though the playing field is far from level.

  9. Car jacks, police searchers, insurance cost, blah blah blah. Beyond that I don’t think kids these days know much about the the workings of cars anyway. Actually they don’t know much about electricity, plumbing, ect. But that is another story.

    I also think the suburbs and ‘sprawl’ destroyed driving. I mean what’s the point you can drive from North of Boston to South of DC and never leave the city or city traffic. I have seen pictures of traffic jams in western deserts. Being from NY city the only fun I ever had in a car was when I rented one out West.

    FWIW, Elio motors seems to think it can sell a $7000 2 person fully enclosed and airbagged three wheeler. If it were real it might bring fun and affordability back to the US market.

    Or is it the second coming of the “Dale.”

    While on the subject of trains, if you are ever near Scranton Pa, check out SteamTown USA:

  10. Steam locomotives are magnificent beasts, and well worth seeing when they’re in operation in places like the Strasburg RR. They are indeed practically alive.

    The most advanced steam locomotives, like the streamlined Norfolk & Western Class J Northern in several of Link’s pictures, were able to give the first-generation diesels a run for their money, but the diesels won out. GM, after it acquired the Electro-Motive Corporation, built the best of the early diesels, and their gorgeous streamlined EA types even back in the late 1930’s could go 2 million miles between major overhauls. No steam engine could do that.

    Here’s the larger picture: The American railroad, and particularly the American passenger train, lost a rigged game. There was no way that the privately funded railroad companies could compete with the massively subsidized highway and air systems. Only 7 % of railroad mileage was built on land grants, and to compensate for that, the railroads hauled government cargo other than mail at half rate until 1946.

    What should have happened? The major highways, including the Interstates, and all airports plus the air traffic control system should have been built and operated as regulated private industries like the railroads. Had that been done, the American railroad network would not have shrunk from about 225,000 route-miles in the Fifties to about 140,000 miles now. The intercity and long-distance passenger train network would be 2 or 3 times as extensive as Amtrak’s skeletal network of about 20,000 route-miles now, and the service would be better, qualitatively and quantitatively, than anything Amtrak runs. Thousands of “city-pairs”, including many small and intermediate-size communities, would have good transportation links without paying extortionate charges for “Essential Air” local air services. Yes, people in a hurry would still fly, but many would prefer a rolling hotel to a flying bus. And I’ll bet our road-destroying trucks would be a lot smaller.

    Of course, many on the Left want all transportation to be publicly funded, as it was in the so-called social democracies of Europe before the Europeans figured out they had to start privatizing at least parts of their transportation system.

    Thanks for sharing these vignettes of a different time, and a different America, Eric. A lot has changed since the Class One railroads retired the last of their steam locomotives ca. 1960, and most of change was for the worse. I spend a lot of time looking at trains of the great era on line and in publications like Classic Trains magazine. One day I opened the magazine and was shocked – there was a picture of a freight train, with an open-sided automobile carrier! No corrugated metal sides, no protective mesh, nothing. The car-carrier looked just the way I remembered them right into the Sixties. How could this be? Until the late Sixties, people didn’t throw rocks at trains. Like I said, a lot of changes ….

    • You’ll have to forgive me if I am unsympathetic to the poor railroads for losing out to subsidised highways, since the railroads themselves were the original corporatist boondoggle. The politics of the late nineteenth century — thanks in large part to Great Father Abraham — were dominated by the interests of the railroads. Many, many people lost their money, their livelihood, their land, and their lives so the railroads could be built and the Republican party could get fat.

      • Post Civil War government subsidies led, of course, to an oversupply of track and railroad companies. Many poorly built and shady Railroads to Nowhere were hastily created simply to grab as much cash and land possible from taxpayers through Uncle Scam. To counter the resulting “cutthroat competition”, the largest players pushed for and received favorable regulation under the newly created Interstate Commerce Act – the first deadly spike driven directly into the heart of the mostly free market system at the time. Needless to say, the enactment was a textbook example of pure cigar smoke filled back room regulatory capture from conception and sold to the unwary public as needed legislation that would increase fairness, reduce cutthroat competition, and be in it’s overall best interest.

        • Don’t forget the gunverment enforced union contracts – featherbedding, etc. Those also contributed to the death of the RR.

      • I went looking for a specific quote to refute your point, and found an article….

        Politics are always the problem; Rand’s vision is only in presenting the issue in story form.
        It has existed since tribal days, forget even Mesopotamia or Egypt or Kush.
        We cannot survive without political actions; “politics” as it is, in terms of working agreements.
        But we cannot long survive WITH “politics” or Pull, or “power” over others.

        It’s an injection of greed into the system, and like any other bug, it produces bad results.

        If you build a better widget, or a cheaper widget, than the competition – that ALONE can make you a wealthy man. Combine them, there’s no competition.
        But if your competitor can then Influence your costs (IE, use Pull), the entire equation goes sideways – and 2+2 WILL EQUAL 5, for you.
        Zoning gets changed – you can’t produce there any more.
        Environmental laws come into play – you’re polluting the waterways.
        Minimum wage is increased. Labor is exported.

        Psychopathy reigns – and those psychopaths have government support, and are therefore sanctioned – and excused by the government. But respond in kind? They’ll squash you like a bug – and with as much care.

        So, kill psychopaths when you can…. “accidents” happen all the time. Funny, isn’t it, how a model rocket got attached to the car, lit off from the heat of the exhaust, and burned a hole into the fuel tank… Blew up the car, of course, because gasoline is so dangerous…. I guess psychopaths should give up driving (well, being driven)… 😀

    • Many railroads were subsidized or otherwise made deals with government, etc and so forth. Dealing with government is like a dealing with the devil. The devil will always get the upper hand in the long run. Furthermore with government politics are ever shifting in this regard of subsidy. Golden today, dead tomorrow.

    • Passenger service got a brief reprieve from slow death (due to the auto and airplane) with the advent of streamlined lightweight diesel powered trains starting in 1934. Burlington’s Pioneer Zephyr was the first of its kind. It ran between Lincoln and Kansas City. Had the mania for a ubiquitous interstate highway system not taken place, I’m sure that passenger trains would be at a much higher evolutionary level today.

      In 1950 147,511 miles of rail carried passengers. By 1971 the Amtrak system comprised only 21,000 miles.

      • Wasn’t the “mania for a ubiquitous interstate highway system” a result of WW2, where (1) the returning Vets all knew how to drive, (2) Congress viewed unemployed vets as a threat – so ensured lots of public works projects [only sounds like I’m putting cart before the horse].
        IIRC, school mandates changed around that time, too. Post-WW2 there was a huge influx of labor into a market that had been dominated by youngsters and women, at that time. Return of men into a suddenly-stagnant economy (no need for war production –> reduced demand, yields reduced wages, compounded with excess labor…)

        Fnny how it all works out – you’d almost think there was a plan behind it all…

        • The interstate highway system was built for 2 reasons: to remove people from the cities quickly in the event of nuclear attack, and to enable the movement of military equipment and soldiers around the country easily in time of war, or martial law.

      • Blame Eisenhower for the Interstate system. He had great admiration for the way the Autobahn allowed WW II Germany to survive the bombing of the railways that had shut them down in WW I

  11. Oh, and walking freedom…

    Maybe, but walking in any large or midsize US town in AmeriKa these days means that you are under total surveillance the whole time.

  12. My first car was a 1947 Ford coupe that I got – very used – when I was 16… can’t tell you much more about the technical details, except that it constantly hung up in second gear. You had to get out, raise the hood, jiggle the linkage, and then it would shift again until the next time. 🙂 I can’t remember that it was all that much fun to drive, but it got me back and forth from school and work. My mother complained about the grease on my clothes sometimes, but that was life in the 50s.

    My favorite car was a white N600 Honda, don’t remember the model, but I was driving it back and forth to work in the late 60s. I had a CB radio, and a big whip antenna on it. Each day, back and forth through a major mountain pass, I talked to the truckers who called me “SuziQ in the Mouse. It had one seat and two cylinders – a pair of hamsters would have given more “horsepower,” but it was fun to drive as long as I was very aware of how small and vulnerable I was. I hugged the right lane, and the trucks had to pass me going uphill. 🙂

    Now I have a 2001 Saturn four door, and hope it will last me the rest of my life. It’s a good car, but I’ve never been particularly attached to it. I never really enjoyed driving, so it’s just a way to get from here to there. 🙂 And, so far, it faithfully gets me back too. I think I finally got over enjoying driving in the least a few years ago when I had to travel 150 miles over black ice and in a snowstorm. Pretty much finished it for me. 🙂

  13. Anyone interested in a trip down memory lane — or rather, memory highway — should check out the early 60s TV series “Route 66”. Two young dudes in a Corvette traveling around the country, doing odd jobs, and of course helping folks solve their problems. All episodes were shot on location, so you get a view of America beyond what it was like out on the road.

    Route 66 is next on our agenda after we finish Naked City, my all time favorite police show.

    • I lived for a number of years in Barstow, Calif… right on Route 66. They have a museum there you shouldn’t miss if you like that era. 🙂

  14. Whoops, my mistake, I missed this line:

    At least, as something more than a mere appliance. A disposable appliance fewer and fewer people have any emotional attachment to.

    Yes, exactly right…nobody will sing songs about their toaster or washing machine either.

    • The last “new” car I felt anything for was the ’95 Mustang Cobra R Ford let me have for a week. Last of the 351s (Brent will know), last one to come without layers of technology and pre-emptive “safety” equipment. The thing didn’t even have back seats (really) and the carpet was really just a thin swath of felt. You could hear the headers ticking through the floorboards.

  15. You missed one other crucial item, the fact that you can’t tinker with or maintain much of anything on a new car.

    Not that there seems to be any desire to do so on a large scale. I’ve met too many young men who couldn’t even change a tire. That belongs in the “societal feminization of young boys” thread.

    Not to mention the fact that, almost universally, new cars are soulless people pods, NOBODY is going to pen a rock and roll song singing the praises of their Prius or Accord.

    Moving on, as a self identified “train geek” and as BrentP already noted, there are numerous museums, historical societies and railroad fan clubs dedicated to keep the living, breathing machines of the steam era alive and functioning.

    In fact, Union Pacific just took possession of one of their “Big Boy” locomotives (one of the largest and most powerful ever built) and moved to their steam shops in Cheyenne WY, for a full restoration.

    This will be a joy to see back up and running again.

    I’m active with an org. that is working to restore Maine East Coast RR #470.

    And here is an interesting project at the University of Minn.

    So, we are out there, trying to preserve that heritage.

    At least until the EPA bans open burning of coal.

    The works of O. Winston Link, people, check them out, they are stunning.

    And thank you Eric, for addressing this subject.

    • I’d be one of those “young men who has no idea how to change a tire.” I really need to learn… after I actually learn to drive…

      • Hi David,

        If you’re interested in learning, hang out with friends who are into working on things/watch and learn. That’s free.

        You can probably also find course in basic automotive repair at community colleges in your area. These aren’t free, but – IIRC – they don’t cost a fortune, either.

        You could also just dive in. Any reasonably bright person who has patience, the right tools and a good manual (instructions) will find his way.

        • Eric, I took 1 of those courses early 80s. Cost $30 and I learned so much. Not to mention that in the class we changed out 4 ball joints and a freeze plug on the motor. The shop had up to date equipment. Well worth your money to attend one of these courses, esp. for beginners. And for men who are real men!!!

          • Agreed, to5!

            In my area, they also offer welding courses – a very handy skill to have and a money-saver, too. Instead of having to pay for exhaust work, for instance, you can no DIY – and (if you’re patient) as well or better than a shop.

      • Dear David,

        One of the very first lessons to learn is that when using any wrench, pull it toward you, don’t push it away from you.

        Not if you value your knuckles!

        Don’t ask me how I know this.

        “Pull, don’t push. When using a wrench, you typically want to position yourself so that you pull it instead of push it. This ensures you don’t bark a knuckle whenever the wrench slips off the fastener. If you do need to push a wrench, use the heel of your hand, that way if the wrench slips, you won’t hurt yourself.”

        • I had a motorcycle gear cut my finger down to the bone that way…took 10 days to scab over and a good bit of colloidal silver to keep infection at bay, but I did it with no trip to the doctor!

  16. I remember the permit days. Not allowed to drive non-family members, and no driving between 11pm and 5 am.

    What’s it like to have fun driving?

  17. First, there is a hobby of restoring and operating steam locomotives. They are very much alive. The group efforts even have sponsors. The train geeks keep these things alive. If you really want to see a steam locomotive operating just look up the train geek sites.

    And here’s a clover cam style video from such a run… Don’t know if the locomotive was steam or not but the linked article states the club operates one of a 100 operating steam locomotives in the country.

    Sadly a nice looking full size station wagon was destroyed by this driver who was clearly not paying attention.

    As to younger people and driving… there’s a number of other factors at play. I can probably safely mention it here, agenda 21. People are being conditioned to want to live in compact cities with their movements dictated by transit. They don’t want freedom any more. They want other to people to take care of it for them at the expense of someone else.

    I know out in the country you don’t see the big city anti-car politics but the city of chicago is having roads rendered near useless by these political forces. This weekend I drove 31st street east of the expressway to the lake. First time I’ve done this in years. It now has a protected bike lanes. Plastic sticks blocking off the bike lanes. Good traffic flow for cars has been destroyed and because of winter and the plastic sticks, the bike lane is unbikable.

    31st street wasn’t a beginner’s road for bicycling but it wasn’t difficult to bike on either. I’ve done it countless times, the last time before they put these stupid bike lanes on it. I now detour to 32nd street like I used to do before I had the confidence and skills to ride 31st. 32nd hasn’t been harmed. What I am pointing out is there is a perfectly good alternative route for people who can’t bike in traffic well, but these anti-car forces are doing this across the city. There newest thing is Bus Rapid Transit which reserves road space for buses, bus stops, etc.

    There’s an outright war on driving and drivers are being forced to pay for the other side as much of the funding comes from the taxes that were supposed to pay for the roads, bridges, etc or general taxes.

    • And don’t forget about the Illinois Tollway that was supposed to be self funding but whose toll collections have been diverted to support Pace and METRA. The cash price of tolls have quadrupled in less than 8 years, yet monies from the general fund are diverted to partly fund the maintenance of the Tollway. And the most insulting thing of all is that Waukegan Toll Plaza just south of Ill. State Hwy 173 in Lake County that costs $2.90, meant to mulct the unsuspecting motorists from Wisconsin or cause them to detour onto US-41, on which drivers are notoriously shaken down for “speeding,” “making a right turn on red,” or “improper lane usage.” The war is fought on at least two fronts: One being fighting to make driving so unbearable that people give up and foot it or bus it. The other being wringing as much cash from the curmudgeon hold outs that refuse to give in to the pressure to take public transit, bikes or walking. Welcome to the People’s Republik of Illinois. Not much better than the Union of Soviet Socialist Counties of Wisconsin. Gag me with a spoon!

    • Worse is when you do want to bike, they have a law that tells you to be on the road….hell NO!! There are blind clovers all over! It is actually illegal to bike on the sidewalk. None the less, I keep my rear on the side walk and get dirty looks from all the trendy bikers blocking traffic. Seems better that a bike hit a pedestrian than a car or truck hit a bike, but that makes too much sense for backward chicago. I am one of the old style cargo short wearing bicyclists when I am not driving the old K5 through the city which is a pain to find parking for- especially near clark and fullerton. The tight wearing types are the worst to deal with no matter how you are traveling; even by foot

      • Sidewalk riding is more dangerous and shouldn’t be done at anything faster than a walking pace.

        Hit from behind isn’t common and is usually due to an impaired/distracted driver or on purpose.

  18. Walking and bicycles, and “public transport,” work fairly well for city people, but is simply not applicable to those of us who live out in rural areas.

    So, one more thing to consider is the implied REASON – or one of many – for the demonization of the individual transport machine, however it is powered.

    Look up “agenda 21.” The people who think they own us want whatever remnant they decide to allow to live to exist at their total mercy and pleasure in tiny cages, stacked hundreds deep.

    Visit a commercial chicken farm for a vision of city living they’d like to impose.

    • Mama,

      You ain’t kidding.

      One giant, teeming Borg hive, under total surveillance: that is the future these people have planned for us.

      • And the solution to any disease is to kill the disease.
        Part of this is destroying plague-bearers…

        Understand that Agenda 21 doesn’t “apply” to us – we’re the population to be culled.
        The Al Gores (and GW Bushes) and Kofi Anans – THEY are part of those who should live.
        And the inept idiocracy, THEY must be kept alive – organics are FAR cheaper than robotic servants…

        Which leaves anyone who can think, or dream, or imagine, or even be EDUCATED – to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

        Hence… (Cue that same old song.)
        Screw unto others as they would screw unto you.
        But do it first, and make sure you don’t need to do it twice.


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