Re: The steam era, 1960

John W Nehrich <nehrij@...>

I think that if Mike Brock does all the work of keeping the list going,
etc., he should be left alone to pick the cutoff date and to go beyond it
at times if he thinks it relevant (sometimes a discussion of a new
technology makes you understand more about the whys and wherefores of the
older - at least that what's I've found).

(Not to get off topic, but since I'm already sending this, and
there is all this blank space below.)

At the RPI club, we struggled for years over the definition of
"steam-era". We had a working concept, but it was hard to explain to
non-modelers what the significance was, and also why we weren't that
concerned with the 1840's. It was a book by James Kunstler ("Geography Of
Nowhere") which opened our eyes to the society-wide changes that were
going on, that had impact on railroads. After all, what would the choice
of the motive power at the front end have to do with the freight cars
trailing along?

We have started using the term "Downtown Century", to represent
the 100 years or so from the Civil War to the early '60's when the
downtown of a city or even just a village was the center of life. And the
reason was that this was where the railroad interface took place (mainly
the depot, but also the freight depot). It was the rise of mass
transportation using rails (railroads AND street cars) that led to the
modern idea of the classic idea of the city. And while it goes back to
the 1860's, it took a few more decades for the institutions to catch up
(office buildings, hotels, resturants, giant theaters, department stores).

And the bottom dropped out with the shift to individual
transportion - i.e., the auto, and the decline of the downtown to the
abandoned "inner city". (We keep thinking of the 1960's pop song
which extols the excitement of the area, a place to go just to be where
the action is - today most people think of the excitement of being
downtown would be not getting mugged.)

It started with the demise of the
trolley system
(Kunstler points out this was a deliberate act by GM, one of the oil
companies and a tire manufacturer, who actually were convicted of this,
and given a slap on the wrist years after it was too late.) And the
interstate highway system (and public support of highways in general
before) and the government's support of suburban development that would
eventually do in the railroads from their traditional role of carrying
everything to one of just efficient movement of bulk items. And freight
cars in turn shifted to reflect this specialized role.

So we have the peak of railroading by various measurements at
about WWI (and people who favor that era), and the "last hurrah" in the
'50's of traditional railroading,
whether you set the cut off date at 1960 or a few years later or earlier.

At least that's my thoughts on the subject.

- John Nehrich

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