Archive for April, 2008

Travelling By Corvair

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

America’s only car with an airplane-type horizontal engine!

America’s only car with an independent suspension at all 4 wheels!

America’s only car with an air-cooled aluminum engine!

This ad for Chevrolet’s Corvair from 1959 shows just how advanced the little car was — largely inspired by the Volkswagen, the Corvair put an ample air-cooled engine inside a compact body (although a bit larger than a VW), and championed it as the low-cost car of the future. Compare to the Corvair’s contemporaries of the late 1950s: big steel behemoths with cast-iron monstrous engines up front where they belong. The Corvair’s competition was almost entirely European imports like the VW, Volvo, and Porche, so Chevrolet was carving a new market for their vehicles, feeding American steel to the customers in need of a good ‘ol American machine, and something small and efficient for people looking for something more manageable.

The Corvair, as Mr. Nader will gladly tell you, was a victim of its advanced design — that fancy suspension in the ad was prone to causing catastrophic accidents, and the rear-weighty engine location caused steering issues for drivers. Deaths, sadly, result in distrust for the new technology, and despite a much-too-late redesign with the ‘64 models by ‘69 the car was done. Rear-engines in American cars never really went far; the Corvair was one of the last, although Pontiac (who had also tried a rear-engine with their Polaris prototype) went with a mid-engine in the Fiero, and Pontiac’s ex-designer John DeLorean put a rear engine in his DMC 12.

Leatherheads: North Dakota High School Football, 1930s

Friday, April 4th, 2008


Yeah, you could consider this a tie-in to the new movie Leatherheads (opening today across the country!), but it’s as good an excuse as any to show an old movie of leather-helmeted football I own. The video linked above was part of a very small film-reel from the late 1920s or early 1930s; it couldn’t be any earlier, because the buildings depicted weren’t around before 1927. The first 80% of the film is an Armistice Day parade, which, of course, sets the date as November 11th. The last few minutes of the film, however, shows the Fargo-Grand Forks football game that evening, held on NDSU’s football field. Not much is shown, however it’s probably the oldest movie of North Dakota high school football on the internet. Sure, it doesn’t have any George Clooney, but it’s real high school football, the way it once was: full of bruised faces.

Maurus Jokai In His Vineyard

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

Here we see elderly Maurus (on the far right) in his vineyard, surrounded by family and servants. Maurus Jókai — or, more familiarily, Jókai Mór, was one of the most famous Hungarian novelists. As with many novelists devoted to the love of their country, Jokai was politically active..eventually running afoul of the Habsburgs and fleeing to Russia. Twenty years later he returned, continuing to write but also assisting in the country’s new independence as a governmental adviser. Later in life, he lived in Balatonfüred, known for its beautiful villas alongside private vineyards — this is probably where the above photo was taken.

Now, we have this picture. We know it is from the early 1900s, but no later than 1905 (based on inspection of other photos in the Scrapbook). Jókai was well-known in the US because many of his revolutionary compatriots ended up here in the 1840s and 1850s, but the timeframe brings us to a more poignant point in Jókai’s life. In early 1904, at 79 years old, Jókai developed difficulty breathing and became greatly ill. On May 5th, 1904, he passed away. I would expect that the magazine article that this photo accompanied was a profile on the recently-deceased author, showing him in a setting other than posing for a portrait.

Fauna of the USSR

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008


To avoid appearing American-centric, here’s a map of the USSR’s wildlife from 1972. A decade or two after the USA wildlife map I posted a couple weeks ago, this USSR map comes from the pages of Soviet Life Magazine (see also) . It shouldn’t be surprising, but the similarity to our American wildlife is readily visible. Both countries cover similar climates, span comparably mountainous, arid, wet, warm, and cold areas, and were (geologically speaking) connected not too long ago. It shouldn’t be a shock to find deer, moose, bears, badgers, and so forth. There’s a few asia-centric critters here, such as monitor lizards, camels, and tigers, but compared to our mountain lions, alligators, and turkeys we locals tend to forget that rather exotic creatures live in our backyards. The USSR map seems to have far fewer critters than the US, but that accounts for American excessiveness: the US map has a lot of repetition; look around the edge of the map for a more accurate count, and we’d be about the same if it weren’t for all the different bird variants on the US map.

Street Railway Journal, April 1, 1905

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

On April 1 1905, railwaymen around the world were pleased to find this issue of Street Railway Journal waiting for them. The magazine contains news and photos regarding municipal electric railways, such as trolleycars — none of that high-falootin’ long-distance steam railroading here!

Industry magazines have been a moneymaker for quite some time; their market is niche, they can quickly provide demographics for advertisers, and since they’re quite often free, they’re guaranteed to get into the hands of the people advertisers want to see it. You can get free industry magazines, too: I get emailed offers all the time, because I signed up for one, and now they’ve got me. Stuff on chemical processing, digital-optical equipment, modern quality control processes, and internet technology. Those are today’s hot, up-and-coming technologies: in 1905, the world of short-line railroads was The Future. You may not realize it, but the industry is still around: subways, the El, metro light transit, they’re all evolved from the electric urban trolleycars of 1905. Following the progression of technology, the Street Railway Journal joined with the Electric Railway Review to become the Electric Railway Journal in 1908, and then the Transit Journal in 1932.

Where’s the rest of the magazine? I’m in the process of scanning it; it’ll be available here, and via LuLu like the Fallout Shelter booklet.