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Spring 1987 | Volume 2 |  Issue 3

I wonder if James Blackaby may not have moved a little too fast from the shaving horse to the workbench in “How the Workbench Changed the Nature of Work” (Fall 1986). Yes, the joiner practices at a workbench, and some of the tools he uses have had adjustable stops and depth gauges for close to a century now. But has Mr. Blackaby ever tried to join a couple of one-by-sixes with only a joiner plane, perhaps using hardwood with an unfinished edge and a handsaw as a start? This certainly requires skill and judgment and a lot of patience.

With the advent of the power joiner, the tool operator definitely became a manager, but the transition period with the arrival of the workbench in the shop was certainly a gradual and subtle one.

D. A. Lammers Fullerton, Calif.

Report Card

Your “Progress Report” in the Fall 1986 issue asks, “How’re we doing?” You are doing great. I read your publication with delight, and some articles with nostalgia. I spent the earlier years of my engineering career in the shops and foundries of New England, and I can almost smell the hot oil and metallic odors of some of those plants while reading certain articles.

Those who have become obsessed with creative ideas and have had the tenacity, vision, intuition, and skill to pursue them to fruition have truly left us a rich heritage. Your publication is performing a real service in discussing these important accomplishments. Thank you.

Gilbert I. Ross Ross & Company Rye, N. Y.

Report Card

I am a professor of physics with a background in electrical engineering. As department head 1 have been reading your excellent publication, passing it around to interested faculty, and leaving issues where students can read them.

Your publication meets a need as I try to provide historical context in my courses (physics and electronics) so that students will have some appreciation of the history of technology. This issue is particularly interesting, especially “A Silver Streak” and “The Master Builder.” “Standing Up to Earthquakes” was an eye-opener—I realized how ignorant I was about earthquakes.

Charles Frederick Kellers California State University San Bernardino, Calif.

Report Card

Fall ’86 is a fabulous issue.

Mortimer B. Zuckerman Chairman and Editor-in-Chief U.S. News & World Report Washington, D.C.

Inventing To End War

Joseph W. Slade’s article on Hiram Maxim (“The Man behind the Killing Machine,” Fall 1986) is an excellent summary of the life of one of the nineteenth century’s most inventive and productive minds.

Two interesting facts about the widespread use of machine guns before World War I: (1) Many military men were convinced it was actually a humane weapon because its victims were killed quickly and battles would not last as long as those fought with smaller weapons. (2) It was believed that the machine gun would serve as an effective deterrent to future wars because civilized nations would hesitate to engage in military conflicts against such destructive power.

Of the inevitable use of the airplane in warfare, Maxim himself believed it would put an end to all wars among nations, because all modern means of defense would be rendered worthless, and the rulers of a country would be as vulnerable to attack from the air as the common soldier.

The idea of building a machine to make war obsolete is therefore not new. Perhaps our present civilization still has much more to learn from the lessons of history.

Raymond Frey Madison, N.J.

The Big Train

I enjoyed Margaret Coel’s article on the Pioneer Zephyr (“A Silver Streak,” Fall 1986), but some of her claims for the Zephyr and its progenitors duplicate the inaccurate, chauvinistic praise heaped on the train in its heyday.

First, Harold Hamilton was not the first man to put an internal-combustion engine in a railcar. The first such car was built by the North Eastern Railway, in Britain, in 1903. In 1904 a gasoline-engine Napier railcar ran over a thousand miles in the United States and Canada. The fifty-nine-passenger Winton-powered railcar of 1924 built by Hamilton’s Electro-Motive Company was not a unique example; it was part of an international trend.

The Pioneer Zephyr’s great run of May 26, 1934, was a magnificent achievement, breaking every long-distance rail speed record in existence. It was also responsible for raising the awareness of high-speed rail travel in a depressed, glamour-susceptible America. Did it really “put an end to the era of the steam locomotive,” as Ms. Coel writes? No, because by far the most miles logged on railroads are freight miles, not glamour miles, and the Zephyr was perceived as a glamour train, unsuited for the daily logging of freight. American railroads resisted the internal-combustion engine until another great demonstrator appeared: General Motors’ No. 103, “The Diesel That Did It,” which in 1939-40 ran eighty-four thousand miles on twenty Class I railroads in thirty-five states and truly put paid to the era of the steam locomotive.

Morton Grosser Menlo Park, Calif.

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