I enjoyed reading the article on interurban trolleys in the Spring 1993 issue (“The Wrong Track,” by George W. Hilton). One of those trolley lines ran from Dayton to Springfield, Ohio, and passed the Huffman Prairie, a cow pasture used by the Wright Brothers in 1904 and 1905 to conduct their flying experiments to make their airplane a practical and useful machine. They knew that Kitty Hawk was only the beginning. One reason they selected this site was that they could get to it by trolley, since there was a station near where they lived, about eight miles out of Dayton.
They were at first careful not to have the aircraft flying when the trolley came by, but they soon found that almost no one was interested in what they were doing anyway. They were making history, unnoticed, along the interurban tracks.
R. G. Elmendorf
“The Wrong Track” shows one of many applications of technology to have had finite commercial lifetimes. As such, all technology is doomed from the start, including slide rules, the telegraph, and phonograph records, for instance, and those all served a useful purpose too.
Raymond M. Brach
Associate Professor of Aerospace
and Mechanical Engineering
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Ind.
The demise of the interurbans may have been inevitable, as the author repeatedly emphasizes, but was it all so simple as the story makes it appear? Why is there no mention of the consortium formed by General Motors, Firestone Tire & Rubber, and Standard Oil to buy up the interurban lines and dismantle them? Surely any complete study of these marvelous trains should deal with this sad chapter in their short history.
John R. Sterling
The editors reply . There was no such conspiracy to destroy interurban rail; there is a myth that General Motors put interurbans out of business, based on the misapprehension that the corporation bought and closed down Pacific Electric Railway, a network that G.M. had nothing to do with. Indeed, in the latter days of interurbans G.M. was a major support, relying heavily on them to carry freight between Detroit and other cities. The three companies Mr. Sterling mentions did own National City Lines, in the 1940s and ’50s; National City Lines owned several moribund city street-railway systems and converted them to bus lines as they failed—just as systems were converted in many cities where National City Lines never operated.
In your enjoyable and informative Winter 1993 issue, Michael Lamm (“The Big Engine That Couldn’t”) was inclined to poke fun at the failure of John Ericsson’s engine to do all that was hoped for it. But Ericsson was actually ahead of his time. He gave his name to an ideal thermodynamic cycle (isothermal heat addition and rejection and constant-pressure regeneration) that gives reversible-energy efficiency. The Ericsson cycle is being closely approached today by the intercooled-regenerated-reheat (gas-turbine) cycle being developed in Japan. It stands an excellent chance of becoming the power plant of the future.
David Gordon Wilson
Professor of Mechanical Engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Grounded For Good
I found the photographs in Jonathan Beard’s excellent article “The Air Force’s Attic” (Spring 1993) curiously chilling. My pragmatic side tells me that the Cold War was probably unavoidable and that these mothballed warplanes helped protect our freedom and deter World War III. But imagine if for some reason all those carefully preserved planes were forgotten and then discovered by some future archeological party thousands of years from now. Imagine their astonishment as warplane after magnificent warplane was dug up out of the blowing desert sands. And then imagine those archeologists trying to solve the mystery of why such a technologically advanced civilization failed.
Edmund H. Dohnert
The New Logo
You have a fine publication and I eagerly look forward to reading every issue, but I must say you’ve made a mistake with the new logo. The new cover looks slick. It generates no curiosity as to the contents. Fortunately, the contents are as stimulating as ever. Please don’t lose sight and change them too.
Joel T. Billingsley
The New Logo
I like the new cover. I often find myself relating information from your pages, and the name has been a mouthful to pass along.
The New Logo
Your old image had great character and caught the essence of our technological heritage. Changing your cover is like giving Cindy Crawford a nose job.
Leo J. Watts