Monday, May 25, 2015

The Funnies - Life's Race (1904)

Life's Auto Race
Fifth Avenue at 3:50 PM
Life Magazine, November 1904

Happy Memorial Day!

Happy Memorial Day! Here's to our brave men and women, thanks for all you've done and I hope you are safe and sound no matter where you are.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Indy 500 - JATO

Dennis "Duke" Nalon has a name that sounds more like a superhero than a race car driver, but he sat behind the wheel of an Indy car in no less than ten races. Though his best finish was third place, Duke holds one distinction - he is (to my knowledge) the only driver to ever use a JATO rocket at the speedway.

In 1946 Duke mounted a 40 pound jet assist takeoff rocket to the rear strut of his car and, purportedly, attained a speed of 140 miles per hour on the Speedway's backstretch. It must have been something to hear when that rocket kicked in, a roar that probably shook the windows in Eagledale. In spite of the impressive speed, JATO never was a viable option at the track. For one it laid down a smoke-screen reminiscent of a James Bond thriller. Secondly, there's the pesky issue of the turns...nothing like going straight through turn three and into the middle of Georgetown Road. And lastly, you'd need to replace rockets throughout the contest making for less-than-interesting intermissions.

Duke also bears the distinction of being one of the lucky ones to get through 1949's fiery crash. A collision he survived by holding his breath and jumping out of his car while it still was moving (seen in the video below at about the 1:20 mark).

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Indy 500 - Eddie Rickenbacker

When you hear Eddie Rickenbacker's name, your mind turns skyward, borne aloft by canvas and balsam into the dawning of aerial combat. Rickenbacker was a Medal of Honor recipient, America's most decorated ace, and an emblem of those daring young men in their flying machines that inspired a generation to take to the skies. But when World War I came to a close and the parades were over, what's a flying ace to do? Well, quite a bit, actually.

On November 1, 1927, Rickenbacker purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, beginning a decade during which the flying ace would oversee improvements to the facilities. He continued to run the Speedway up until the beginning of World War II after which he sold the track to the Hulman family.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Indy 500 - What It Took in 1947

From the May 1947 issue of Popular Science, here's a glimpse at the anatomy of an Indy Car of the era. Yes, it was an era of carburetors and radiators, far from the cars that round the track these days. The Maserati mentioned in this article was the same one serviced by Cotton Henning who advised on the Hub Capp comic strip mentioned earlier this month.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Indy 500 - Speedway, Town of Tomorrow

Speedway, Indiana - the city of the future! Now there's a phrase you won't hear often. But, back in 1912, when the founders of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's private town was laid out, Speedway was taking a dramatic step. It was about to become one of the few cities in the United States to have an outright ban on non-motor-driven vehicles. Yes, Speedway was banning horses.

The reason? Progress? An eye toward the future? The elimination of animal waste? No, the reason was simple, Speedway was planned and paid for by the likes of Carl G. Fisher (owner of possibly the first automotive dealership in the United States), James A. Alison (inventor of the Allison Perfection Fountain Pen and co-founder of Pres-O-Lite, a manufacturer of automotive headlights and eventually president of the Allison Engine Company), Frank Wheeler (manufacturer of carburetors and founder of the Wheeler-Schebler Carburetor Company), and Frank Newby (founder of the Indianapolis Stamping and Chain Company and owner of the winning car in the 1912 Indy 500). It goes without saying that all of these men had invested their time and money in founding the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, what seems a little over the top is the fact that they decided a part of founding their own private town would be outlawing the humble equine.

On its founding, the Speedway City Hall was owned by flunkies and political appointees with a vested interest in the automotive industry. The people of Speedway would work for the automotive industry, in what essentially was a company town, and they'd be forced to buy the company's products.  In the end was this city of the future really that much different than a coal mining town in West Virginia? The answer probably is no, and even though the automobile rules America today, the men who founded Speedway weren't really visionaries so much as robber barons in the truest sense of the gilded age during which they were born, backward looking men intent on enslaving the people of their private toy-town to the turning of the crankshaft.

The Funnies - The Comet (1910)

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, May 1910

Halley's Comet visited our solar system in early 1910 and, like many comets, it visited fear upon the earth. In February astronomers had an opportunity to take a look at the composition of Halley's Comet using the recently developed technique of spectroscopy. A look at the comet's tail revealed the chemical thumbprint of cyanogen, a substance commonly known as cyanide. 

After astronomers announced their findings, and that the Earth would pass through Halley's tail on May 19, 1910, the New York Times ran a story which featured commentary by French astronomer Camille Flammarion in which he claimed that the cyanogen in Halley's tail “would impregnate the atmosphere and possibly snuff out all life on the planet.”

Panic ensued and in spite of the scientific community's assurances no cyanide would penetrate the Earth's atmosphere people rushed out to buy gas masks and "comet pills" for protection. It took six hours for the planet to pass through the interstellar wake of the comet. Nobody was poisoned or even got sick and we're left with the comic strip above as a memento.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Happy Mother's Day!

A 1948 Whitman's ad for Mother's day and a window into the inner workings of the American family. I don't know, but it looks like dad's kind of phoning this one in on this one. The expression on his face is a mix of "What in the hell is that?" and "I just got you a box of friggin candy, now you expect me to look at the baby?" He could handle Okinawa, but Sissy's dirty ditey, not without a flame thrower. 

Mom, on the other hand, has that demoniac expression so common in 40's ads featuring women extolling the virtue, satisfaction, and fulfillment of a life consisting of nothing more than home, hearth, family, and the occasional gin-soaked mid-afternoon bridge game. Give her three or four more years and you'll see her in new ads, wearing a psychotic grin and shilling chunky peanut butter or a new fridge.

Indy 500 - On the Wire (1915)

From the January 1915 issue of Popular Mechanics, a view of the wire suspension bridge that spanned the 80 foot width of the track from the pagoda to the grandstands at the start/finish line. The three-foot wide bridge was used by the flagmen and race officials during the race, an improvement from having the flagman step out onto the track itself to signal the drivers.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Indy 500 - Racing Days with Hub Capp (1949)

Sometimes you teeter on the edge of the larger world, tilting toward the vastness that is wider acclaim and then swaying back toward the warm confines of virtual anonymity. The best I can figure, Tom Ward experienced just that sort of career. He was an artist and cartoonist from the tiny south-eastern Indiana berg of Aurora, a quiet community nestled into a bend in the Ohio River closer to Cincinnati, OH and Louisville, KY than the state capitol and in March of 1949 when the story of his creation of the comic strip Hub Capp garnered a page in Boy's Life. According to the article, Ward wanted to become a race car driver and even worked in his father's auto garage, but eventually settled for penning a racing-based strip.

Just missing the draft and World War II, Ward attended the Cincinnati School of Art and eventually found his way to then Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Wilbur Shaw's desk seeking access to Gasoline Alley its driver and mechanic inhabitants. Cotton Henning and George Connor granted Ward access and, like many drivers and mechanics of that era, the cartoonist moved in as a boarder with a Speedway family.

The Boy's Life column goes on about the people Ward met in his season at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, nailing the life and lingo of the drivers and mechanics. On April 10, 1950 Racing Days with Hub Capp was copyrighted to appear in The Indianapolis Times, from there the racer disappears in a cloud of smoke and dust. How long the strip ran is a mystery, at least as far as the internet is concerned. I'll have to do more digging to find out the facts, maybe the library has a trove of Hub Capp to be delved into. Perhaps fodder for another racing season?

What I learned from the piece, though, is the value of hard work. Now it's easy to sit at a keyboard and punch in Google searches for this or that, it's even easy to start thinking of yourself as fairly well versed. I don't know, maybe we've entered an age where close is good enough, but do you ever find yourself asking if cops really talk the way they do on television? Do you ever wonder if there's more to the 1930's than bootleggers, gangsters, and breadlines? Nothing beats in person research. Getting out and doing the footwork, talking to real people who have lived the life you want to write about, can open new vistas and even teach you more than the lingo. It can let you into the psyche of your characters and point you in new directions. But we're talking racing, not writing, aren't we...

Friday, May 8, 2015

Indy 500 - Wilfred Bourque (1909)

Image from Indianapolis 500, A History - Volume I by Brian G. Boettcher

Wilfred (Billy) Bourque, a Canadian driver who primarily drove for the Massachusetts-based automaker, Knox, throughout his short career. He racked up wins and claimed the third race held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (actually ran on August 19, 1909. Later that same day he died in an accident during the Prest-O-Lite Trophy Race.

Some say Bourque glanced back to check on an approaching car at the prompting of his mechanic, Harry Holcomb, and others say Bourque's car lost a wheel, either way the vehicle ran into a ditch containing a drainage tile. Holcomb was ejected from the car, dying when his head struck a fence post, and sensationalist newspaper reports would say that Bourque drowned in his own blood, pinned under his car.

The end result, the AAA demanded the racing surface at Indianapolis be remade to do away with the numerous, dangerous ruts and that it be oiled and tarred for better traction. The specter of danger and death only increased the track's fame.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Indy 500 - Penn Line's A. J. Foyt Racing Set

In 1947 the trio of Albert Mercer, K. Linwood Stauffer, and Robert Faust came together, united by a love of modern model railroading. They had come to the realization that most of the model railroad equipment being produced was of inferior quality and lacking realistic detail. Penn Line used lead dies to cast their trains instead of the more common stamping employed by Lionel and American Flyer.

In the 60's Penn expanded into the slot car market, trying to bring the realism they'd brought to trains to the new market. Thus they produced the A. J. Foyt endorsed Indy 500 racing set. Reportedly it was a great looking, under-powered, flop. by 1963 the company had declared bankruptcy.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Indy 500 - Life's Campaign Against the Indy 500

In June of 1959, Life Magazine ran another sensationalist article decrying the Indianapolis 500 as a virtual carnival of death and destruction. It gravely waned patrons of the ever-growing death toll, pronouncing a "growing case against the race" and calling it a "Roman holiday", an apparent indictment of the 20 thousand-strong crowd that flocked to the track to witness racing's spectacle.

Life feigned quoting a 1919 issue of Motor Age, saying that magazine had stated "the cars are getting too fast", but failing to mention that the gist of that article was a call for smaller cars at the track, not the abolition of the 500 as a ghoulish blood-fest.

In 1959, when the article ran, there had been 41 race-related deaths at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That amounted to less than one death a year, a regrettable total, but hardly a bloodbath. Tilting at one of its favorite windmills, though, Life chose to make the Indy 500 out as a horrific festival of death in the American heartland, one worthy of denunciation in a national magazine.  At the same time, the magazine continued to take in revenue from ads featuring the race not to mention selling cigarettes which had been identified as a likely cause of cancer. But, we can stick to sports if we want. I don't have the statistics, but I'm sure more players had been killed playing baseball and football in the nation's gladiatorial arenas by 1959, but nothing appears on the subject in Life's pages. Then again, New York had its own football and baseball teams, it's always easier to tilt at someone else's windmill.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Happy Cinco de Mayo

I know, technically it's not a Cinco de Mayo card, but there aren't too many of those floating around so I've got to take what I can get my hands on! Anyway, hope you're having a great Cinco and indulging in a little south-of-the-border fun today!

Indy 500 - The Haynes Speedster (1922)

Here's the first in my quest to run down info on all the automotive companies shown in the Indiana tourism ad that kicked off the racing season, we arrive at the Haynes Automotive Company of Kokomo, Indiana. I touched on Haynes before, running an ad for their Light Six, but this is the first time I've hit on their sportier cars. Haynes released its Special Speedster in 1921,  a year before this ad ran in Motor Life. It embodied what we think of when we hear the term "sports car." A two-seater aimed at the club-going, golf-playing, young man about town. The Speedster was a romantic convertible with Spanish leather interior, as the advertising says, "the car you want if you want to go 75 miles per hour."

In 1922 Howdy Wilcox, the 1919 winner of the Indy 500, proved the Haynes Speedster was more than up to the claim, attaining speeds up to 80 mph. However what's fast on the freeway isn't so on the bricks. In '22 Wilcox finished dead last, the exact same position he started. I guess it's not so great to be turning in speeds in the 80 mph range when the winner's turning in laps at 100 mph!

I did a little searching for images of the Haynes factory in Kokomo and came up with this shot of the Apperson shop from 1894. It's interesting to see the connection between the auto world and the world of horses and buggies. Back in the late 1800's, most of the companies that would eventually turn out cars were making wagons of one sort or another and it shows in the Apperson shop. Note the spoke wheels and the wagon-style leather seat in the background. You'd never know it was an automotive shop if not for the gears in the foreground.

Monday, May 4, 2015

May Full Moon: Gasoline

It's May, a time when the air is filled with birdsong, the scent of flowers, and the sound of race least here in Indianapolis. What better month to dedicate to the 1913 pop song, Gasoline? Yes, I know I usually choose a moon-related song to feature for the day of the full moon, but it's the month of the Indy 500 and concessions have to be made!

The Indy 500's first running was in 1911, just two years before Paul Pratt and J. Will Callahan's Gasoline was released. It was a time when the automobile was transitioning from noisy novelty to mainstay requirement and, if you comb through archives of old magazines, manners books, and other media, you know the attitude toward all things automotive was less than appreciative. Knowing this, it's probably not surprising the lyric takes on a cynical tone:

"Gasoline! Gasoline!
Ev'rywhere you go you smell it,
Ev'ry motor seems to yell it.
Gasoline! Gasoline!
That's the cry that echoes thro' your dreams.
Gasoline! Gasoline!
In this land of milk and honey
'Tisn't love—isn't money
Rules the world, now ain't it funny?

Gasoline! Gasoline!"

Of course, gasoline isn't the drink of choice for today's Indy cars. In fact it's been a long time since Gasoline Alley actually dispensed gasoline. Still, it seemed a good choice for the month of may. Now in June I'll get back to the usually crooning at the moon...and hopefully find a recording to put on the site too!

500 Winner - Joe Dawson (1912)

May 30, 1912 was a newsworthy day. The president giving a speech at Gettysburg, Wilbur Wright passing in Dayton, oh and a man who probably passes as a racing unknown winning the Indy 500. Joe Dawson, a native of Odin, Indiana set a speed record of 78 mph in his win - today that's a speed that will get you run down on the freeway. Dawson was the youngest winner of the 500, a record he'd hold onto until Tony Ruttman unseated him in 1952. His career was a short one, spanning only three races between 1911 and 1914. He retired after a crash in the 45th lap of the 1914 race and I wonder if the horror of high-speed fatality turned him away from racing.

The Funnies - The Remedy (1901)

An evil and the remedy.
Life Magazine, July 11, 1901

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Indy 500 - Scoring the Race

Back in 1931, keeping track of the position of the cars competing in the Indianapolis 500 fell to a dedicated group of men seated in what used to be a symbol of the race, the pagoda. These photographs of the scorers and the clock they used come from the April 1931 issue of Popular Mechanics Magazine. An interesting article in that it focuses so much on the cost of racing. Probably a fact that owes to the ongoing hardship of the Great Depression.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Funnies - Special Kentucky Derby Edition (1922)

"Hang it! I thought you said that brute was gentle. He threw me into a lot of mud."
"That shows how gentle he is. If he was vicious he would 'a' saved you for a pile o' stones."
Life Magazine, 1922

Indy 500 - Indiana, Maker of the World's Finest Cars

I'm not sure about the romance of Indiana's automobile industry. In fact I'm pretty sure the words "industry" and "romantic" haven't ever been used in a combination that rings true. One thing is for certain, this 1904 ad from Collier's Magazine is the great granddad of the fliers, posters, and full-page ads the state's tourism board runs every May.

I'll admit it's not much of an ad to look at. All black and white with no spectacular graphics or interesting copy. Just a pedestrian blurb trying to wring a little more case from the race-going public's wallets before they headed home. For me the interest comes from the list of manufacturers at the bottom of the page. Not being a car guy, I found more than a few Indiana automakers I'd never heard of and that got me in the mood to look for them!

So, this May I'll be taking a look at some of the state's lesser-known manufactures of things which go vroom in the night (and day, I suppose). Raise the green flag on May 2015, ladies and gentlemen start your engines!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Happy National Barbecue Month

Ah, the month of May when the minds of all native Hoosiers turn to warmer weather, planting time, outdoor activities, and the opening of the Speedway. And with the roar of race cars will come the lovely fragrance of victuals sizzling over hot coals. Yes, May is National Barbecue Month, a time to contemplate that ancient sport of burning meat over some sort of open fire.

A couple of years ago I went in for a nice gas grill so that I could start smoking pulled pork on the deck. I know, I already hear the cries of blasphemy from the hot coal and smoker contingents, but give me a break I'm only a part time plein air chef! It's hard enough to find time to fire up the gas grill, let alone stoke up a smoker or spend a few hours tending hardwood charcoal. I do spend 8 or more hours minding my pulled pork and keeping the hickory chips in the smoke-box from bursting into flame. I figure that's good for an amateur.

Back when I started my quest for good, homemade pulled pork, I think I promised I'd report on the recipe I developed and (after two years of trial and error) I've come up with my personal recipe. The following recipe comes from a base I found online that I tuned up to match my preferences. I recommend that you look through what's available out there (and there's a lot of variations) and then make changes to suit your taste. The important point is that there is no one "right" way to do this thing. Pulled pork is a food of poverty, therefore one that is meant to take advantage of whatever spices and herbs the chef has on hand.

1T Garlic Powder
1T Onion Powder
1T Chili Powder
2T Cayenne Pepper
1T Kosher Salt
1T Ground Black Pepper
1T Paprika
.5C Dark Brown Sugar

You can probably tell that I like sweet-hot barbecue from the ingredient list! Put your dry ingredients in a zip-lock bag, zip it up, and shake well to mix. Then sprinkle your pork butt liberally on all sides, massaging the spices into the meat. I put the whole thing in a sealed container and let it sit in the fridge over night before beginning cooking.

Whether you smoke the pork (preferred) or cook it in an oven, the key is low and slow. You will want a temperature of 225°F and use a probe thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat. When you hit 200°F in the center of the roast you're done. Remove the roast from the heat, cover with foil, and let it rest a couple of hours before getting to shredding.

My current favorite way to eat pulled pork is to imitate a dish from Squealers, one of my favorite Indy BBQ joints (pay the west side location a visit, they're the best). Pulled pork nachos! This year I think I'll start working on making my own BBQ sauce to see what I can come up with. As always, I'll (eventually) give you a report!

Poem for May

The Merry Month of May
~ by Thomas Dekker

O the month of May, the merry month of May,
So frolic, so gay, and so green, so green, so green!
O, and then did I unto my true love say,
Sweet Peg, thou shalt be my Summer's Queen.

Now the nightingale, the pretty nightingale,
The sweetest singer in all the forest quire,
Entreats thee, sweet Peggy, to hear thy true love's tale:
Lo, yonder she sitteth, her breast against a brier.

But O, I spy the cuckoo, the cuckoo, the cuckoo;
See where she sitteth; come away, my joy:
Come away, I prithee, I do not like the cuckoo
Should sing where my Peggy and I kiss and toy.

O, the month of May, the merry month of May,
So frolic, so gay, and so green, so green, so green;
And then did I unto my true love say,
Sweet Peg, thou shalt be my Summer's Queen.

Quote for May

The world's favorite season is the spring. All things seem possible in May.

~ Edwin Way Teale