How to move your trunk: the improved Model T

Model T Depot Hack

Model T Depot Hack

The Model T Depot Hack t-shirt illustrates a Model T that was used by hotels or the like as shuttle service to the train station. If you could travel by train you could take a fair amount of luggage with you, and you might have it in a trunk, which is made for strength and security, not easy carrying. So hotels wanting to please their customers had a reason to provide this high-technology customer service.

The Depot Hack was a modified Model T frame with a box on the back for passenger seating. “Hack” is short for “hackney”, which was what we now call “taxi”, and the Owlshead Transportation Museum in Maine explains the connection between that and the “station wagon”.

This design was done for the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum, where the t-shirts are on sale and the museum sometimes gives Model T driving lessons!

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Men of the First War in the Third Dimension – Excerpt

The blog has been somewhat neglected for a few weeks, while writing a booklet: “Men of the First War in the Third Dimension” (now available at greatwarstories.com) about the Vintage Aero Flying Museum and how it got that way. It was fascinating to realize the museum is a result of three generations of a family that took opportunities most people had at the time but didn’t bother to take – opportunities to talk to the people who were there, who made the history. Below is an excerpt from the booklet, about museum director Andy Parks and his father Dr. James Parks.

Not everything exciting happened before Andy’s time. In 1968, while working at the University of Munich, Dr. Parks had taken the family to Czechoslovakia when the Soviet Union suddenly closed the borders and invaded. This was only a few years after the Berlin Wall went up literally overnight, cutting off people from friends, jobs, and even family. While the Parks family waited to see how or whether they could get out, Dr. Parks, ignoring the risks, took movie footage of the Russian Army moving in. One risk was that Communist border guards might discover the footage. A more immediate risk was that his wife would go crazy watching him put his family in danger. Yet the family stayed both alive and sane, crossing the border just behind a Mrs. Black, the ambassador to Czechoslovakia who was and is better known as Shirley Temple.

In the early 1980s Dr. Parks arranged several WWI aviation reunions. Two were especially memorable: the 1981 Aces of the First War reunion in Paris and the 1983 Final Reunion of the LaFayette Flying Corps in Denver.  It was a memorable time for Andy, who was now the age of a WWI pilot, and also had learned to fly. Though he lived with effigies of these men, and met some over the years, Andy had never seen so many of them in one place at one time. Even in their eighties, the pilots had a special quality that impressed him; he could see why they were pilots. Daredevils, yes; adventurers, yes; but not stupid. They were extra-ordinary. He saw how they lived life to the fullest in every way.

They also respected each other. During the 1981 Paris reunion, Andy watched a diminutive Allied pilot go up to a tall German, whom he poked in the stomach, accusing the German of shooting him down.  Sixty years after the fact, the German wasn’t sure how to take this. Then his former opponent stuck out a hand, saying he just wanted to shake the hand of the man who had managed to shoot him down. The two became friends.

The hotel for the reunion was sponsored by a Saudi prince. When the prince had to leave early and neglected to pay the bill, it was presented to Dr. Parks. To a Saudi prince after America’s oil shortage, $50,000 may have been small change. To Dr. Parks, a father of college-age children, $50,000 could pay for four years at an Ivy League university. Somehow Dr. Parks made ends meet until the prince remembered to send the check – a year later.

The 1983 reunion in Denver was for all the Americans who flew for France before America entered the war. But no surviving member of the original LaFayette Escadrille made it to this reunion. Knowing that the time for reunions was ending, the LaFayette Flying Corps asked Dr. Parks to preserve their history, and made him Honorary Member #9 of the LaFayette Flying Corps. It was an honor indeed: the eighth honorary member was Charles Lindbergh. One day Andy would be #24.



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German aircraft shoots down balloon, gets shot down

Ewan was up at the Vintage Aero Flying Museum yesterday, helping get ready for the opening Saturday, and heard there was some footage shot in WWI of a German aircraft being shot down.  And it turns out the VAFM has some pieces of the aircraft in that footage.

Also it turns out the footage is on YouTube, so Ewan was very impressed to watch this video and realize he had just been holding in his hand pieces of that actual shot-down airplane.

This video also shows how big (and ugly…) the observation balloons of WWI were, and how it was kind of spectacular to see one get shot down.  However, although it would seem shooting down a balloon would be the easiest job for a pilot, it was actually one of the hardest.  Balloons were at a known height, so it was possible to put a curtain of antiaircraft fire around them, through which an attacking aircraft had to fly.  Also, these balloons were so big the hole from a regular bullet was a very small leak.  They had to be set on fire with incendiary bullets, as this balloon obviously was. More details on shooting down balloons here, from Eddie Rickenbacker himself.

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Sturmpanzerwagen – the Imperial Crawler

Sturmpanzerwagen

Sturmpanzerwagen

In a weak moment, Ewan stooped to imitating the style of a certain popular movie series in order to point out that truth is stranger than fiction.  This vehicle, which Ewan discovered in his research for the Mark I tank t-shirt, was not manned by small beings in brown hooded robes who kidnap droids.  It held 18 Germans in World War I, and might have been pretty good at moving across a flat sandy planet, but wasn’t so good going across European countryside. It really was an imperial crawler, in that it was a tracked tank under the command of the German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II.  Its name was much more fun to say than vehicle names in a certain movie series – this was the feared Sturmpanzerwagen!

The Sturmpanzerwagen A7V was Germany’s somewhat belated (1918) answer to the Mark series of tanks, and only 20 were ever built.  The Germans stuffed 18 men inside this tank, along with engine fumes, noise, fuel, ammunition, and any other supplies.  Since Sturmpanzerwagens were hand-built, standardization was not one of their benefits, and their best off-road speed was 3 miles per hour. With a relatively high center of gravity and relatively low ground clearance, this could happen

But it is easy to laugh in hindsight, forgetting that at this point it was not even clear what tanks were useful for; tank tactics would not be sorted out until the following war. Meanwhile, the Sturmpanzerwagen was actually the most powerful tank of WWI, powered by a double engine and armed with either a 57mm gun or two machine guns. It functioned as a movable fortress, with armor far superior to the shirt that was all most infantrymen had to protect themselves with.  Read more about the Sturmpanzerwagen here.

WWI and WWII could reasonably be said to be Episode I and II of the World Wars; they were both fought across many continents, with many of the same players though not always on the same side. They were fought for some of the same reasons, and many captains from WWI were generals of WWII, and many soldiers of WWII were sons of WWI soldiers.

Available at the Great War Stories Gift Shop:


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Mark I Tank

Mark I Tank

Mark I Tank

The British Mark I was the first tank in combat; the first operational  tank in both the British army and the world.  It first saw service against the Germans at the Battle of the Somme in September 1916, but in what could be called a major metal recycling program, both sides eventually used the Mark series of tanks.

Most people associate tanks with WWII, because men like George Patton studied and thought about the uses of tanks between the wars and were ready in the next war to use tanks to their best advantage.  However, tanks were developed for the trenches and no-mans-land of WWI; something to defend the fighting man against the new and improved offensive weapons that had changed the nature of warfare.

The Mark I tank had a distinctive rhombus shape with tracks to get it across uneven land and trenches.  It came in a “male” and “female” version, according to the the type and mounting of the guns. The general name of the weapon came from trying to keep the development program secret; because those who asked what was being built there were told the construction work was for some water tanks.  The secrecy worked; the Germans were surprised and shocked by the first encounter, and the name “tank” stuck.

Early tanks did not have many of the features (such as a gun on a swiveling turret) we associate with their WWII descendants, but they didn’t have to; a large metal thing coming through the fog that bullets wouldn’t stop and which kept shooting at you was nighmarish enough to make frontline German troops break and run from the first attack.  However, the Germans quickly saw the advantages of the tank, and captured later tank versions, painted the Iron Cross on them, and sent them back into action.

The Mark I tank t-shirt is available at the National WWI Museum gift shop.

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Rose of No Man’s Land

Rose of No Man's Land

Rose of No Man's Land

Red Cross nurses served in many ways during World War I, but were immortalized for their work at the front in the poem, “The Rose of No Man’s Land.”

The calm, clean image would have been far from what nurses looked like after days and nights treating sick and wounded soldiers, their work broken only by a handful of hours to sleep. But to a soldier who had been in the trenches, thought he’d been killed, then woke up to find himself under the care of a compassionate woman, calling her a flower in the barren strip between the trenches was a high compliment to her courage and care.

The nurses were often very close to the front, sometimes exposed to enemy fire, and daily exposed to battlefield trauma, the results of gas attacks, lice, fever, and every other disease the soldiers suffered.  They spoke comfortingly to dying soldiers calling for their mothers.  They gave damaged soldiers a reason to want to live, doing more for them than the medical supplies available could.  They were shorthanded, short of supplies, and under great stress.  The dead from World War I included 296 Red Cross nurses.

At the end of the war and shortly afterward, Red Cross nurses assisted when the influenza pandemic hit, when medical personnel were so needed and so few that there were even cases of kidnapping.

Look for this t-shirt and more history about Red Cross nurses at the National World War I Museum gift shop.

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A waterwheel in a dry land

El Rancho de las Golondrinas

El Rancho de las Golondrinas

El Rancho de las Golondrinas in New Mexico shows, among many other things, how water mills were used.  We were impressed with the size and smoothness of the waterwheel.  It is much like one we saw in south England’s Weald and Downland museum (also a museum we highly recommend, but a bit far away from Colorado.) It is interesting to see that water power could be used in arid northern New Mexico as well as in a place as wet as England.

One does not think of molasses as a New Mexico product, but one exhibit at the Golondrinas museum shows how molasses was milled from sugar cane.  (You can read about how it worked on a family farm here.)

The last time we were at the Golondrinas museum, it was for a demonstration on adobe-making – we were considering an adobe wall in our front yard, and stayed around to talk afterward to the museum staff.  One interesting tidbit that came up was that a few hundred years ago, there was trade in the mid-Americas not only with Spain, but with Asia!  You don’t think of Chinese trade going east, and presumably it still wasn’t the easiest route to Spain, but what Columbus went in search of really did happen in spite of this unexpected set of continents inbetween.

Another interesting thing about the adobe lecture was meeting someone with a lot of experience in adobe – Holly Arnold Kinney, owner of The Fort restaurant near Denver.  She also stayed around afterward and was asking questions which sounded like she herself could have given the demonstration on adobe.  The Fort, which was built as a replica of Bent’s Fort, is a museum in its own right, and is in some ways (such as real adobe, not stuccoed cinder blocks) more true to the original than the current replica at the site of Bent’s Fort.

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Colorado Ski Train

Colorado Ski Train

Colorado Ski Train

Ewan is of the generation of Coloradans who remember skiing in the 1970s with the Eskimo Ski Club, which was closely associated with the Ski Train.  Ewan’s wife rode the Ski Train in the 1990s.  Starting from Denver’s Union Station, the Ski Train went through Arvada, passing not far from what used to be the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant, and heading on up into the mountains to Winter Park, a ski area founded by Tenth Mountain Division man Frank Bulkley.  Bulkley also suggested to the Denver and Rio Grande railroad ideas for running a ski train.

The Ski Train wasn’t the cheapest way to get to Winter Park, but everything about skiing costs money, and it saved sitting in a traffic jam on I-70 for hours both coming and going.  So counting the value of the wasted time, and not having to drive over the icy pass to Winter Park, the train was often by far the best value!  But the best part was the scenery – seeing a completely different view of the mountains (and Denver!) than the view from the highway, and having the time and big windows to appreciate the scenery.

Involving the railroad, the mountains, and skiing, the Ski Train was a symbol of Colorado’s history, and ran from 1940 to 2009.  However, reports of its death seem premature as it was brought back for a weekend in 2015 and efforts to bring it back permanently continue.

Look for this t-shirt design at the Colorado Railroad Museum, and for related items at Historyonashirt on Etsy.

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Tenth Mountain Division

Tenth Mountain Division

Tenth Mountain Division

During World War II, the US Army saw what Finnish soldiers did to the Russians and decided mountain troops were needed.  The Tenth Mountain Division was formed and it trained for mountain warfare at Camp Hale, at what is now Ski Cooper (not to be confused with nearby Copper Mountain) near Leadville, Colorado.

The Tenth Mountain Division fought successfully in the Italian Alps, destroying five elite German divisions. John D. Magrath, a 19-year-old in the division, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. The division was deactivated after the war, but later reactivated and is active today.
After the war, veterans of the Tenth Mountain Division were responsible for a large part of recent Colorado and Southwestern history, as they got heavily involved in the new ski industry, developing ski hills and lifts, running ski lodges, and improving ski equipment. – not to mention co-founding Nike! The Vail and Aspen resorts, among many others in Colorado, were established by 10th Mountain Division veterans, along with Sandia Peak and Taos Ski Valley’s ski school in New Mexico. Winter Park and the Ski Train, as well as the Eskimo Ski Shop, existed in large part thanks to Frank Bulkley, who was creating a Colorado ski industry even before his time with the 10th Mountain Division.

Look for this t-shirt at the Snowflakes gift shop at Ski Cooper, as well as at the gift shops of the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum, Pueblo Weisbrod Air Museum, West Point Museum, and Historyonashirt on Etsy.

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Back soon….

Taking a break for taxes and other paperwork; hope to be back with more in March.

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