Editor’s Pick
FEBRUARY 4, 2009 5:35AM

Trains, Planes and Automobiles.

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images  My grandmother was born on November 4th in 1898 in her mother's home in Columbia, Missouri.  She lived until July 4th, 1991.   Her ancestors came to Virginia in 1654.  James and Letticia Bowling were married in Amherst, Virginia on April 4th, 1777, before he marched out the the Orange County Militia to take on Lord Dunmore in Norfolk, Virginia.  He marched home two years later, crippled and older than his young years.  Primogeniture was the rule in Virginia and when James and Lettie died, William, the oldest was the rightful heir to the plantation, such as it was.  The slaves were divided among the children and families were kept intact.  James, was the second son and he set out on foot, to the wilderness to find his future and fortune.

He settled in the far reaches of Columbia, Missouri.   Married, had five children, his namesake dying in Price's Army during the Civil war on the bloody banks of the Missisippi.  The family owned the first lumber mill, built the first bank, and when their house burned down, they started the first fire brigade.  They worked hard, didn't complain and only expected to survive this hardscrabble life that they purloined into a family of comfort and privilege.

Having come up the hard way, my ancestors were Bankers who were not loose with the money they were intrusted with.  They survived the Great Depression, and continued to grow a family that flourished.  My grandmother was a change of life baby.  Her brothers and sisters had families and she was called, "Sister"  an old Southern tradition that kept the Mother young and beautiful.

Her Mother had violet eyes and was named Ruby.  She married a General who adored my grandmother and they traveled the world.  My grandmother was at the Presidio when the great quake hit San Francisco.  Her father, being the Surgeon General of the Post brought the refugees of the burning city up to the Parade Ground in front of  his home and even gathered Enrico Curoso, who was at the Opera that evening.   My grandmother remembered sitting on a Large Oriental rug in Curoso's lap on the Parade Ground as he sang through the night.  He was afraid that the shock of the quake and the great fire would steal his voice.

As my grandmother traveled the world with her parents before she married, she lived in the Phillipines, Hawaii, Fort Leavenworth, and finally  Washington, D.C.   She witnessed the advent of automobiles, aeroplanes. (She had one beau who would fly down to the Plantation in Orange, Virginia from Langley Field outside of Washington with his friends in bi-planes to play a game of baseball, drink some lemonade and fly back before dusk.

She traveled on the worlds great steamers and trains.  Her father's chauffer taught her to drive in a steam driven racer.  She would still flood the engine as he had taught her when she turned off  her Karman Ghia in the 1980's.

She wore fur coats, drove Dusenburgs, and wore jewelry that would knock you off your feet.

She married a young dashing Colonel, who was in the Calvary during WWI and looked like Gary Cooper.  He went off to war with the horses, cassions and General Pershing.

What does any of this have to do with sustainibility and mobility.

I still believe that all of the wonders of flight, the locomotive, the automobile, space travel, and communications that my grandmother witnessed during her lifetime are what we need to return to to regain our vision of a future of bright and brilliant sustainable mobility.

I like the theory of Occum's Razor, "All things being equal, the simplist explanation is the best."

First: the Railroad.  Get rid of Amtrack...how long does it take to say, Hello?!  This is a unmitigated failure.  Privitize pubic railways and you will see a new surge of travel.  It is already a success between DC and New York.  Let us embark upon a new age of comfort, speed and put the kind of cash and effort into rail service that Eisenhower put into the interstate system.  Take a cue from Europe and Japan.  Durp.

Planes.  If we are flying them remotely over Iraq and Iran and most likely Debuque and Provo, why not move to even more efficient airframes, engines and even remote flights.  We must focus on moving into the twenty-first century with the same verve that we moved into the twentieth.  The new highways in the sky.  More private aircraft with systems that a monkey could fly.  After all if a chimp was the first in space...isn't the sky the limit.

My favorite, the automobile. I am a sinner. I live in the West where speed limits are high, and distances are great.  I love my big, fast American Muscle Car.  But it is a new model, and it is much more efficient than it would have been 10 years ago.  Granted,the  fuel needle drops precipitously when I charge off the line from zero to60 in 4.1,  but in fifth gear, which is, by the way, most of my driving, I get a very reasonable 25 to 30 miles a gallon.   But again, we can improve, and we will.

We are a peculiar people.  We want fast.  Whatever happened to the highly touted Segway?  A Crotch Rocket is much more fun.

I know I am light on the science here.  My brother is the Toolie of the family.  He flew off of carriers and double majored in mechanical and electrical engineering and now is a project manager for Raytheon.  His head is packed with fluid dynamics, fuel ratios, and he is a walking slide rule.  He is my baromoter for the future when it comes to problem solving.  He is, as Toolies tend to be, cautiously optimistic.

But I studied this country and the history that has given us the grit, the imagination, the fortitude, the grace under pressure to take the impossible and turn it into the next big thing.   We went to the Moon in six years with a computer as the old Commodore 64 that we played video games on.

Call me the eternal optomist, but let's get busy building again; using our collective genius, our grit and muscle, our John Henry hearts, our youthful leadership who has to step out and command the impossible.  Let us call on the Best and the Brightest again to lead us forward in a great new era of sustianable, remarkable and exciting mobility.  As Teddy Roosevelt said so succinctly at San Juan Hill, "Charge!"

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With our new administration, one that does not fear science, I have great hope! Your piece is wonderful, and made me do a double take at the line, "we went to the moon with a computer [as old as a] Commodore 64..." - my God, just think of what we accomplished when things were so relatively primitive!!