Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Romancing the Rails

by Connie Cortright

A couple months ago we went with our grandchildren to the California State Railroad Museum since our grandson is a huge fan of Thomas the Train. There were lots of Thomas's for them to play with, but the museum was very interesting for us grandparents to see as well.

We were able to stroll through a sleeper car, a dining car, and even a mail car. The kitchen area was miniscule, but we found out that the food they served from there was very upscale. I never realized what all could be accomplished on a train, rolling through the countryside.

Prior to World War I, rail travel was done for necessity. There weren't too many options to get across the country other than to board a train and ride for days. Railroad companies didn't have to cater to the passengers because they were pretty much guaranteed to have passengers all the time. They didn't think about making the experience a comfortable one to draw in people. Just equate that with air travel today...

However, during the 1920s and into the 1930s, the rise of automobiles brought down the number of passengers willing to ride uncomfortable trains. To lure passengers back toward train travel, railroad companies started focusing on improving technology. A lightweight Streamliner passenger train was built and put into service to increase speed and efficiency which cut down on the travel time between cities.

Railroad executives also focused on passenger comfort. During the 30s, the first-class travel included luxury seating where passengers could lounge and be served drinks from the full service bar by uniformed steward who catered to your every desire. Dining cars, decorated as plush as any fancy restaurant, had the tables set up with crystal and china on a linen covered table. Chefs cooked gourmet meals, even baking fresh bread on longer trips. Would be nice to get this service on airplanes, right?

Trains were some of the first places to have air conditioning available for the passengers. By the end of the 1920s, some trains blew air over large blocks of ice to cool down the passenger compartments. Later on mechanical air conditioners were added to trains making all the compartments more comfortable.

The height of train travel was during the 1940 war years. With the gas rationing throughout the country, people turned to rail to get from one location to another. More people traveled by rail from 1941 to 1947 than any other time in history. After that time, train travel has been replaced by automobiles on improved roads and air travel.

This might makes us nostalgic for the good ol' days of train travel, but  this luxurious means of transportation was not for all passengers. Many people could not afford to sit it in the fancy first class and had to travel with smoke and cinders blowing in through the open windows. Sounds more like our air travel today - not too comfy.

Oh well, we can wish for the past, but most of us probably wouldn't have been able to afford riding in first class anyway. Now we're all resigned to taking off our shoes at the airport and getting our body scan just to go to see our family who lives in another state. Things aren't always greener on the other side of the fence.

Information taken from Union Pacific Passenger Trains and Rail Transport in the 1930s.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Playtime During Wartime - Toys of WWII

    by Terri Wangard

    World War II required rationing of many things considered critical to the war effort, including iron, steel, zinc, and rayon. The War Production Board prohibited the production of toys containing more than seven percent of their weight in those materials. Already manufactured toys overweight with that content could be sold until June 30, 1942.
    Children were caught up in the war like their parents, but theirs was a different kind of war. They might play war games, nobody died for real, and no battles were lost. They hauled their wagons through their neighborhoods, collecting paper, metal, and rubber to be recycled into war material. Surrendering their metal toys to scrap metal drives was encouraged.
    What were children to play with?
    By 1940, war had begun in Europe and Asia, and America quietly began preparing for war, too. Toys came out with military themes. In 1940 and 1941, they were made of metal. Beginning in 1942, paper became dominant.
    No German planes bombed the United States, and only one Japanese pilot flying a float plane off a submarine dropped incendiary bombs on an Oregon forest in late 1942. Also that year, Japan launched balloons carrying 30-pound bombs; only one exploded, killing six people in Oregon. Nevertheless, over 600,000 people became air warning spotters, including children. Toy makers capitalized, producing junior aircraft warning kits, plane identification charts and cards, and spotting  games.

    Board games tied in with current battles. Milton Bradley's popular target game, Bataan, was based on the defense of the Philippines, depicting on the cover the victorious Americans defeating the Japanese. Most games had the Allies winning, even when forward progress was entirely on the side of the Axis.
The Dave Dawson games, produced by American Toy Works,
was based on a popular fiction series for boys.
         Numerous target games offered the opportunity to bomb the enemy. Many were horizontal dart boards, with bombs (darts) dropped from some device. Others used marbles to knock over targets.
Enemies were depicted as cartoon caricatures that would not be acceptable today.
         Lots of books featuring war heroes were published for boys and girls. Grosset & Dunlap published the Air Combat Series for boys, nine books featuring the Yankee Flyer. Like Dave Dawson, Red Randall was another heroic fighter with spectacular flying skill and unforgettable heroism. Whitman included books for girls in their Fighters for Freedom, featuring such occupations as an army nurse, ferry pilot, or canteen girl.

    Paper dolls emerged with plenty of military and patriotic themes, including paper dolls devoted to growing Victory Gardens or a wedding party which was, of course, a military wedding. Most paper dolls were produced in 1943, with few afterwards.
    Punch-out and cut-out models in heavy paper were sold in kits. (Newspapers also offered the models, but the low quality newspaper stock didn't hold up well.) Parts were punched out, folded, slotted, and glued together. High-end kits sold for one dollar.

    If assembling a model was too precise, picture puzzles covered the full spectrum of wartime themes. Scenes ranged from children playing as young commandos to sea battles to planes flying past by Statute of Liberty.
    Coloring books offered the same types of pictures, and scale models could be made of balsam wood. Wooden toy guns, tanks, ships, and other war vehicles were sold.
Not all offerings reflected war. Wooden stencils came in animal shapes,
flowers, birds, children at play, and religious motifs.

    The paper toys of the war years didn't last well. As the years passed, many were discarded. This happened with my father. Whenever the family moved, things were left behind. He still has two books.

   Do any wartime toys or books remain in your family?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Where's the Beef?

In this age of computer generated advertisements, I find it interesting to look at ads published in the 1920s. I ran across a link Retro Drinks Advertisements with pictures of ads used in that era. Different from our ads today, these were all hand drawn or painted. I'm going to share them with you today. Since the website was from drink ads, several of them are for "adult beverages".

I was amazed at the time and effort put into an ad most likely to be printed in a magazine. The one above is beautifully drawn and painted and probably used several times at most. Since this was before the days of television, it wasn't used on a daily basis for a large audience.

The details in this drawing are fabulous. The corn and wheat are illustrated so realistically-only to advertise a bottle of whiskey. It's almost beautiful enough to hang in an art museum, not print in a magazine only to be thrown out next month.

 I find it hard to believe that this ad is not a spoof. Somehow, I don't think it would sell too much of any product.  Quite an imagination, however.

The artwork in these two is unique. Only to advertise wine or liquour. I can't imagine anyone today spending so much time painting a picture so detailed to be used in an ad.

Alcoholic beverages weren't the only thing advertised with wonderful art. Here ads for two kinds of tea are shown. Both of them make me want to go out and buy some tea so I can look as comfortable as they do. 

That one was probably a real hot seller. I bet the bottles flew off the shelves after it was published.

And here's the one we saw a couple weeks ago to calm you down and make you sleep at night. Click on the link above to see the rest of the colorful advertisements from years long ago.
Which one is your favorite?