Saturday, 17 December
Railroads invade Autobooks!
Southern California railroading was to focus, as authors Steve Crise, Michael Parris, and Jim Walker were on hand to sign copies of their latest works: Pacific Electric Railway, Then and Now, Mt. Lowe, and Pacific Red Cars respectively. Judging from the busy crowd and buzzing talk, these were popular topics, even for an automotive bookstore!
Walker, Crise and Parris sign books for Cary Stewart of LA Live Steamers.
When talking about railroading in southern California, the Pacific Electric, known to most as The Big Red Cars, is almost always the topic of the conversation. SoCal at one time boasted what was probably the world's largest, most extensive interurban system. Under the leadership of Henry Huntington (yes, the Huntington Library guy), the PE connected San Bernardino with Santa Monica and Pasadena with Long Beach, and all points in between. This was at a time before freeways, and in fact,before most highways were paved.
"The PE offered trians to areas not easily accessable by road before World War Two," Stewart said.
Long time railroad historian Jim Walker's book, Pacific Red Cars, gives the reader a great overview of the PE, tracing it's rise and demise.
"The PE opened LA to development," Walker said. "It was built hand in hand with the real estate market." In fact, Huntington was also a major land developer, and built his railway to connect his vast holdings to Los Angeles, making the land easier to sell. It's a major reason that SoCal spread out, instead of up.
Teaming together, Steve Crise and Michael Parris have added a great look at what we were and what we are. Their book, Pacific Railway, Then and Now is a fascinating collection of old photos of the PE, side by side with new pictures of the same places. It is an amazing look at what we were and what we are today. Both authors are heavily involved with the Pacific Electric Railway Historical Society (peryhs.org) and have put the organization's vast archives on line, free of charge.
Whenever the topic of the PE comes up, the conversation inevitably turns to it's demise. Theories abound, usually centered on a conspiracy between GM, Firestone, and oil companies that finagled LA leaders into scrapping the system in favor of freeways and cars, leading to our sorry gridlocked state today.
"It was a concoction of a lot of things," Crise said. "World War Two saved the PE of a while, but the pent up purchasing boom of the post-war boom meant people wanted cars."
"There was no real conspiracy, more of a new business model taking over from an old one," Crise added.
During the war, because of gas rationing, the PE was overburdened with ridership. The railway put back into service cars as old as 1908 to cover the demand. Coupled with the inability to build new equipment during the war, the system was flat worn out by 1945. Add to that a tax structure that required that railroads not only maintain at their own expense the right of way (even if the tracks were in the middle of the street) AND pay property taxes on the right of way, the system was doomed.
Economics and disaster also killed off what was southern California's first "Disneyland." The Mount Lowe Railway, subject of Michael Parris' work of the same name, was at onetime, a world renowned attraction. Starting from the top of Lake Avenue in Pasadena, it climbed to the top of the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains. There were at one time four luxury hotels up there, along with miniature golf and a working observatory.
"This was a major tourist attraction," Parris said. "Four million people rode it from 1895 to 1936."
"Thaddeus Lowe, the creator, engineered the Disneyland of it's Day," Parris added.
Indeed, there were a number of engineering marvels on display. Most prominent was a circular bridge that looped the track over itself, gaining over 75 feet of elevation in one of the steepest parts.
This was a major undertaking and lost money from the beginning. It cost $5 to ride, that was a week's wages for a factory worker then. Even at it's low point in the depression, $1.25 for the ride was too much for most people. Parris related a story of his family taking the Red Car form Long Beach, then up the Mt. Lowe Railway, sharing one sandwich between the whole family. He asked if they took photos. "Photos? We couldn't afford a camera!" he was told!
Sadly, a variety of fires, windstorms and mud slides destroyed the hotels over the years, the last in 1936 when the Alpine Lodge burned. In the Depression, there was no point in rebuilding.
Parris' book details this fascinating chapter in local history, and currently, he is working on a PBS documentary, using film footage that recently was unearthed, as well as a huge array of other photos.
All in all, this was an unusual day at Autobooks. Railroads. Who'd a thunk it!
Saturday, December 9
Dean Batchelor Award Finalists Sign Books at Autobooks!
On Saturday, 9 December, Autobooks hosted a book signing by two of the preeminent automotive authors, Michael Argetsinger and Janos Wimpffen. The two were on hand to sign their latest books, Formula One at Watkins Glen, and Elva,The Cars, the People, the History, respectively. Both books are nominees for the prestigious Dean Batchelor Award for excellence in automotive writing. Wimpffen has won the award previously, and Argetsinger has been nominated twice before. The Batchelor prize is the Pulitzer of the automotive world and is awarded by the Motor Press Guild.
Wimpffern & Argetsinger discuss the merits of their books with Autobooks regular, Bruno Sere
Having both writers at the same venue, vying for the same award might seem a bit of a risk, but both view it as a friendly competition.
“We are both excited that the other was nominated,” Wimpffen said. “We each want to win, but will be perfectly happy if the other does.”
The Elva book came about as a commission for Wimpffen, author of several other well regarded automotive books. Typically, he writes about a type of car, such as his Monocoques and Ground Effects book, and Winged Sports Cars and Enduring Innovation. The Elva book is his first history of a specific marque.
“This has given me a chance to branch out,” Wimpffen said. “I’d never done a history, but Elva is a significant marque. Especially because of it’s connection with McLaren.”
The Elva book also offers a bonus. Available on line to all buyers is a PDF file, some 500 pages long of every race result for an Elva car. “I get carried away at times,” Wimpffen said, ‘But the book has an air of definitiveness to it.”
“I’m opening an avenue of history to people interested in car history,” he added.
Brooks Smith ponders an early Christmas present for himself.
Argetsinger has a more personal connection to his Watkins Glen book. His father, Cameron was not only a founder of the Sports Car Club of America, but the driving force behind sports car racing at Watkins Glen, one of the world’s most famous circuits. He brought Formula One to the Glen in 1961, and it seemed appropriate to release this history of F1 for the 50th anniversary.
The book is very much a personal labor of love, and Argetsinger is donating all of the proceeds to the International Motor Racing Center in Watkins Glen to further the study of automobile racing. The publisher,
David Bull, is also producing the book at cost to aid the Center.
Argetsinger has many fond memories of the Glen, but the standout was being at the first race in 1948, and after his dad finished, he stopped where the family was, and Michael and his brothers were loaded into the race car for a victory lap. Pretty heady stuff for a four year old!
Customer John Petrizzi is more than happy with his new book by Argetsinger
Other books by Argetsinger are biographies of Mark Donohue and Walt Hansgen, two of the most important figures in American road racing.
If you are an ardent racing enthusiast, both of these books need to be on your shelf. They are both indeed definitive looks at one of the world’s great race tracks and an important, albeit overlooked car.
My First Car, by Matt Stone
Remember your first car? Sure you do! Every one does. That first encounter with real freedom (and real responsibility) probably has a bigger impact on our lives than even our first love. Matt Stone, former Senior Editor of Motor Trend, dropped in to Autobooks on Saturday the 10th to sign copies of his new book My First Car. This is a compendium of 50 stories of people's first real car. Not mom's Toyota that you got to borrow, but the first car that was yours and yours alone.
Stone gathered the stories first of legends of the car industry, from racers to execs to the kings of kustoms, then moved to Hollywood and sports icons. In each instance, he was looking for that common thread, that essence of the bond between cars and people that we all find so fascinating.
"I wanted to do a book that was a biography, but didn't really want to do the usual Story of His Life kind of thing," Stone said. "Everyone love to tell about their first car. Everyone loves to hear about it."
He's right you know! Think about it. ANY time you bring up the subject of cars, at some point, talk always gets around the to trials and tribulations of that first bundle of automotive joy. And, again think about it, no matter how horrible a POS that car was, everyone talks about it with a reverence. Heck, even my own NSU Prinz, has a warm spot in my heart.
This is a neat book and a fascinating read! Where else would you find out that Enzo Ferrari's son's first car was a Morris Mini or that Gordon Murray had two (count 'em TWO) Hillman Minx!
"When ever I get a group of people together, I know I can use 'Does any one remember their first car' as a conversation starter," Myron Melnarik said, standing in line to meet Stone.
"When I saw this book, I had to come down and meet the guy who wrote it!" Meknarik added.
And yes, he remembers his first. 1967 Mustang. "real rough, but I fixed it up and passed it down to my sister."
The other constant is the wistful wish that they'd hung on to that old car. Matt's story is perhaps one with the best ending. He bought his '71 Olds 442 from a dealer. When he finally decided to part with it, a lady spotted it with the "For Sale" sign and HAD to buy it. Seems it was the first car she and her husband bought when they got married. Ya can't write a better ending.