People like to talk about eras ending, and how America just isn’t American any more, but there are a couple of very harsh truths we need to look at:
ONE- eras always end. That’s why they’re called eras. It’s OK to say “that was fun” or “I sure miss it when …” but then again, we only do that about things that were good. Nobody gets nostalgic for those good old days when we had to use leaves instead of toilet paper, for example, but that’s an era that sure as shooting ended.
TWO- America never has been the same, never has been “that
America of yore.” The America of the 30s was vastly different from the America of the 40s, and the 50s and 60s too. It is always changing, and there is no going back.
Nothing shows this better than this package of materi
als a local person recently donated to the Union Station Archive–a package of educational materials on railroads in America put out by the Association of American Railroads (which still exists (click) and, from its web site, looks very active).
Judging by the technology, this package dates from the mid-50s. It includes a large selection of photographs of various aspects of railroads and two teachers manuals describing each picture and giving lesson plans, quiz questions and other aids for teachers.
There’s a copy of the 1959 Boy Scout “Railroading” Merit Badge handbook, and there’s a small brochure describing “The Great Locomotive Chase,” a Civil War incident in which Union Army raiders stole a Confederate steam engine in an effort to disrupt Confederate railroad operations.
This last was made into a movie by Disney in 1956. Here’s a YouTube link (click). It stars Fess Parker, who got famous when he was “Davey Crocket.”
The photographs really are a time machine — mail being carried by rail, men and women dressed up in their Sunday best to travel in cushioned comfort on spacious coach cars, dining with linen and silverware on food that was actually cooked on the train, and so on.
I don’t know if the airline industry has a similar educational package for schools today. If it does I imagine it has a different slant: 20 ways to make your overhead bag fit; How to sleep when the person next to you is drunk; five ways to fight claustrophobia in economy class.
You can never go back again, but there are days I bet we all wish we could.