NEB&W Guide to Period Modeling - the Past In Our Own Image

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Futurists predict the future in the image of their own time, but of course, the future hasn't happened. In studying the past, we tend to make the same mistake, of remaking the past in our own image.

When the telephone was invented, at first men were hired to be the operators. With in a few years, the first women were hired, which was considered a big deal. Not long after that, all operators were women. Just two decades later, some men were hired, and again, it was a big deal. During WWII, women were hired in heavy industry as so many men had gone to war (Rosie the riveter), yet during the '50's, when the women had returned to the kitchen and pink collar jobs, these other jobs were considered beyond what women could handle. Thus society lurches from side to side, and we are quick to forget the past, even a past within living memory. We think that our present course is the only one.

I read the book that was written from the screenplay of the movie, The Sting. Part of the action of this Depression-era story takes place on the Twentieth Century Limited. In the book, the author explained that the wealthy businessman/gangster normally took the plane from New York to Chicago, but took the train one way for some reason. The point was the author felt it was necessary to explain why this person took the train. A story written then would not have to explain that, and would have to explain instead why anyone who could take a first class train would choose to fly.

Yes, planes were faster, but cabins were not pressurized, and the noise of the propellers over such a long journey was literally somewhat deafening. Planes back then were for only for the hearty, just as is the case today (sadly) for trains.

At one point just after we had finished the scene at Summit, VT, someone painted up a mailbox casting and placed it on the road, so mail (in theory) could be delivered to the station. An argument ensued, which was settled because no picture showed the Summit depot, or any depot, equipped for rural home delivery. Of course, at Summit, the agent didn't live there and I can't imagine any outside mail being directed to the agent instead of the home office. But the real reason is that the mail came by train. Even if any such mail was lumped together in the sack given to the postmaster or postmistress at the depot, it would simply be handed to the agent the next day when the mail sacks were delivered to and picked up at the depot.

Today a new section of railroad would be built by rubber-tired highway equipment. Even as late as the '20's, highways were built by first laying a track (often narrow gauge) and using it to construct the road. It is hard to imagine a society where labor was so cheap, hand-shoveling coal out of gon was common as to make the height of the gon sides an important factor in some car design.

Thus it is difficult to see the past as it really was, and not a redress of the present.