This blog is about the story of my family here in America. We arrived in the 1630s as Puritans, and became the common folk of the New World.

Life before the automobile

Most of the people that I talk to today can't really imagine a world before cars. Like many people today, I live in suburbia, and I try to imagine how my ancestors lived before the reliance on automobiles. To do that, you have to understand that there was a completely integrated system that has disappeared in the last eighty years. And if you're frustrated as gas approaches $5.00 a gallon, you may be curious as to how it all worked. Don't get me wrong, I like cars. A lot. I like the idea of jumping into my car and going anywhere I want to any time I want to. I like the idea of bad weather being something that I see through my windshield while I sit comfortably in air conditioning, or heat. And I don't carry an umbrella! But $5.00 a gallon...!

In the idyllic world that is presented to us of a "human scale" or "walkable" neighborhood, we have lost track of some of the systems that were in place that made this possible. Sure, it's nice to stroll along the boulevard to sit sipping tea at a corner cafe, but what about going to work? Or shopping?

The first thing that you need to picture in your mind is how much smaller the world of our ancestors was. The speed at which a person, or a horse, walks is about 2-3 miles per hour.  The average train at the turn of the century was going at at about 20 miles per hour. That seems awfully slow today! Look at movies of trolleys at the turn of the century. People could run up to them and catch them, jumping on and off them while they were moving. They may have been going as much as 6-8 miles per hour. But they were faster than walking, and faster than a trotting horse. But you couldn't work 20 miles away. That would have been ridiculous.

Another thing that our ancestors had was more infrastructure. Public transportation ran often enough that you didn't have to check schedules. Also, most shops delivered, which meant that you didn't have to carry your stuff home with you, which is just about impossible on public transportation. You visited the shop, told them what you wanted, it was put on a tab, and it was delivered. "Cash and carry" didn't become popular until after WWII.  Cash and carry meant that you paid for your stuff right then and there, and you carried it away. That's all I've ever known. But there was a different world at one time, and I like to think about it.
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