November 23, 2020
Bill Lear will go down as one of the most incredible inventors of the 20th century. The man who created the car radio, miniature tuning coils for radios, who invented auto-pilot, radio guidance for airplanes, and the basic automatic landing system that is still in refined use today he also invented the 8-track tape, and his biggest accomplishment, The Lear Jet.
There is one area where he failed spectacularly at though. Bending the laws of physics. Later in life Lear became obsessed with steam engines and steam power to end pollution. He designed steam engines, and was planning on running the 1969 Indy 500 with a steam powered race car! It was a spectacular failure lead by a dubious English engineer who’s credentials fell far short of Lear’s. He would go on to create a working steam city bus among other things but the Indy 500 effort was really something.
Rich, eccentric, and seemingly unstoppable, the laws of nature ground Bill Lear to a halt and cost him the majority of the fortune he made in his life. This is the story, some of it in Lear’s own words, of how that happened.
November 20, 2020
The 1927 Dole Air Race stands as one of the most bizarre and tragic events in the history of flight. Paid for by James Dole, the pineapple magnate, the race was designed to capitalize on the fame that came from Charles Lindbergh crossing the Atlantic on a solo flight. The twist was that the people in this race were to fly from Oakland, California to Hawaii.
15 airplanes entered the race and the death toll was nearly a dozen lives by the time the event concluded. The intersection of bravery, ignorance, fame, and the chase for big money all came to a head at this event and it helped to shape the future of American aviation.
Oh, it should be mentioned that the whole thing was rendered largely pointless just months and weeks before when multiple people completed the incredibly difficult flight across the Pacific ahead of the actual race.
October 13, 2020
This is the story of one of the greatest engineering achievements of the Victorian Age. It is also the story of a ship so far ahead of its time it was one of the greatest financial failures ever accounted in the modern world. At the time of its construction in the 1850s, the massive SS Great Eastern was the largest moving man-made object on Earth and was five times larger than the next largest ship.
In a tale of steam-punk meets real life, learn how this 692ft long iron beast used sails, paddle wheels, and the largest single propellor ever placed on a ship to drain the bank accounts of its investors and eventually connect the world in a magical new way.
She held 10,000 tons of coal in her belly, had steam engines weighing 1,300 tons powering her, and had room for 4,000 passengers. It was all for naught. Learn the how's, the why's, and the who's of this amazing ship in this episode.
June 29, 2020
A couple of years ago, Buffalo got hammered with one of the all time record short term snowfall totals in American history. The seven feet of snow they got over the course of a day or two brought the city to a halt, brought the national guard out with as many machines as they can muster, and will long live in the lore of wild Buffalo lake effect weather. As brutal as this dumping on Buffalo was it looks like a minor inconvenience when compared to the disastrous winter that several midwestern/western states suffered during the end of 1948 and the beginning of 1949.
Blizzards and storms piled up one after the next until an area virtually the size of France, over 190,000 square miles was completely snowbound. Since this was rural country and many of the people suffering were farmers that had livestock, there was definite concern for their health and safety. The direness of their situation was recognized all the way at the top of the governmental food chain and the 5th Army was mobilized to help. They started moving men and equipment into the area and set forth clearing roads, opening up paths in fields and getting livestock food and shelter. The fear was so great for the cattle that the Air Force was actually used to air drop baled hay into fields to feed the beasts. Despite the best efforts there were big losses of life when it came to the animal population. There are lots of dead cows shown in the film (take note cow lovers!).
The operation commenced in earnest on January 29th, 1949 and was concluded on March 15th. At its height, more than 1,000 bulldozers were working at once to open roads, open fields, and free people from their icy bonds. Below you’ll find a link to the full government report that was written as a review of the operation by the 5th Army and the video from Allis Chalmers that documented the massive and valiant effort. It seems that some expense was laid out for this film as there is lots of ariel footage and a general feel of a decently budgeted production for the era.
This was not a quaint romp through the snow. 115,000 miles of roads were opened, over 6,000 people were working simultaneously at the peak of the operation, four million head of livestock were fed and effectively saved from certain death, more than 1.2 million people were directly helped by this effort, and the cubic yards of snow moved, removed, and otherwise relocated number in the 10s of millions. A total of six people working in the operation died as a result of accidents and/or exposure to the elements.
And that's what this episode is all about!
June 24, 2020
There was a time in America when the most famous person in the entire country was a lunatic with a motorcycle called Evel Knievel. His fame and his public bravery reached their outer limits on September 8, 1974 when Knievel tried to jump the Snake Rive Canyon in Idaho in what amounted to an unguided missile. The story of this jump, its promotion, and ultimate failure is something that will long live in American lore.
Through story telling, period text, and a load of period audio, you'll learn the story of this uniquely American event and how it all came unraveled long before Knievel pushed the fire button on his rocket. It was a defining moment in the career of Evel Knievel, a defining moment in America, and a story that's so insane with so many different twists and turns you likely won't believe it!
June 18, 2020
The story of how John and Horace Dodge helped get Henry Ford into business, made millions off of him, and then used his own profits to fund a competing car company is one of the most awesome in the history of the automobile. A very healthy business relationship devolved into an epic battle of ultra-wealthy guys trying to out maneuver each other in the courts and with money. There are clear winners and losers in this one and the fact that all of them, even the short-lived Dodge Brothers became wealthy beyond their wildest dreams is icing on the cake.
This is the story of how business was done 100 years ago and how even then, one man could not load an entire industrial colossus on his back and ignore his investors...even if those investors were using their own dividends to fund a company in the same business as they one they were profiting from.
The capitalists and industrialists of the early 20th century were not the nicest guys in the world but the were smart, tough, and in so many ways fearless. Here's the story of the the Dodge Brothers and Henry Ford went to war on a battlefield paved in gold.
June 4, 2020
Yes, Abraham Lincoln was a gearhead. The man who many still hold as the greatest President in the history of the United States is the only President to hold a patent and his legal work helped to lay the groundwork for the modern world of transportation as we know it. Back in 1849 Lincoln used the full strength of his mechanical creativity and smarts to create a system whereby stuck riverboats could lift themselves over sand bars and obstructions. While the device was never employed in real life, the government awards him a patent for the creation.
Along with the patent, Lincoln's work as a lawyer representing rail roads, bridge builders, and equipment manufacturers had a profound effect on how we move in this country and how mechanized our lives are today.
From a young man who hated splitting wood at the family cabin to the Great Emancipator, this is the story of how one guy not only stood in the leadership of a nation, but also stood in the leadership of that nation's future progress.
And now you know.
May 18, 2020
Many people believe that since the early 1950s, the National Hot Rod Assocaition has had the dominant spot in the sport of drag racing across America. Those people would be wrong. See, in 1958 Wally Parks was facing the biggest threat he would ever encounter with respect to the NHRA that he had founded and started in the early 1950s. It was a corporately backed organization called the Automotibile Timing Association of America and they had the money, the savvy, and the media horsepower to knock the NHRA off its perch and were on the verge of doing so in 1958. Then, a funny thing happened.
In March of 1958 at a conference of drag strip operators, Wally Parks stood before them and made the shocking announcement that the NHRA and ATAA would merge. All operations would be run under the NHRA name as directed by him. All of the massive ATAA membership would immediately transfer to the NHRA banner, and that would be that.
It was, in effect the greatest coup in drag racing history. One that set the stage for the sport's unification and explosive growth through the 1960s. There were other organizations, but they all paled in size and scope when it came to the NHRA.
It's a story of money, a botched beauty contest, and plots twists that you'll never see coming. Wally won in the end and somewhere he's still smiling about it.
May 15, 2020
Just before 9 A.M. on Friday, May 13th, 1949 a truck carrying unstable and dangerous chemicals exploded inside the Holland Tunnel's Southbound side while traveling out of New York City. Instantly, a disaster broke out with multiple trucks catching fire and the 100+ cars behind the mess grinding to a halt.
Within scant minutes, heroic tunnel personnel were rushing people and cars out of the tunnel so fire crews could run in at the blazing inferno. Temperatures skyrocketed as trucks continue to explode and burn with the peak being recognized by engineers and those studying the disaster after the fact at some 4,000-degrees F.
As the brave crews battled the fire, trucks, telecommunication lines, and even the ceiling supports melted. 650-tons of rubble were left on the floor of the tunnel when the fire was completely extinguished.
But no one died at the scene. Not only that, the tunnel was back in operation just 56 hours later like nothing had happened! This is an amazing story of a fire, a tunnel, bravery, and the get it done attitude of 1949 America. A truly miraculous disaster.
May 11, 2020
Back in 1940s and 50s America it wasn’t a question if the forest should be ripped down, it was a question of how quickly that pesky forest could be dispatched with and who could figure out the best way to do it. Such was the case when the US Government put out a contract to clear 35,000 acres of forest in the wilds of Montana at the site of the Hungry Horse Dam projects. The mammoth dam would be used to help control the Flathead River and manage water in the Columbia River drainage area by creating a huge reservoir behind it.
The physical dimensions of the forest area that needed clearing were huge, some 34 miles long and 3.5 miles wide at points. Basically it was 35 square miles in total. As you can imagine, clearing that much area in the wilds of Montana wasn’t a job that most people had ever considered completing before. While we’re not sure what they were proposing for a method we know that the two guys who came up with the winning formula were S.L. Wixson and John H. Trisdale of Redding, California. Their idea, never before seen at the time was to essentially tie two big bulldozers together with steel cable and use the the cable as a giant scythe, cutting down and ripping over anything on its path. The men figured that this idea would be the most cost effective and quickest way to get the land cleared within the parameters that the government set for the work to be done.