Richard Nisley


The Stuff of Dreams
Pop Culture Released - Jan 07, 2018
Three reviews:

THE STUFF OF DREAMS

“Superpower: The Making of a Steam Locomotive” (Hardcover)

If you grew up with electric trains and still are a captive of the magic and majesty of the steam locomotive, this book is for you. Not only are the graphics superb, but so is the writing. Kudos to author/illustrator David Weitzman who shares our passion, and has the talent to make it come alive. While few of us know what it’s like to operate a steam locomotive, Mr. Weitzman does the next best thing—he puts us inside the high steel cab of one of these “gentle giants,” in this case the prototype A-1 Berkshire, fresh from the locomotive works in Lima, Ohio. It’s a trial run, a magnificent morning journey on the steel highway, from the industrial heart of Albany, New York, through the rising hill country of western Connecticut, to the North Adams Junction.

We experience the sights and sounds and smells of life at the controls, see the pulsating dials and multitude of levers being operated, feel the big machine hiss, groan, and lurch into motion, build up speed gradually, slow for crossings, charge over bridges, lean into long-bending curves, and behold an ever-changing panorama of farms and forests, small towns, junctions and water towers. That’s chapter one. The balance of the book is dedicated to the design and build of the A-1 locomotive, the first of more than six-hundred such 2-8-4 Berkshires that would revolutionize American railroading prior to the advent of the diesel locomotive. For us young-at-heart railroaders, the stuff of dreams.

MONUMENT TO WINNING

“1964 Sheraton Thompson Special” (Hardcover)

I purchased this book in a fit of nostalgia. The day the Sheraton-Thompson Special won the Indianapolis 500, I was anything but a fan of its driver, A.J. Foyt. I was a fan of Scottish sensation Jim Clark. When I awoke the morning of the race, I fully expected Clark and his Lotus-Ford to win easily. Poor tire choice led to severe vibration from tread chunking that caused the suspension to fail and put Clark out of the race. After that the day was Foyt’s. Years later, older and experienced with what it takes to get ahead in this world, I have come to appreciate Foyt’s victory and, indeed, become a fan of SuperTex. This is a man with a lot of heart, impulsive, hot-headed, kind, generous, never petty, never a pessimist, who never gives less than his best. Foyt knows his own mind. He wants to win, no matter the odds, and no excuses. That’s what this car represents: winning. The high-tech Lotus-Fords of Clark, Dan Gurney and Bobby Marshman were quicker, and so was Rodger Wards’ less-tech Watson-Ford. Still, Foyt had a hunch. The Sheraton-Thompson Special was dated but a proven winner, still very fast, and bullet-proof. On Memorial Day, one by one the Lotuses fell by the wayside. Foyt lapped Ward and won going away.

Race cars are never finished but a work in progress. This book is mainly about the 1964 Watson Sheraton-Thompson Special—how it was designed, built and developed over time. A number of people are quoted: designer-builder A.J. Watson, chief mechanic George Bignotti, Foyt himself, and others. Donald Davidson, who is the official historian of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, did a bang-up job researching and writing this book.

DREAM TEAM

“Edsel Ford and E. T. Gregorie: The Remarkable Design Team and Their Classic Fords of the 1930s and 1940s” (Paperback)

Suave, elegant E. T. “Bob” Gregorie was the man behind the flair of the classic Fords of the ’30s and ‘40s. Author Henry Dominguez interviewed Gregorie and others who worked at Ford during this time. The result is a fascinating account of how Edsel Ford managed to pry the Model T from his father’s vice-grip, withstood a heap of abuse, and transitioned the Ford Motor Company into the modern era.

The role played by Gregorie in the real-life psycho-drama between father and son was crucial. Gregory could not fight Edsel’s battles for him, but he was the rock Edsel leaned upon, in a world gone mad, of management bullies, employee harassment, paranoia, and archaic thinking. As important, Gregorie shared Edsel’s vision of cleaned-lined, low-slung automobiles. Together, they constituted a dream team that brought style to the artless Ford line-up. Gregorie’s role (which he freely admits), was to put Edsel’s ideas on paper, see them through to full-scale clay mock-ups, and then finished body designs ready for the tool-and-die makers. Gregorie did his share of original design, certainly—the famed 1940 Continental was his alone—but he couldn’t have done it without his close working relationship with Edsel Ford.

Without Edsel’s influence, it’s likely the Ford Motor Company would have continued making crude Model Ts into the 1930s and the company be snuffed out by the Great Depression, as so many auto makers were. As company president, Edsel spear-headed the transition from the Model T to the Model A, introduced color into the product line, oversaw the acquisition of the Lincoln Automobile Company, expanded the Ford line-up from one to five cars, and created the Ford Styling Department (and put Gregorie in charge).

Sadly, Edsel Ford succumbed to the same ailment as a number of Ford executives, known as “Forditis,” or stomach ulcers. In Edsel’s case, it was fatal. He died May 26, 1943, age 49. Says Gregorie: “The old man (Henry) was always an anchor around Edsel’s neck, as far as the product was concerned. The old man didn’t know a thing about design, but he was an obstruction in the way of design, and he had to be reckoned with. And that was an unfortunate situation. I think that is what ultimately killed Edsel—worrying about how to handle the old man.”

There is more to this book, about the industry, car design, and how design proceeds from simple sketches to finished cars, which is fascinating in itself. Mostly, the book is about the symbiotic, creative working relationship between Edsel Ford and E.T. Gregorie, and the stylish cars that were the result.

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