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Monday, August 27, 2007

Automobiles In History

In the annuals of history, the automobile flashed onto the scene like a meteor, changing the entire economy and the national way-of-life. No one was really prepared for it. Generations of horse-drawn road transportation had created a complex system of industries on which the automobile had a damaging effect; everybody from horse doctors and harness-makers to blacksmiths. The continuing changes and the reasons for them are obvious to us, but probably were not so obvious to automotive pioneers. It was, after all, a learn-as-you-go process with no precedents. For every inventor who made a fortune, hundreds had their dreams crumble. Automobiles have ended the isolation of rural communities and set an example of industrial efficiency for the world to copy. It has also spoiled the cities and small towns as neighborhoods are obliterated by highways smashing through; it has polluted the environment, and caused shortages in natural resources. Yet the car itself is still the object of endless fascination.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Automobiles In Art And Literature

Cars have frequently played a major role in literature. They are even used at times to comment on the state of humanity. Carl Sandburg wrote "Portrait of A Motorcar" in 1918 and almost twenty years later, made the automobile the center of his long prose poem, "The People, Yes." Joyce Carol Oates, in 1979, wrote a provocative poem entitled "F---"; for Ford, of course.In 1919, Sinclair Lewis wrote whimsically of his adventures in a Model T. Six years later, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote his masterpiece, "The Great Gatsby," portraying the cynicism of post-World War I by the use of Gatsby's cream-colored Rolls-Royce. In 1962, William Faulkner wrote humorously about human frailties against the backdrop of an early Winton Flyer automobile in his literary classic, "The Reivers." Some poets and novelists were drawn to the car culture, but others were depressed by it. Either way, the automobile was the hub of human commentary for a long list of writers.Even more than writers, composers of popular music are attracted to cars. They jumped in almost as soon as the first car drove past and have never gotten off. Many of the songs are sexually oriented. Titles include "In My Merry Oldsmobile," "On The Back Seat of A Henry Ford," "Tumble in A Rumble Seat," "Keep Away from The Fellow Who Owns an Automobile," up to the contemporary songs such as "Maybelline," "Mustang Sally," "Little Deuce Coupe," "Pull up to The Bumper," and "Little Red Corvette." Trucking songs, such as "King of The Road," "On the Road Again," and others too numerous to mention are immensely popular. The Los Angeles Music Center and Museum of Contemporary Art commissioned several playwrights to create original ten-minute scripts to be acted out in automobiles. The film industry has relied heavily on the automobile, ranging from the humorous "The Long, Long Trailer" and "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" to "Bonnie and Clyde" and hundreds of chase scenes. Television made the automobile the very star of the show in "My Mother, The Car" and "The Knight Rider," in which "Kit" is smarter than any of the rest of the cast.Artists followed Toulouse-Lautrec's lead from his 1896 lithograph, "The Motorist," to take up brushes and portray the essence of the automobile. Some used their brushes in cartoon fashion to show it as a toy of the idle rich. Some saw it as a symbol of mankind's dynamism and vitality. Andy Warhol, who saw art in a Campbell soup can, painted a series devoted to gruesome car wrecks. Other artists see the automobile as a graceful, flowing form of man-made beauty, an art in itself.

Friday, August 24, 2007

America! America!

The greatest legend in the American automobile development is the common belief that the car is an American institution. The American car inventors were really Johnny-come-latelys, when it came to producing the automobile, but once they got going, they made up for all the centuries of lost time.Although the automobile was becoming an increasingly familiar sight in Europe in the 1890s, it was considered a freakish contraption in the United States. Roads were poor and few. Americans finally became receptive to the idea of the automobile when they realized that, with a car, they could go where they wanted to go without having to use the railroad.Detroit is not the original forge where the U.S. auto industry took shape: Hartford, Cleveland, and at least a dozen other places have better credentials. Many men and hundreds of hours of creating, designing, and hard work went into the creation of American cars. Several crude, experimental motorized buggies had been built in the U.S. before the Duryea brothers built the first successful, internal-combustion car in 1892-93.A carriage maker in Flint, Michigan, William C. Durant designed a motorcar and went on to organize Buick, General Motors, and Chevrolet. George M. Pierce made bird cages, bicycles and finally, automobiles--Pierce-Arrows. Charles W. Nash made the Nash. In 1954 the Nash Kelvinator Corp. merged with the Hudson Motor Car Company to become the American Motors Corporation.Car designers came from all areas and occupations. Some succeeded, but most failed. Then, along came the son of a Michigan farmer. His name was Henry Ford.In 1879, Henry Ford was sixteen years old when he got a job in Detroit. In his spare time he built an internal-combustion engine from plans he found in a magazine. It was a bicycle-wheeled, tiller-steered two-seater, without brakes or reverse gear. It was so noisy that it was condemned by the public as a nuisance. In 1898, he built an improved vehicle, but it failed in a year. Finally he produced an automobile that was bigger, more powerful, and much faster. A well-known bicycle rider drove the car in a race and won. The publicity got Ford financial backing.The first popular car was a roadster, the "Oldsmobile," designed as an economy car by Ransom E. Olds. This car had two seats and a one-cylinder, three-horsepower engine.In 1900, only 8,000 cars were registered in the U.S. Olds introduced quantity production, and became a very rich man. The car sold for $650, about half the price of competitors. Sales zoomed from 425 in 1901, to 6,500 in 1905.Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903. Ford first brought out the Model A: a small, two cylinder car with an eight- horsepower engine, which sold for $850. The next year, the Model B Ford was added, a four-cylinder, which sold for $2,000. In 1906, Ford added the Model K, an important milestone.In 1906, New York held two auto shows. In Madison Square Garden, there were 220 exhibits; the 69th Regiment Armory show had 205 exhibitors. Ford's Model K, introduced at Madison Square Garden, was big, heavy, expensive and a mistake. It could go 60 mph with its six-cylinder, 40-horsepower engine. It sold for $2,800, $2,000 more than a Cadillac. Ford lost money on every one sold, so he concentrated on a light, simple, rugged model that could be sold inexpensively; what he termed "the universal automobile." The new design was called the Model T. Adapted from the model N, it was solidly constructed, and easy to operate and repair. Its chassis was high to provide good clearance. A four-cylinder engine produced 20-horsepower in two forward speeds and a reverse. In 1909, the least expensive Model T got about thirty miles to the gallon. Customers responded to the advantages of the Model T, and new, plants were constructed. Production increased from 10,000 in 1909 to 78,000 in 1912. In 1913, Ford found a better, faster way to build cars.In 1914, Ford opened the world's first auto assembly line. Production jumped to 472,000; a car could be turned out in 93 minutes. In 1924, when half of the cars in the world were Fords, the Model T sold for $290 and profits piled up. The last "tin lizzy" (the 15,007,003rd) rolled off the production line in 1927. It was truly the "universal car," in every corner of the world.The eighteen-year supremacy of the Ford caused the disappearance of many of the smaller car companies and the emergence of others. One of the consolidators was the General Motors Corporation. William C. Durant bought out the Buick Motor Company in 1904. He incorporated General Motors in 1908 and merged Buick, Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Oakland (Pontiac) into a single corporation. Ford's monopoly ended after WWI; other manufacturers began to make cheaper, more attractive cars. In 1916, the Chevrolet Motor Company put out a four-cylinder model that eventually passed the Ford as the best-selling car in America.Another strong competitor of the Model T was a tough four-cylinder Dodge manufactured by John and Horace Dodge. By 1924, they assembled 1,000 cars per day. Four years later the company was purchased for what was then a world's record price of $175,000,000 by Walter P. Chrysler, of the Chrysler Corporation. In 1928 the Chrysler Corporation started selling Dodges, DeSotos Plymouths, and Chryslers.By 1928, competition had forced new standard equipment. The self- starter was invented in 1911, resulting in more drivers. The car had gone from a wooden, open vehicle to a steel, fully enclosed year-round sedan. The modern automobile was mechanically "complete" by 1929, when 4,587,400 cars were sold in the United States. All the major mechanical developments since then have been improvements or refinements of existing systems.Henry Ford did not create the automobile nor the automobile industry. When he built his first internal-combustion engine from magazine plans in 1896 and mounted it in a carriage, others had already built better motor vehicles than his crude attempt. Those others must yield the stage to Henry Ford in one aspect; it was he who captained the manufacturing revolution. He jacked up the world and slid four wheels under it. He said he would democratize the automobile and when he was through, just about everyone would have a car. He kept his word. Life would never be the same again.

A Few Facts About Oil

When oil was struck in the Forties Field under the North Sea in 1969, it led to the discovery of at least 350 million tons of oil. However, by the year 2020, the world's known oil reserves are due to run out. By then, new oil fields will need to be found, probably in more and more inaccessible places. Prospectors looking for oil look for sedimentary basins which could be oil-bearing, magnetic surveys and gravity surveys are often used. All rocks are magnetic, but the magnetism varies slightly from one rock to another, giving geologists clues to the structure and type of rocks that lie underground. Other clues include the density of the rock. When the production wells have been drilled and lined with casing, a perforating gun is lowered down them to drive explosive charges through the casing and cement and into the rock beyond to allow the oil to get into the wells. As oil is extracted, pressure may be maintained by injecting water or gas into the reservoir rock to displace the oil towards the production wells. Even with the help of modern techniques, however, such as electrical and mechanical pumps, it is seldom possible to extract more than 30%% to 50%% of the oil in a field. Perhaps a means will be found to get all the oil out of a "dig." If so, millions more gallons would be available out of the wells which have previously been drained "dry."

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


How Cars Are Assembled

Ford's revolutionary concept of the assembly line to make cars included a rope which pulled a line of chassis along a track, at which stood fifty workers, each fixing their own allotted part to each chassis as it moved by. Assembly time for a chassis dropped from twelve to one and a half hours. In less than ten years, the price of a Model T dropped from $850 to $250. Ford sold 1.8 million Model T cars. In 1951, Ford led the way in using automatic equipment to produce engine blocks. The urge to save labor has continued to inspire new developments, with robots replacing workers, cutting out tedious tasks and guaranteeing greater accuracy. On the Fiat Uno, 30 of the 2700 welds are done by hand. Only specialized crafts, such as electrical wiring, now remain in human hands.In a typical car assembly in the 1980s, the first stage was sheet steel arriving at the press shop. In areas as large as three football stadiums, robot cranes supplied rolled sheets of steel to giant stamping machines, which cut the pieces of metal to make up the car body. Then robots built the underbody or floorpan, making numerous welds and creating a complex shape with spaces for wheel arches, boot wells and spare wheels.In the next stage, large jigs positioned the body sides and roof to be welded into place automatically. In the meantime, the doors had been made on nearby assembly lines in a process that involved several different pressings to create an outer skin clinched over an inner frame. Finally, lasers checked every car body for the smallest flaw, distortion or irregularity.The car, now largely assembled, was cleaned in a degreasing tank, rinsed and coated with phosphate to make it more receptive to the paint. After further rinses, base primer coat was applied, in several layers. These primer coats were sprayed on electrostatically, using an electric field to attract the paint. The last layers, usually three, were glossy acrylic paint. The paintwork on most mass-produced cars is 0.1mm thick; although on a Rolls-Royce, there are 22 layers of paint, giving a thickness of 0.2mm. Special wax was then applied to protect against water, snow, grit and salt. This was injected into hollow sections such as pillars and sills.The next stage, the trim, fitted out the interior. The car was wired with its electrical system. Robots fitted underfelt, carpets, seats and other fittings. Windscreen and some other windows were often glued to the car to make a better fit and reduce wind resistance and noise. Robots applied the glue to the edge of the glass and then put it in place on the car with sucker grips.Finally, the car was hoisted up, and a jacking system brought the engine, complete with clutch and gearbox, into position. The fuel tank was mounted at the rear end of the car. Next came suspension, steering, radiator and battery, and then the wheels and tires. When water, antifreeze, oil and gasoline were added, the car was ready to run. Inspectors examined it at the gate before its final road tests. When the car was given it final checks, it was ready for the dealer.