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What was it like to grow up as a teenager in the 1950's?
Note: all currency is in 2016 dollarsOne of the things I most notice as I look back is we kids were never bored even though we didn't have a TV. We wandered the neighborhood, sometimes into a large wooded park a half mile from our house. We could spend hours in the backyard. We sewed our own Winnie the Pooh dolls, created our own Clue game from memory after playing it at a friend's, wrote poetry, put on magic shows, and more. Our imaginations knew no bounds. On Saturday we would listen to The Lone Ranger and Dragnet on the radio. These shows could be quite violent. I remember once Sgt. Friday of Dragnet said he crossed the plain to get to a crime scene so I pictured him, oddly, walking across an airplane. The plane lay on the ground because he didn't say anything about climbing over it. Then later in the show he crossed it again but the rains had caused grass to sprout. I visualized an airplane covered in grass. I wondered about this for years before I suddenly got it.When we did get a television in 1957 it had no remote. That meant getting up to change channels, of which there were only two, and being forced to listen to the commercials. Black and white of course. The modern remote was decades away. Father Knows Best, I Love Lucy, Lassie, I've got a Secret, and Your Hit Parade were some of my favorites. Televisions weren't the reliable self-adjusting units of today. Tubes burned out and the picture might start "flipping" meaning it would move up and return from below over and over. We had adjustments on the back. It was an art to get a stable picture. Don't get me started on adjusting color televisions. You were likely to have to settle for green faces. And they were extremely heavy. Moving larger TVs might take two or more grown men and these sets were expensive costing much more than a modern television set. A 1954 15" color set cost nearly $9,000. At the beginning of the decade screen sizes were no more than 12" and often round but grew. Young people don't know how good they have it. Modern TVs are lightweight, troublefree, and have large screens with beautiful pictures that never require adjusting.Your Hit Parade 1951. The show had a radio/television run of 24 yearsI Love Lucy was the biggest show on television and is still fun to watch. The show blazed the trail for all future sitcoms. Ricki's innovations revolutionized how television programs were broadcast. Some of the techniques he pioneered are still in use.Children's programs were fairly unsophisticated with the most popular being The Mickey Mouse Club and the original children's show, the Howdy Doody Show starring Howdy Doody, a puppet. The studio audience was called the Peanut Gallery. There was the beloved mute clown Clarabell who had a horn he honked and a seltzer bottle he wasn't afraid to use, and Buffalo Bob. Clarabell broke his silence on the last show saying "Goodbye Kids". Getting a picture of Clarabell's real face by pesky photographers was an ongoing threat but they all failed. The original Clarabell went on to host the Captain Kangaroo Show.The upbeat Mickey Mouse Club was another favorite. On Friday we were sung a special goodby song: “M-I-C see you next week, K-E-Y why? because we love you, M-O-U-S-E”. The charismatic Annette Funicello went on to star in a series of Beach Party movies in the 60's and released several successful singles. A single was a single song on a 7″ 45 rpm record with a throwaway song on the reverse side.A sample of a Beach Party movie with grown up Annette Funicello. Teenagers frolic on the beach:Movie serials were popular. They were about ten minutes long and followed a hero from week to week and always ended in a "cliff hanger". I once saw one that left the hero actually dangling over a cliff hanging onto a branch. I was very worried so it was a relief when he saved himself the following week. They played at the Saturday matinees for several decades until television replaced them.All movies opened with a cartoon. The Disney characters along with Woody Woodpecker, Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, and the ever popular Roadrunner were my favorites. Popeye the Sailor Man was big but not one of my favorites. This was before CGI so each frame was hand painted then photographed.Bugs Bunny was an irrepressible smart aleck who was always one step ahead of whoever wanted to eat him.The Roadrunner and the hapless Wile E. Coyote were favorites that sometimes got a round of applause when they appeared on the screen. The irony is coyotes can outrun Roadrunners and Roadrunners can fly short distances.There was no way to watch a movie at home so theaters boomed. The modern multiplex theaters we have now had not been dreamed up so a movie came to one theater in town and stayed as long as it was popular. You might have a double feature meaning two movies for the price on one. Many movies were still in black and white at the beginning of the decade.One convenience that was killed by daylight savings is the drive-in theater. These were very popular and convenient. Once I could drive it was great fun loading up the car and going for a romp at the drive-in. A small speaker was hanging on a pole. You would hang it from your window and crank the volume to the desired level.Elvis Presley debuted amid controversy that may be difficult to understand today. He was universally disliked by adults because of his below the waist gyrations but the kids loved him, their crazed reactions to his shows was repeated when the Beatles hit our shores. He was dismissed as talentless but in actuality he was a very good singer with a very good voice. He was a giant who dominated the music scene for a long time. He changed popular music forever.As preschoolers we had a simple little record player that used steel needles. My mother would buy us the needles in little bags for us to change out as needed.There were no battery powered watches. All watches were powered by a mainspring that had to be wound daily. I wound mine first thing in the morning. There were some self-winding watches. It was not unusual for me to have a watch that kept poor time. Watches came in varying qualities from, inflation adjusted, $10 for a watch with just a few jewels to $200 for a good 21 jewel watch. The jewels, rubies, were installed at high wear points to increase the life of the watch. My parents would buy me a Mickey Mouse watch annually although I did get a Hopalong Cassidy watch once. He was my cowboy hero.My first camera was a Brownie box camera passed down from my mother that was made in the 1930's. It only took eight black and white pictures so I had to be careful. The pictures were excellent quality due to the huge negative. I used it for around 20 years carrying it into the Army with me. The case finally broke so I bought one of those new inexpensive Pentax 35mm imports from Japan. $600 at the PX. German cameras were the standard at the time but the Japanese cameras turned out to be truly excellent. Mine was in good condition when I sold after 20 years of hard use.Flash photography required the use of a flashbulb, a bulb filled with magnesium. Flashbulbs were around for quite a while. Cameras had a special setting for flashbulbs of around 1/50th of a second. The bulbs would be very hot so needed to cool before being replaced. As the electric flash has become affordable it has replaced the flashbulb on modern cameras so that most young people probably are not even aware we once would stock up on flashbulbs if we were serious camera buffs.At night the fireflies came out so we caught them to put in bottles and watched them light up.Refrigerated air conditioning was expensive. I didn't even know there was such a thing so we didn't miss it even though we lived in the SouthwestCan openers were awful. The modern sprocket type weren't available so we had to work the opener until the can finally surrendered.Coke and beer cans had to be opened with "Churchkeys" that stores provided for free:Cokes were 6½ ounces and there was no such thing as unscrewing the top. The other end of the "Churchkey" was used for removing the top.Affordable home answering machines were a long way off as was voicemail so if someone called when you were out the call was not answered. There was something peaceful about that especially since there was no other way to get in touch with you so if you left the house no one was going to bother you. We did not have portable phones or more than one phone in the house, unless we paid for the privilege, so when the phone rang we had to race to its location.Long distance calls were a big deal so were rare. If you needed to call someone long distance you told the operator who would then call down the line so each operator could connect the call until they finally reached the party in question. Then the operator called you back and the call was connected. Next you received a huge bill from Ma Bell, the only game in town. With the advent of direct dial the system was streamlined but operator assistance continued to be a requirement in some areas into the 60's.Because long distance calls were prohibitively expensive and there was no email most communication out of the immediate vicinity was done by letter. It was the only way I had to communicate with "Granny". We kept a stash of stamps and envelopes on hand. If you had a problem with a retailer who wasn't headquartered in the city you had to work it out through the mail. Everything was slower. At Christmas I had to sit down to write thank you notes and get them in the mail. This was still my MO on staying in touch into the 90's even though long distance calling was more affordable. Email?Payphones were a nickel and rotary because touchtone hadn't been invented. They could be found almost anywhere.All phones were rotary and had to be supplied by Ma Bell. You couldn't install your own phone or even buy one. They were all black. Ma Bell sent out a technician to hook up the phone wherever you wanted. If you wanted two or more phones you paid extra every month. Long distance rates were high and subsidized local service so that local service was affordable. Ma Bell was reliable and took care of things. It was one of the best companies in the world for service but being a monopoly it was eventually brought down resulting in the profusion of options we have now. Phone numbers came with a prefix. We lived in the Lynwood area so our phone number was Ly1-2345. Smaller town might only have the last five digits: 12345.Direct dial was introduced in the 50's but wasn't available everywhere, some places still did not have it well into the 60's. It was a huge deal. We no longer had to have an operator connect us but long distance remained expensive.Touchtone was introduced in the 60's making it easier to dial the long numbers. Playing tunes with the touchtone numbers such as "Mary had a Little lamb" was a popular pastime for a while. People would publish the numbers to press to play a song.Mary had a little lamb:6,5,4,5,6,6,6,5,5,5,6,9,96,5,4,5,6,6,6,6,5,5,6,5,4Besides pencil and paper there were two ways to do calculations. An expensive and bulky mechanical calculator or a slide rule. I opted for pencil and paper and was good at doing arithmetic in my head. We were a long way from the handheld digital scientific calculators that replaced the slide rule. I once worked as a repairman at the Monroe calculator company. Adding machines were our main product. They were all gears and levers.Toy cars were steel with rolling rubber wheels and that's it. You might have a sheet metal wind up toy that could move but no battery operated or radio controlled cars. I once had a windup bulldozer that fascinated me but I dropped it and it wouldn't work anymore.We could buy balsa wood airplanes for a dime that would glide when tossed but not well. I once made a plane with a rubber band motor that would fly but it kept running into things.We spent a lot of time with our View Master. We could click through stereophonic pictures of various landscapes. Ours was a much older version of the one in the picture but the realism amazed.Lionel trains were a popular postwar item. I loved the one I got. It was solidly built of metal with realistic detail. It had a working headlight and pills I could drop into the smokestack that produced puffs of smoke. The only problem was the track would tend to slide on the linoleum floors.I went through all the normal childhood diseases. There was mumps, whooping cough, measles, chicken pox, and maybe some others. Once I caught something deadly that laid me out for weeks but I didn't die. The fear of polio, we didn't know what caused it, always hovered around the edges of our lives. There were 20,000 or more cases annually. Articles about this dreaded disease were ubiquitous. Salk's invention of the polio vaccine in 1955 was HUGE! Some people were so paralyzed they couldn't breath and spent their life in an "Iron Lung" in order to stay alive.Cigarette smoking was ubiquitous. It wasn't seen as the health risk it is today and at the beginning of the decade cigarettes generally weren't filtered. By the 60's filtered cigarettes were the standard. 50's cigarette ads would offend modern sensibilities.The 5 & 10 cent stores, Woolworth's and Kress, were popular. They had a lunch counter for snacks and sandwiches. The stores were filled with neat stuff. Outside of Sears and JC Penney this is where many of us shopped. If we went to a shopping center it was just a line of small stores or what we call a strip mall today. In 1962 a covered mall came to our town. We were blown away as we walked through it. It's still in existence.Automats were around for a long time. I saw my first one in New York and thought it amazing, especially after I bought a pie and saw a hand reach in from behind and replace the one I just bought.Sears was a force to be reckoned with and a forgotten item may be the Sears Catalogue that arrived by mail. Its hundreds of pages was great fun to peruse and an American staple. There was little you couldn't buy including a car, the Allstate. The Allstate was very basic but essentially a good car manufactured by Kaiser, a now defunct brand. At one time Sears even sold prebuilt house kits. They were of excellent quality and many are still with us today. Their solid quality makes them desirable.Sears began as a catalogue company selling to the homestead frontier market in 1886. Farmers and their the isolated families lived near small towns. With the advent of reliable train service it was possible to order whatever you needed from Sears knowing you could trust the Sears name. When it came in the farmer might hook up his buggy that he bought from Sears ($25, $700 now) and drive into town to pick it up.There wasn't a lot you couldn't get at Sears. Your car could be serviced, repaired, and Allstate batteries and tires were for sale. At one time or the other Sears sold appliances, clothing, guns, luggage, watches, musical instruments, tombstones, typewriters, tools, cameras, toys, baseball mitts, bicycles, motor scooters, pianos, horse drawn sleds, shoes, boots, jewelry, well pumps, insurance, the list is nearly endless. If the farmer needed it or his family wanted something they would look in the Sears catalogue. I once bought a motorcycle jacket through the catalogue and it arrived by mail. I drove Sears scooters for years. I even owned a Sears cowboy hat. All were excellent. If Sears sold it you knew it was good quality.You supplied the land and the builder, Sears provided all materials and directions you needed to build your own home. Each piece was stamped with a number so you could find it on the plan. The houses were excellent and are desirable today for their quality. Sears stopped offering them when WWII broke out. Now after 130 years Sears is struggling to keep up with the times.Banker's hours is an expression that refers to the 10am to 3pm hour the banks were open to the public back in the day. After 3:00 you were out of luck. The industry had been heavily regulated since the depression and this meant few, if any, branch offices. In my town there were no branch offices so all banks were downtown with the traffic congestion and bad parking associated with that. We could mail in checks but cash meant a trip downtown. In the 80's the regulations were largely lifted and the frenzied competition for your money began.Although there were oil company and department store credit cards there were no general use cards available to most people. BankAmericard (Visa) changed that in 1958. Now anyone could go in debt and we've been on that ride ever since.An odd fashion statement of the time was the veil woman sometimes wore formally. Unlike the MidEast veil it was see through. I once saw my mother wearing one.We used pencils in school. The only pens in general use were fountain pens which were filled from a small bottle of ink called an inkpot. You stuck the tip in the pot and pulled a lever to suck the ink up. Someone created refills that could be popped in making the fountain pen portable. Ballpoints were coming online but the pencil still reigned supreme. Paper Mate came up with a dependable and affordable ballpoint pen sounding the death knell for the fountain pen then Bic invented the long lasting disposable ballpoint that took its design from the pencil. With it's clear plastic barrel you knew how much ink you had. The pencil began to settle into its current secondary role.The 1950's was the decade of the Ballpoint pen. The first retractable ballpoint pen was introduce in 1949. Ballpoint pens had a long history of development with countless failures along the way primarily because of problems with the ink. Paper Mate, followed by Bic, finally marketed a dependable pen.As ballpoint caught on such standard desktop items as the blotter became obsolete. The blotter was needed to dry up fountain pen smudges. Fountain pens were needed for signatures since pencil could be erased. You had to allow your paper to dry before folding or stacking it. Refillable they could get quite fancy but most of us had to settle for strip of blotter paper. Turning out a smudge free letter or report could be a challenge.Reports were done in pencil and if it was a “term theme” that meant doing your research at the library. I had to take a bus into town and spend the day at the library. We would go through the card catalogue that had every book in the library cross referenced. A report might involve perusing several books, making notes on 3x5 cards, organizing them then writing out the report. The internet changed everything.In college I typed my reports. An invaluable skill I learned in High School. Since the home computer hadn't been invented there was no other way to turn out an attractive looking report. Now it's easy, then it could be laborious. It would take me three attempts to turn out something with a finished appearance. Typing a twenty page report over and over...you get the idea. If I decided add a sentence on the first page then the whole report had to be retyped.I picked an office machine up at a thrift store, it was an oldy but a goody. It took me through my University years and I carried it with me all over the country as I moved about. Then I scored an IBM.The typewriter reached its epitome when IBM Selectric came up with this beauty with its rotating ball instead of the strikers. If you accidentally hit two letters at the same time on a manual they might jam on the page when the strikers both met. I got years out of my IBM until it finally died in Dallas. I never had one better. My computer with a printer changed all that. My first 386 computer was $4000 and my Dot Matrix printer was $800. What's a Dot Matrix you ask?The modern ambulance with its abundance of lifesaving equipment and trained paramedics hadn't been dreamed up yet. Ambulances were made by Cadillac and looked like colorful hearses with windows. I went to a hospital in a green one after a scooter accident.Ether was the preferred anesthetic for operations and it was an unpleasant way to go under but it worked. It's what they used when my tonsils were taken out. Because of the lack of pain killers they fed me ice cream several times a day. They must have scheduled all the tonsillitis cases for the same day because there were a bunch of us in the ward and we all cheered when the orderly rolled in the cart full of ice cream. I was very excited telling my mother about my good fortune.After my scooter accident all I got for the pain was the occasional aspirin so I writhed.Steam locomotives were still pulling trains so if you lived on the "wrong side of the tracks", meaning the prevailing winds blew your way, any laundry drying on a clothesline was doomed should you lose the mad dash to get it down. Diesel trains were making inroads but steam was not obsolete.Steam was much more powerful but you could gang together diesel locomotives until you had enough which is why you will see several locomotives pulling a train. With steam if you needed more power you built a bigger locomotive. They could be ganged but it was undesirable. These locomotives could get massive, 85' long, 132' with the tender, and weighing considerably more than a million pounds. Steam is suited to pulling trains but is high maintenance and expensive to operate compared to diesel.The biggest. Built for pulling trains over the Rockies.As diesel became more prevalent the union insisted the obsolete jobs remain so a diesel locomotive would have a fireman even though no coal needed to be shoveled into the boiler fire. Reader's Digest got into the act writing outraged articles about "featherbedding".I remember sitting in class being introduced to Dick and Jane who were to be my friends for a long time as I learned to read. See Dick run. See Jane run. See dick and Jane run. Run, run, run. It worked.Washing machines worked okay but there were very few dryers so clothes were wrung out with the motor driven wringer on top of the machine. The clothes were later hung out to dry. A friend of mine had his thumb severely crushed when it got caught in the wringer. Then came the ironing. Since we didn't have a steam iron the clothes had to be sprinkled with water. A cork with a top with holes in it could be bought and put on a coke bottle for sprinkling. Washing clothes was a major ordeal. Cotton clothes, artificial fabrics hadn't been invented, had to be bought oversize because they shrank when washed until "Sanforized" cotton was introduced.Our sewing machine had to be pumped by foot. It seemed to work fine but what do I know? The machine folded down converting the unit into a flat table.Although the concept had been around a long time the dishwasher didn't take off until the 1960's. Until then we stood at a sink and handwashed with our bottle of Joy, something I still do except I use Dawn instead of Joy.The modern coffee maker with it's timers and filters was a long way off. Most people made coffee in a percolator. Maxwell coffee grounds (Good to the last drop) were poured into a basket and placed in the pot. The boiling water was forced up the tube in the middle and spilled onto the top of the basket. I was fascinated with watching the water beat against the glass stopper as it slowly turned brown.The soles of shoes were leather and would wear out before the uppers. Heels had to be replaced and holes would appear in the sole. It was a nuisance. I'll take today's Nikes with their rugged soles and care free uppers over the old leather shoes that required frequent polishing. If you wanted a high gloss you wet a cotton ball and used that to apply the polish. In the Army we called that "spit polishing".Your basic car was a manual shift that didn't come with a heater, air conditioning, radio, or power steering. Most, but not all, had turn signals. Turn signals were standard by the end of the decade. If your car didn't have turn signals you were required to stick your arm out the window to signal your intent.Power steering was introduced in 1951 on some luxury cars. Manual steering effort was substantial. I heard a couple of mothers saying they wished they had power steering. I asked what that was and they told me it makes steering easier but were unable to tell me what that meant. Cruise control was first introduced in 1958 but was a luxury item. Automatic transmissions had been developed but were out of the range of many car owners and might only have two speeds. Modern air conditioning was introduced in the 60's although primitive systems were available in the 50's.We got our first car with a radio (AM only) and heater in the 60's. The radios were all vacuum tube so required a minute or more to warm up.Besides having a heater our new car could go 70 mph! Even faster downhill. 70 was the Beetle's top speed. I used to own a New Beetle and took it up to 110 a couple of times.Cars didn't have seatbelts. They were beginning to show up by the end of the decade but were resisted by many. Ford introduced them as an option in 1955 but they weren't popular. The thinking seems to have been that Fords must be dangerous or they wouldn't offer seatbelts. A popular scenario was what if you end up in a lake and couldn't get free. I thought that was silly. How often do you end up in a lake? I got it right away and always wore mine, thank God. I had an accident in which I might have died without it. Reader's Digest published articles detailing accidents in which someone's life was saved. Because they actually saved lives so were eventually accepted.Cars back then had steering wheels often with horn rings that could easily impale your chest. Without a safety belt I would have merged with my steering column. As it was I bent the top of the steering wheel over 90 degrees. Before belts people often were severely injured by their steering columns, chests were crushed and passengers went through the windshield. People would be thrown out of their cars to slide down the street or bounce around the interior slamming into one another or hard interior parts. Dashboards were metal and less forgiving than modern dashboards. Airbags, what?Many cars had vacuum operated windshield wipers that operated using the engine vacuum. Electric windshield wipers were catching on through the 50's and became the standard in the 60's. Vacuum operated wipers, although better than nothing, were quirky and didn't operate well under acceleration. In a downpour I periodically let up on the accelerator allowing the wipers to speed up so I could see.Cars often didn't come with side mirrors unless you went upscale. When they had mirrors they were often just on the driver's side. If you wanted a mirror on your basic car you had to add it yourself. I purchased aftermarket mirrors and added them to some of my cars. They were hard to adjust. You usually loosened a screw to adjust the mirror which might go out of adjustment as the screw was tightened.Windshield washers were almost non-existent. I didn't even know such a thing existed. White sidewall tires were ubiquitous.Cars were not reliable. They were pretty well worn out by 60,000 miles. Speedometers only went to 99,999 miles. I only saw one car break a 100,000 and it was very tired. By 60,000 you might have gone through five sets of tires and even more tuneups. A tuneup required new plugs, points, and maybe even more. Tuneups needed to be done every few thousand miles. Most people didn't do it as often as needed so the car's performance suffered. I did a tuneup on a friend's car that was barely running. It ran like new afterwards. I was a hero. I tracked my gas mileage and when it began to fall I did a tuneup. They were simple to do if you knew how and took an hour. The points had to be carefully set and the timing adjusted using a timing light. I bought the necessary equipment and saved a lot of money doing my own. The carburetor was a beast best avoided by most DIYs. I learned to overhaul them but there were pitfalls galore for even the best mechanics. I got so adept at tuneups I set up a mobile tuneup business and made a few bucks.Chiltons published an excellent service manual for all American cars. Everything you needed to know about doing your own work on a car was in them along with valuable hints such as how to "power tune" an engine and all the specs you needed to do a tuneup. They would tear down an engine and then tell you how to do it, step by step, complete with photographs. In later years they no longer took these extra steps so I stopped buying them.By 60,000 miles you might have made some repairs and replaced shocks and brakes a number of times. Drum brakes were high maintenance. They required periodic adjustment so the car wouldn't pull to one side or the other when you stepped on them. It could be tricky. Modern disc brakes are superior in every way except peddle effort.Engines quickly wore out and began burning oil on top of the oil they invariably leaked. Roads back then would have a black streak down the middle from all the oil the engines put out. Motorcyclists were cautioned to not drive in the center of the road because of the oil slick. A car spewing white smoke was a common sight, sometimes it came out in clouds. "Ring and valve jobs" were commonplace and a part of owning a car.Engine oil was crude relative to today's oils. It was a "single grade" meaning there was a difference between winter and summer oil. "Multi-vicosity" oils changed that so we could use a single oil both winter and summer.Detergent oils also changed things. One problem owners faced was the development of "sludge" on engine parts. This gooey substance can ruin an engine and is one reason for prescribed oil changes. Detergent oils suspend foreign products in the oil and protect against sludge buildup. In the 50's this was a major concern. Articles were written educating people about the phenomenon.The acids in sludge ruined metal parts.Sludge buildup can happen to modern engines but is no longer the ubiquitous problem it was in the 50's.Modern oil has played a critical role in allowing today's engines to develop so much power and last so long. Synthetic oils are even better and an economical choice if you plan to keep your car. The 40,000 to 70,000 mile expiration date for your engine is a thing of the past.Upholstery was generally cheap plastic and would begin tearing and splitting before the end of the useful car life. There was a market for aftermarket seat covers.Those who could afford it traded in their car every two years. A car loan was generally for two years. A new car warranty might be for six months and 4,000 miles. Cars frequently came out of the factory with problems so the warranty was important. We bought a car that had no oil in the transmission. A friend bought one with none of the chassis bolts tightened.There was a big market for retread, or recap, tires, they were good for maybe 5,000 miles. The modern radial tire, a European innovation, didn't begin to catch on in the US until the 70's. I remember a Sears display of a radial tire that pitched rubber after 40,000 miles. I could barely believe it, nobody would because everyone knew it was impossible for tires to last that long. Sears jumped on the Radial bandwagon right away and was an important retailer for these modern tires.Willys (Jeep) got into the new car market after the war trading on the Jeep's wartime reputation. We owned two of their station wagons. They weren't bad. I once noticed our Jeep had 40,000 miles and commented. My mother told me that it's been a good car as we rattled down the street. The car was near the end of its useful life.Our Willy-Overland station wagon had a flathead four cylinder engine could propel it to upwards of 60mph on a flat road but it slowed down on hills. It was the first American station wagon with an all metal body. 60 or 70 was about all most cars could do. Upscale cars with their V8s were much faster. A modern Honda tour bike has considerably more horsepower than your 1950's basic car.There is a story of a policeman driving to work when a Cadillac blew past him at 85. He floored it and got up to 70mph. He caught the guy at a light and gave him a ticket. His engine blew up a couple of days later.There was an amusing song about a Nash Rambler that outran a guy in his Cadillac.Nash also made a subcompact in an age in which the Beetle was the popular small car. It was a neat little car and got around 30 miles per gallon. It could hit 60 in 30 seconds. The car magazines liked it, the public not so much. Most modern cars will hit 60 in fewer than 10 seconds.BMW was not yet the automotive powerhouse it is today. In the 50's it began marketing its version of the three wheel Isetta in the US. Competition with the Beetle killed it.Vespa also got into the minicar craze in the 50's with a cool little 8′ long car powered by a two stroke rear engine. My mother had one. We both liked it although I had to install a right side aftermarket mirror on it. For its size it was quick and it was easy to drive. My mother took my sister and friends swimming once. My sister told me as she walked by a mother and son she heard the woman telling her son "You saw them all get out of the car". My mother got it up to 70 once.However the smallest American car had to be the King Midget. A couple of war veterans began marketing them in 1946 and was in business until 1970 when the new owners mismanaged the company into bankruptcy. They sold for $5000 in today's money. I owned one. Mine, a later model, had an air compressor engine, a 2-speed automatic transmission, and was peppy enough to hold its own in traffic. At 8½' it was the same length as a decked out Harley-Davidson which weighed almost twice as much as this 500 pound package. Modern compact cars weigh around 3,000 pounds.The VW Beetle began making inroads into the America market. There was a hunger for inexpensive and reliable cars. Compared to the big, thirsty, unreliable American cars it filled a need. We were all sensing something was rotten in Detroit. The phrase planned obsolescence entered the vocabulary.At $17,000 with a 1200cc engine that got 30mpg the Beetle filled a niche and provided a warning shot across the bow of the bloated American car companies that they ignored allowing the Japanese to come in later and blow them out of the water.The Harley Davidson twin was the king of the road. Big, comfortable, and with an engine the same size as a Beetle it reigned supreme. It leaked oil and kept the owner busy working on it weekends but it was a labor of love. It was all the police drove. The earlier ones had controls that would confuse a modern rider including a hand-operated stickshift for the transmission complete with a pedal operated clutch and a manual timing control.Manual transmissions were about all most people could afford and the shifter was not on the floor like they are nowadays, it was on the column. There are jokes that the best anti-theft device you can have is a stickshift but there was a time when everyone could drive a three speed manual shift car.You would leave the car in first gear when you parked. The engine would stop the car from rolling. When you wanted to drive away you would push in the clutch, start the engine, let out the clutch, and go. If you forget to step on the clutch and turned the key the car would jerk forward.The triangular "wing windows" were an important part of ventilating the car. You could adjust them to divert air into the car. It was a big help.The only dependable way to make you way about town was with a map. If you were going across country it was even more essential because this was the age of the state highways. Gas stations were generally a dependable source of maps.AAA was another source and they would plan your trips for you with a customized "Triptik" in which the trip was unfolded for you from one page to the next. I've ordered a lot of these in the days before GPS.Since the miracle of GPS I haven't owned a map. The GPS took me from door to door on my last cross country trip which included many stops in between.Schwinn was the most popular bicycle brand. Bicycles were heavy and had a single speed. They sometimes came with a "tank" and might have a horn inside. You stopped by pedaling backwards to engage the brake.The "English racer" was lighter than American style bikes and had brakes that clamped on the tire rim that worked much better than the American style. Some had three speeds.Lights were ineffective battery operated affairs with a short battery life. They did little more than hopefully alert a car driver to your presence. "Generator lights" would take care of the battery problem but the lights were still dim.Automobiles aside trains and buses were how you traveled long distances, if you crossed the ocean you went by ship. I've done all three and spent many a night on a "sleeper" train in a fold down bed listening to the comforting clickety-clack of the wheels. I especially like ships, crossing the Atlantic twice on one. I loved the rhythmic pounding of the engines at night. We spent a night on board a ship in the New York harbor when a hurricane came through. I was impressed by the huge trees that were lying around next morning.Although not the first commercial service, Pan American had been flying the Transatlantic route for a couple of decades with the Clipper flying boats, the Boeing 707 paved the way for affordable long distance air service in 1958. It was fast, traversing the ocean in less than 8 hours vs more than 20 for the Clipper, and reliable. In addition you could carry on a conversation with your neighbor, something you couldn't do in a piston engine plane.The home entertainment system consisted of a vacuum tube AM, no FM, radio with a 4" speaker and a tube record player. Primitive Hi Fi and stereo was just catching on in higher priced systems. The long play LP 33⅓ record was introduced but most pop music was 45 RPM with one song on each side. Teenagers might have a stack of 45's. By the way it took a while for vacuum tubes to warm up, perhaps a minute, so when you see someone in a movie turn on an old radio and it comes right on...didn't happen. Instant on is the result of transistors followed by printed circuits.Transistors made their debut in the late 40's. The Japanese developed them into a commercially viable item with Sony introducing the astounding portable radio that could be carried in a pocket in 1957. I got my first one in 1963. This product was an unbelievable departure from what we were accustomed to.45's were how teenagers built their collection of favorite songs. There was one song on each side. Usually the other side was a throwaway. At the modern equivalent of $8 a record this could be a sizable investment. LPs were closer to $40. An adapter could be bought to push into the large hole so it could be played on a 33⅓ record player. Record players generally had three speeds 78, 45, and 33. 45's were 7" and 33's were 12". A full album could be recorded on a 33. The 78.26 was mostly obsolete in the 50's and had a playing time about the same as a 45. My mother had a collection of 78's.This was the solution to playing all those 45s. We all had these record changers that we could stack our records on. At the end of the song the tone arm returned to the side, a new record fell and the tone arm set down at the beginning of the new record automatically. What more could you ask for?Recording music is easy now and we can download from the Net but back then there was no practical way for the average person to record music. Commercial tape recorders were available but were too expensive for the average person. Tape recorders didn't come into their own until the 60's once problems with the tape itself were solved although the late 50's had some showing up. Hi Fi stereo also came into its own in the 60's with the advent of affordable amplifiers, tape decks, record changers, and separate speakers. With the availability of high quality components you could build your own system.My dream speakers were the AR5. Acoustic Research made some of the finest speakers in the world and at $2000 a pair was within reach of the serious audiophile. They had 10" woofers. I picked up a pair at a thrift store at a ridiculous price. They didn't know what they had.In the early 60's Sony introduced one of the first affordable home use tape recorders, the Sony 500, if you call $2000 in current money affordable. It was a nifty unit with speakers that folded in to make a compact portable unit. The amplifiers were vacuum tubes, not transistors. I bought one, subscribed to a tape club, and began building a collection of prerecorded music. The nice thing about the unit is I could record records from a record player. Never before had I even dreamed of such a luxury.I built my own system and an amusing incident resulted. I recorded some piano music and because of a miscalculation I had a long lead time before the music began. Friends were over and my 3 year old daughter sat at the piano to pretend to play. We forgot I had a tape in and just then the music began and to all appearances my daughter suddenly could play professionally. One of my friends was actually shocked into standing up staring at her open mouthed. We were all stunned until the reality sank in when my daughter stopped "playing" to check out the sudden stir of activity behind her. That’s what Acoustic Research speakers could do for you.Postage was 3 cents, for an extra 2 cents you could have your letter air mailed which was considerably faster. Otherwise it was sent by train which might take a while if it was going across country. If you sent it ground to another country it went by ship and could take weeks. When I was in Germany a friend mailed a letter ground from Japan and it took three months. Now all mail is airmail.If you didn't have enough postage a stamp for the amount due was put on the letter and the recipient had to pay to get his letter. This practice came to an end because people were mailing their bills without postage and the bill collectors were spending a lot of money paying the postage due. Today it's no stamp, no service.Of interest but off subject is one of the most valuable American stamps is the upside down or inverted Jenny stamp issued in 1918. Somehow the stamp slipped by inspectors and a single sheet was sold. The buyer, realizing what he had, asked for more but the clerk instead tried to get it back. The buyer refused and examples now go for hundreds of thousands of dollars.Long distance driving was more difficult as cities were connected by two lane state highways. These highways would go right through a city. Signs would guide the traveler through the city streets, traffic lights and all, and back into the countryside. On the highway one might get stuck behind a slowpoke unable to pass for miles and miles as a dozen cars stacked up. There were other hazards. We once topped a hill and suddenly found ourselves barreling down on a farm tractor doing perhaps eight miles an hour while we were doing seventy. It was close.Eisenhower launched the country into the modern interstate system in the fifties and it was a huge project. Lives were disrupted as the right of way would mean old family dwellings being torn down to make way for the freeway. Rockwell did a touching painting of a family watching their family home being destroyed. Entire towns died as the traffic they depended on was rerouted.Some construction workers would haul mobile homes behind trucks as they moved from city to city attempting to minimize disrupting their children's lives.The interstate had an unexpected side effect as a small industry, relative to today, over the road trucking, took off. Trains were no longer the only way to move large quantities of goods between cities. The problem was the interstate was not designed to handle so much weight creating unanticipated maintenance issues.