Growing up, I had a strong attachment for the book Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel. I had passed many construction sites, some even with the little windows you look through, but I had never seen a steam shovel, and the idea was of glorious wonder, that out there, Marie Anne, the Steam Shovel existed, the way towns where circus’ visited annually existed. I didn't like the building, I liked the story. I read the book growing up in the woods of Surrey, BC, where there was only one paved road, and we would take a trip to visit the one annual circuit carnival, the P&E (Which still comes to Vancouver).
Perhaps I loved the book because I had already had been judged and found wanting, much like the start of the book. For Mike Mulligan each day grew harder as new shovels came and his beloved Marie Anne grew obsolete. So, Mike Mulligan bets all the pay that Marie Anne can build the basement of the new town hill in a single day instead of 100 men. It is attempts at the impossible that make it a favorite. Much like Buck and John in Chapter 6 of London’s Call of the Wild when he rashly bets all he owns and will own that Buck can break a thousand pound sled out of the ice and pull it 100 yards: "As you love me, Buck. As you love me," was what he whispered."
Or perhaps it was just red books, since Ferdinand the Bull was another favorite.
The secret, when you have no money, or very little is to make it count so much more. So, when an overlooked estate auction came up with a collection of Victorian, Edwardian postcards, I found Marie Anne, and for the first time, I sent myself a postcard, one to frame. As you can see it is a early 1906-10 postcard with hand added colour.
The Steam Shovel pictured here in Wyo. is an amazing machine, and it makes me feel that there is that passion and magic of being one of those who sees what can be instead of what is (and kudo's to all those who have restored found steam engines). I don’t need a ‘Mike’ in this postcard, just Marie Anne. When I read this as a child I identified with Mike, and Ferdinand when I read that book, and John when I read call of the wild. This is a type of reading which occurs about 1 in 20 in the population. But today, knowing myself and my life, I see myself not in Mike or John but in Buck, and Marie Anne, the one who will drive themselves beyond limits, drive to destruction for love. For those who have and haven’t read the book, the New German Film darling Werner Hertzog reads Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, adding his interpretation of isolation and forbidden love (well, he was spot on with that one for me).
Perhaps I love the China Clippers and the Zeppelins because they seem to magnificent to have ever existed at all, however brief. It was a world which became small through the magnificant and wonderful: Giant Zeppelins going to the north pole, circling the world and regular service from Berlin to Buenos Aires in three days, Europe to NY in a day instead of five days.
The Graf Zeppelin, the original of the long term and genius designed ocean crossing flying ships. While all know of the Hindenburg (the panel to investigate in the US could never find the exact cause), no other unmodified Zeppelin crashed (Count von Zeppelin’s airships were taken as war booty and modified, some into aircraft carriers (the USA), while the UK tried to use a confiscated Zeppelin to go to India, but in adding more sections to the middle, caused a crash. The LZ-127, created in 1928, operated 590 flights cover over 1 million miles from 1928 to 1937. At 776 feet, it flew at 80 mph, though standard cruising speed was 73 miles per hour, faster than some planes of the period. This is a german unmailed early 1930's postcard of the Graf Zeppelin, who flew continuously, mostly on the Brazil to Germany flights. I found a sell off of Zeppelin postcards, and I put my two dollars in, and for some reason, this one was left behind, likely because it was in German. But the Zeppelins WERE German.
Linda, who read the caption, says the ‘Graf Zeppelin over its home town’ and you can see the Zeppelin hanger with the doors open below in Friedrichshafen. The first flight of the Graf Zeppelin was to the US, as it repeated the transatlantic flight of a Zeppelin in 1924 to deliver it to the US Navy (since all the Allies in WWI wanted the Zeppelins, and there was an odd number of Zeppelins, Count von Zeppelin promised a post war Zeppelin to the US). The Graf Zeppelin began regular service in 1930 to Brazil and Europe with stops in London, Spain, Miami and Berlin (including speedy airmail). It was the ‘age of wonders’.
In 1937, with the Hindenburg disaster, all airships were grounded, and after the US refused to sell the Helium to convert Zeppelins to fire safe travel, the age of one airship gave way to another.
The three Mars 130 Clippers, were specially designed as the largest flying boats by George L Martin Company, planned for the first trans-pacific Oceanic flight. They cost just under half a million each in 1935 and only the Philippines, Hawaii and China Clipper were constructed, while a fourth, the Russia Clipper, used a different and larger design. The public, who saw these constructed and flying felt amazement the way the Space Shuttle was watched in the 80’s/90’s, and called them all the ‘China Clippers’. On November 22, 1935 in hopes to prove that a trans-pacific regular service was possible, a flight took off with 110,000 pieces of airmail headed for Manila. Leaving San Francisco Harbor, where the new bridge was being built, the pilot realized that the M-130 would not clear the bridge, and so flew under it, and completed the take-off and flight. The flight navigator for the historic Nov 22, 1935 was Fred Noonan, who navigated and mapped many of Pan Am’s pacific routes. He wanted to start a navigation school and so worked on a world tour to generate interest. That world tour was with Amelia Earhart and they both disappeared July 2, 1937.
The Philippine Clipper started a round trip passenger service to Hong Kong in 1936. The round trip pacific flights of the three planes ended when put to military service in 1942, like the Zeppelin, the world war changed everything. Here, you can see the Philippine Clipper descending into Hong Kong (with the boat aspect, it was well suited to land where there was lots of water but few runways). This illustration is the front of a menu from the 'Clipper Service', an international experience as Pan Am, while starting in international routes, and a dream of a ‘plane in every airport in the world’, they did not get access to US routes until the 1970’s. But they continued to develop planes, including the ‘strato clipper’ which was double deckered, had a front view port, beds and hot meals, as well as a pressurized cabin from 1949 to 1960. These menu’s were sent to me from Brazil. I wish they were from the ‘Flying Clippers’ described below but I am sure they are later.
I kind of hope they are from the South American Service on the 32 and 44 seat Sikorsky S-42 which first started servicing the South America’s in the 30's. These mini-posters, which I got a while ago to serve as postcards were created to promote the southern routes and createdin the late 30’s (yes, these came from South America too, luckily postcards and mini-stiff posters are cheap to mail). These were known as the ‘Flying Clippers’ and started service a year before the ‘China Clippers’.
All this hearkens back to the days when flying was one of the great adventures, and ‘have you flown’ was something people compared, like other rites of passage. Home, childhood, dreams, drive, adventure, amazement: that is what postcards can remind me – little hand held memories.
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