Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel comes home, plus Graf Zeppelin and Pan Am Clippers

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.


Lorna, Bob and Liam said...

As always, something beautiful, something educational, something inspirational. Thanks for sharing this!

Neil said...

Airships seem to be something that is constantly being reinvented. The US Navy is already using them, and there's a British company hoping to sell thousand-foot-long airships for long-duration flights, rescue work, aerial surveillance, etc.

Meanwhile, my introduction to steampunk in 200 was the children's novel Airborn, by Kenneth Oppel. I highly recommend it to anyone, because it's simply a good book. The author's website has this to say about it:

Matt Cruse is the 15-year-old cabin boy aboard the Aurora, the 900-foot luxury airship he has called home for the past two years. While crossing the Pacificus, Matt fearlessly rescues the unconscious pilot of a crippled hot air balloon. Before he dies, the balloonist tells him about the fantastic, impossible creatures he has seen flying through the clouds. Matt dismisses the story as the ravings of a dying man, but when Kate de Vries arrives on the Aurora a year later, determined to prove the story is true, Matt finds himself caught up in her quest. Then one night, over the middle of the ocean, deadly air pirates board the Aurora. Far from any hope of rescue, Kate and Matt are flung into adventures beyond all imagining...

I got the book from the library for bedtime reading to my sons, then bought it because they enjoyed it as much as I did.

Love and zen hugs,

Neil said...

Gah, that should have read "in 2005" not 200! Even I'm not THAT old!!!

More hugs,

e said...

Hi Beth,

I love this post. I'm just catching up on blogs. Best to you and Linda.

wendryn said...

I love the pictures of the postcards! I'm very glad you found them!

Thank you so much for sharing these.

Linda McClung said...

Linda here,

I really enjoyed reading your blog, Beth. I love how you tell a story. It's always interesting and I end up learning things. You are a great teacher.

That was quite some reading of Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel! Much darker than the story I remember reading about 10 years ago.

I think it is very cool that you found the Mary Ann postcard. We'll get it framed soon and you can hang it on the wall near your computer or somewhere else you will see it.

It would be very neat to ride in a zeppelin or clipper. It's so true that 'having flown' used to be a big deal. Today, there are very few people that I've met who have never flown in an airplane. My sister-in-law being one of them.

For me, flying in an airplane is something I've done a lot. What was more of a buzz for me was taking a Beaver flight which takes off and lands in water. So cool! Noisy, but very cool.

I think my next flying 'first' would be to take an air balloon ride. One day when I have lots of disposable money...

I love flying as it is taking me to a new adventure. I always get the travel bug whenever I'm at an airport picking someone up.

These are some amazing postcards you have. I especially like seeing inside the Philippine Clipper.

cheryl g said...

I loved Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel. It is a favorite book of my childhood. I also read it to my meices when they were little along with Ferdinand The Bull and Harold and the Purple Crayon.

Those are amazing postcards. I am glad you have given yourself one.

tinarussell said...

(sniffles) I love you, Beth. I tend to make friends with people who can tell interesting stories from a vast array of esoteric knowledge, so reading this felt like relaxing in your living room with some hot cocoa and listening to you talk about something interesting that means a lot to you. ...Which you were, of course. You tell a lot about yourself when you write these educational posts, and it makes me feel very warm and close to you.

Kita said...

Amazing, as usual, Beth! You always have something up your sleeve to teach us! :-)

Much love (e-mail on its way to you)

Elizabeth McClung said...

Lorna: While for us the world changes with Ipods, but every few years it seemed whole continents opened up as for those in the 1928-1939 people the world changed with Zeppelins making 3 week cruise ship trips to South America obsolete, and both making the post, 'airmail' specifically something easy for Asian Canadians and Americans to send home. The Clippers and Pan Am were agressive in securing airmail rights all over the world. Zeppelin operators were even rated a postal workers to be able to sort airmail while en-route. What kind of children's books did you read?

Neil: Ironically, the ships used for sightseeing the last two years in US, Japan and Germany have all been German rated for zeppelin flight AND designed and inspected by the Zeppelin Company (somehow still functional in Germany).

While I like Kenneth Oppel, and had read him in the 90's, I found him a mid range author, but very consistant in publishing. So I read but was 'uh' about the book (odes to Doyle's Adventure work from 1890s though), sadly a 'great' steampunk novel in the genre raising type like cyberpunk's big three (Stephenson, Gibson and Sterling). The Zeppelin seems based on the Akron, made by the Zeppelin Company in the US for the Navy (into an aircraft carrier). Oh, I think the vision of a day when there are a surfeit of zeppelins would be wonderful. The new ones only go 40-48 mph though. Unusual.

Elizabeth McClung said...

e: hey, still here, brain still in function, will keep posting till lights out.

Wendryn: I like the old aviation and doing the research helps me in learning more about why avaitors like the Sikorsky S-42, which despite the name is entirely US built and was named the 'most beautiful US plane' - it must be great to fly as I had always dismissed it until I saw the fuel range and date of build.

Linda: yes, Hertzog really give a different view of the book, but one which is probably true, Mike was running from technology and his was an act of desperation, that is what I picked up as a child, and so to be who he was, the Steam Shovel operator, was all he wanted. Perhaps as children, in what seems a static life of school, home, family, the idea of changing careers many times, seems odd indeed. Of the three homes I lived in by age seven, Surray was the longest, and the second longest I stayed in any place until we went to the UK. Since I have been sick, my parents have moved three or four times. I wonder what Hertzog would say? Thank you for explaining how you read books 'outside' the book instead of from the point of view of a character in the book.

Cheryl: Thanks, I like all but Harold as were the Wild Things are, which seemed to me, as a person who 'was Harold' as my first experience viewing an avant and expressionist reality. But I know they are favorites along with 'Oor Willie (by the author of Ferdinand the Bull), Madeline, and Curious George.

Tina: I am glad. I am curious what stories you enjoyed. But as for me, with my passions and early memories having closer access due to a bomb in the brain, I like telling a story, which I guess is my story, or how I link other's stories and lives spent, passions spent. The Graf, was melted by Hitler in the end for 'war efforts' and the China Clippers, though pretty, all must have been a b*tch to fly, as Hawaii Clipper crashed in '38, another on Hawaii in '42 or '43. The S-42's were much more stable!

Kita: I am just glad that the months and $1 for a Zepplin postcard, $6 for a Pan Am early rigid poster, and such, probably $25 in all, spread over a couple months helped me tell the story. Nice postcard at the end too!

Vanessa and Gang said...

I love airplanes too and flying in them. I wish I knew more about them.

Oh and I chacked out that menu and it lists Caffine Free Diet Coke which was not introduced until 1983 so the menu was not printed until after then. The veal sounds good though! :D

Noisyworld said...

Fascinating, I love coming to this blog to read things I never would have thought had a commmon thread :)
Interestingly (well I think so!) The US may have been extremely savvy in not making the less explosive Helium available to the world for airships, we are depleting the supplies which are available as the planet cannot replace it and once dispersed into the atmosphere it's so light it actually escapes the gravity of the earth and dissipates into space :(

Lorna, Bob and Liam said...

Beth, you asked what kinds of children's books I read as a kid... unfortunately, I don't remember huge chunks of my childhood (long, irrelevant to anyone but me story). However, I was a voracious reader and I do recall my mom turning me loose in the adult library by grade 5 or 6 'cause I pretty much blew out the kids' books by then. I remember getting into classic sci-fi and murder mysteries at a (probably inappropriately) young age.

Aha! I DO remember this: series. Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins, Trixie Belden, Enid Blyton's Fabulous (? Or some other "F" word) Four, etc. I loved being able to read about characters over time, as they grew and learned and changed. Still do.

Have to admit - probably never managed anything approaching an insightful analysis of anything like Mike Mulligan, though. *grin*

Raccoon said...

Again with the history! I never paid much attention to airships. I mean, I knew that the Empire State building was supposed to be a mooring, and that the Hindenburg burned, but that was about it.

Hot air balloons I knew a tiny bit more about.

The only reason I knew about Mike was because I worked in bookstores...

Elizabeth McClung said...

Raccoon: Sorry, but today and yesterday always seem to go together for me, besides you got to hear Hertzog, that's exciting sort of in a very depressing New Wave German experience. What childrens books did you read? And what period of history do you like?

Aviatrix said...

Fantastic collection. I kept lifting fingers to tell you things about the ones I know about, but you kept demonstrating in the next line that you already know. I remember both Mike and the steam shovel and Ferdinand, but for some reason I didn't enjoy Ferdinand. Little kid me didn't like stories where the protagonist was pressured to do things he didn't want to, even when it worked out okay in the end.

That leaves me with only one unimportant comment to make: Vancouver's show is spelled not P&E but PNE (short for Pacific National Exhibition and in contrast with Toronto's CNE (Canadian National Exhibition). I kind of suspect that you know all that and the form in the post is a typo of sorts.

Anonymous said...

My Grandpa was a flight engineer for Pan Am starting in 1940 and flew the Asia routes, including the China Clippers, for most of his career. He passed away a few weeks ago.

It would have made him happy to see such a recent post including the history of Pan Am.

I can't get on a plane without thinking of him and how different the travel experience was. Thank you for the post and the great pics you collected for it.