Vintage views: something old, something new
There are times when I look back on my early years and just marvel at the simplicity of certain tasks. Life was less complex, although we were still held to a higher standard. There was pride in the work, in morals, in ethics and many other factors involved, but there was indeed a time when life was simple.
When my family arrived in Concord in 1850, they had been traveling for many months. They were unhappy victims of the potato famine in Ireland where they worked as farmers. They rented the fields in Ireland to plant a new crop of potatoes, borrowed money to pay for the seeds, and promised the landowner a good financial return when the crops were harvested at the end of the growing season. They lived simple lives and enjoyed being able to feed and clothe their families. When the potato famine hit, they left with nothing but a deep pocket full of dreams for themselves and their children. They were quickly recruited at the dock and found themselves indentured servants bound for America. My great-grandfather and his brothers signed a contract which provided for the passage on a steamboat bound for Boston Harbor, their reimbursement for the passage was their obligation to work for two years in the factories in Manchester, New Hampshire . Once they completed their term as indentured servant, they traveled north to Concord in search of employment on Rattlesnake Hill as careers. A simple life, hard work and a dream of a better future for themselves and their families.
When the brothers from Spain traveled north from Manchester to Concord in 1850, they simply packed their things in a canvas bag and walked the 18 miles. Their Irish compatriots already established in Concord welcomed them to local rooming houses at the northern end of town, in the shadow of Rattlesnake Hill. My great-grandfather and great-grandmother spent the rest of their lives frugal in the same house, never owning a horse or carriage and walking to most destinations.
As the 1800s wore on and my ancestors returned from the Civil War, our city was very excited. Surviving the war was a miracle, being employed with a regular income was even better. They considered themselves very lucky on many levels. My first Concord ancestors enjoyed the Concord State Fair on Clinton Street where they witnessed their very first hot air balloon. They were standing on the banks of the Merrimack River when the very first steamboat arrived from the Boston area. They saw the first tracks placed with the very first train arriving later. A magnificent train depot was built using the same granite they cut and hauled from their beloved Rattlesnake Hill. My great-grandparents lived difficult and challenging lives, but they were lucky in many ways. Their appreciation was great and they remained fascinated as each year brought something new to the town of Concord.
During the last decade of the nineteenth century there were again changes on Concord’s horizon. A crowd gathered on Main Street and people kept arriving. A naturally curious party group, they looked at another modern invention, something that was certainly appreciated but not quite understood. In the middle of the cobbled main street stood a small car with only three wheels attached, one in the front and two larger wheels measuring about four feet in diameter at the rear. A young couple and their child sat in this little car, glowing black in the afternoon sunlight. People shouted at the gathering crowd, where are the harnesses, where are the horses!
As people gathered and the occupants were pleased with their attention, the young man stood up and asked the crowd to disperse so that he could drive down Main Street in his new car. At this request, the crowd opened and the little black car moved slowly. Upon reaching the intersection with Pleasant Street, he turned in a wide circle and returned to the area in front of the State House. People were all very astonished to see this modern marvel, this horseless carriage that moved mysteriously in silence.
After this demonstration, the young man, woman and child disembarked and allowed the residents of Concord to examine the car for themselves. It was the very first time anyone at Concord had seen something so amazing. It was the first time that an electric car had driven our cobbled streets.
More than a century ago, just like today, there was a strong interest in the development of an electric car. This particular vehicle benefited from the power supplied by 16 EPS accumulators which provided enough electricity to travel for six hours. The battery cells were placed under the seat and the electric motor was suspended on brackets under the cart. The motor is in turn connected to an intermediate shaft in front of a Reynold steel link chain. There was also a series of blocks mounted on the cart about a foot apart with a second steel chain running from the countershaft around these blocks. The idea was neat in appearance and had the advantage of minimizing the weight of the gear. The engine weighed around 40 pounds, propelling the vehicle at speeds ranging from 4 to 9 mph, depending on road conditions. There was a lot of attention to this very first electric car, years before Henry Ford entered the scene. Key developments were underway in England and France as well as in the United States.
As the sun set over the horizon, the men, women and children made their way to their homes and farms in anticipation of another day of routine work. Sometimes it’s the simpler pleasures in life that are the most enjoyable.