Just when you thought that the Weimar Republic couldn’t do anything!

In the 1930’s, when most trains were steam-powered, German Rail experimented with an aluminum train pushed by a propeller, which ran as fast as 140 mph.

Conceived and built in 1930 by the German rail company Deutsche Reichsbahn, the Schienenzeppelin was a design alternative to the streamlined steam locomotives of its day. It was a slick and relatively lightweight at 20 tons, running on but two axles and powered by a 46-liter BMW V-12.

The same engine was later used to power the light bombers of the Luftwaffe. The engine sent 600 horsepower to a massive ash propeller, tilted seven degrees to produce downforce. It was one of those designs that would shock and delight even in these times, when aluminum is used not for Bauhaus trains but for high-revving V-8s and computers from the near future.

Originally good for 120 mph — on par with the fastest streamlined steam locomotives — the topped out at a magnificent 140 mph in the summer of 1931. It was a record that stood for 23 years and was never surpassed by a gasoline-powered locomotive.

Unfortunately, the train never made it into production. Problems with propeller safety (!) and reliability kept it from attaining mass production. The prototype that set the speed record was dismantled in 1939 on the eve of World War II.

A train like this  would have given a lot of movie train scenes a very different look.  Somehow, I can’t see Bogey waiting next to the Schienenzeppelin in Casablanca.



Fast Delivery: The note was written 4 July 1863.  Cached in the tiny bottle shown above, the note was delivered the same day to General John Pemberton, commanding the Confederate troops holding the fortress of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

The fortress, which effectively blocked  traffic on the Mississippi, had withstood multiple attacks by General Grant’s forces, but its defenders were nearing starvation.

Slow Delivery: In 1896, a former Confederate soldier gave the bottle, with its note inside, to the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia.

Long Dormancy:  In 2010, the Museum’s collections manager, Catherine Wright, decided to examine the note, and found that it was written in code.   Finding that it was written in code, Ms. Wright asked David Gaddy, a retired CIA codebreaker, to crack it.  After a few weeks, he did: the note reads:

“You can expect no help from this side of the river.”

We can thank General Sherman for tying down possible reinforcements.

Vicksburg fell to the Union Army the same day that General Pemberton received the note: July 4.  This was not just another battle: the fall of Vicksburg  was a major morale boost for the Union, it opened the Mississippi River to Union traffic, which was crucial to the economies of the middle states, and it cut the Confederacy in two.

It hardly seems possible that, despite the intense study devoted to the Civil War for nearly 150 years, we still continue to find new things about it.


A few years ago, French photographer Sacha Goldberger found his 91-year-old Hungarian grandmother Frederika feeling lonely and depressed. To cheer her up, he suggested that they shoot a series of outrageous photographs in unusual costumes, poses, and locations. Grandma reluctantly agreed, but once they got rolling, she couldn’t stop smiling.

Frederika was born in Budapest 20 years before World War II. During the war, at the peril of her own life, she courageously saved the lives of ten people. When asked how, Goldberger told us “she hid the Jewish people she knew, moving them around to different places every day.” As a survivor of Nazism and Communism, she then immigrated away from Hungary to France, forced by the Communist regime to leave her homeland illegally or face death.

I like this one:

via Grandma’s Superhero Therapy (18 photos) – My Modern Metropolis.

“Ghosts of Amsterdam” is a fascinating site, the work of Jo Teeuwisse, a Historical Consultant in Amsterdam, who superimposes World War II photos of Amsterdam over modern photos of the same places

Years ago I found some negatives in a fleamarket. I scanned them and put them online. I then found some of the spots in the photos and took pictures there.  The picture below is of the Liberation Parade on Friday June 29th, 1945 in the Vijzelstraat, Amsterdam.

via Ghosts of Amsterdam « How to be a Retronaut.

Ed Driscoll has a good blog post discussing how TV and movies distort our views of history, both through the unavoidably selective presentation of “reality” and through fictional artistry.  (I did not know that “follow the money” was not a phrase used by Watergate “Deep Throat” — it only appers in the movie.)

Along the way, he makes a very apt prediction:

… in 2000 years they’ll make movies about our era, and everyone will be half-naked and sweaty while they commit mortgage fraud.

Link: http://pajamasmedia.com/eddriscoll/2010/11/06/follow-the-truthiness/

In case you ever wondered what’s the oldest known photo of a human being:

Boulevard du TempleParis, IIIe arrondissement, Daguerreotype. The first picture of a person. The image shows a busy street, but because exposure time was over ten minutes, the traffic was moving too much to appear. The exception is the man at the bottom left, who stood still getting his boots polished long enough to show. Note that the image is a mirror image.

Via http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Boulevard_du_Temple_by_Daguerre.jpg

This is really bizarre!  Documentary material that accompanies a video release of the 1928 Chaplin film The Circus includes a lady walking past the camera, who appears to be talking on a cell phone.

it’s real footage and it features real members of the public in 1928. Or does it, asked Clarke, who spotted a mysteriously dressed stranger walking past the camera talking into what he says can only be a mobile phone.

I very much doubt that anyone in Hollywood had a mobile phone in 1928 — where were the cell towers?  Still, the scene on video (link below) looks amazingly like a cell phone in use.  Perhaps a really small walkie-talkie?

via ‘Time Traveler’ Spied in 1928 Chaplin Film – FoxNews.com.

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