The Wave of the Future?

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Coming Soon!

We are committed on this blog to the concept of steel wheels on steel rails.  The concept has been around since the 1820’s, and seems to be holding its own against the competition.  To be sure, there have been a variety of contraptions that were supposed to be significantly better than the tried and true.

Who could forget the Beach Pneumatic Transit Company?  This ill fated system was a block long transit experiment in New York City that transported passengers in a tube by air pressure, not unlike that wad of cash being sent from the department store cashier.  It did not do well.   In the same manner, the monorail keeps trying to compete.  Here, a gyroscope balanced monorail from 1907:

Gyro Monorail

There’s a Monorail Society, devoted to promoting the concept.  The monorail captures the public’s imagination.  There have even been monorail toys, such as this one from Schuco of Germany:

We don’t want to be smug here, but in our mind the monorail remains a curio, largely confined to amusement parks and dedicated systems such as at airports.  This is not from a lack of trying.  Consider the first monorail in Houston, Texas.

The Trailblazer

Manufactured by Alweg, Texas promoters put up a demonstration site on the west side of town, near the intersection of Main Street and Old Spanish Trail in 1956.   As with any good introduction of advanced technology, the roll-out is crucial to the success of the venture.  The business types were present in droves:

Back when everybody wore a hat

No good roll-out would be complete without a star; here, a young Roy Rodgers, without Dale or Trigger:

Roy Rodgers Introduces the Monorail

Roy could draw a crowd:

Inside, the monorail had all the charm of a bus station waiting room.

Check out the babes and the futuristic uniforms!

Monorailettes

Blast off!

Into the Future!

Of course, every new technology is not always what it seems.  Note the high-tech piece of equipment, formerly called a ladder:

What's Upstairs?

As with so much other technology, when you look under the hood, you can be in for a disappointment.  The Trailblazer used two stodgy Packard 352’s which drove transmissions connected to rubber tires which rode on top of the monorail.

Monorail Operator's View

Likewise, the control station was on top of the Trailblazer, another need for the ladder:

Captain Kirk

At The Helm

In the end, the monorail was disassembled at some point in 1958 and moved to Dallas, where it operated as an attraction for several years.

At the Texas State Fair

The Ladder Was Never Far Away

The monorail was removed from the Fair Grounds around 1964.  I was going to go for the joke and say that it is now a chicken coop on a farm in Waxahachie, Texas, but, once again, truth exceeds fiction.  The Trailblazer sat at a scrap dealer’s yard for several years until it was sold and transported to “East Texas” and used as a kitchen, with a residence built up around it.

Meanwhile, steel rail and steel wheels just keep rolling along.

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2 Responses to “The Wave of the Future?”

  1. Dave Brough Says:

    “… in our mind the monorail remains a curio, largely confined to amusement parks and dedicated systems such as at airports”

    I’m curious about monorail – and in particular, its latest incarnation, Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) – being a curio. It is far-cheaper than rail, far-faster than rail, and by far, safer. Plus it draws the curious.

    What gives?

    • Riley Says:

      In my mind, the monorail always seems to be relegated to the edges of transportation technology. If you look at the different monorail websites, there is almost a religious fervor. Yes, I know the arguments about monorail technology being cheaper, but the market apparently doesn’t view it that way. After Wüppertal, there have been only a few successful monorail installations in comparison to a lot of miles of steel rail / steel wheel technology. In any case, it would seem that mag-lev is the emerging technology of the future, which throws the “cheaper” argument completely out the window. This is not to say that I’m not appreciative of monorail technology, and I do have a fair bit of monorail mileage, but in terms of miles constructed, steel rail is still winning the hearts and minds of transportation companies, especially the local transit people.

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