Moving America

Copyright 2003, Traffic World, Inc.

Where have we been lately? Well, we''re glad you asked.

We''ve been riding on the Jupiter locomotive out to Santa Cruz, Calif., hauling a load of lettuce back in the 1870s.

We''ve been driving out Route 66 in the early 1950s, grabbing a hamburger and a Coke along the way.

We''ve been looking over our shoulder at a Werner Enterprises-operated Peterbilt tractor-trailer, stuck in traffic in the 1960s.

We''ve been loading a Mississippi River barge with wheat in 1950 and flying a planeload of salmon into Chicago in 2000.

We''re stopped at Garrett Morgan''s first traffic light.

More to the point, we''ve been at the new "America on the Move" exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution''s Museum of American History in Washington. For anyone interested in transportation - come on, why are you reading this if you''re not? - this celebration of the growth of transportation and its role in the economic expansion of the United States is a must-see.

It''s a must because it''s entertaining, it''s smart and it takes in the sweep of American history from the fast lane and from the country road. Most of all, it''s a must because it places transportation hardware firmly alongside its role as an engine of the American economy. It goes beyond many museum transport exhibits, looking past the shiny equipment - although there is enough of that to get car junkies and rail buffs weepy - to the reasons behind transportation.

As Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said in opening the hall, the exhibit draws on transportation''s essential link to commerce.

Just across from a dramatic evocation of 19th century railroading, with the stunningly spiffy 1876 Jupiter locomotive, is a life-size diorama of farmers harvesting goods to be loaded on wagons to get to market.

And right there with the California railroad is an April 1872 editorial from C.O. Cummings of the Watsonville Pajoronian on the push by the railroad into the farming region: "If a railroad is all that is required to make Santa Cruz prosperous, we earnestly hope that they may get it. But we do object to speculators holding up chimerical schemes for their own benefit."

This exhibit not only has a full Matson container strapped to a flatbed trailer, it''s got a whole wall on the history of containerization next to a glassed-in ILWU jacket.

It''s got a 40-foot slab of Route 66 - now you know why you hit that bump outside Kingman, Ariz. - and you can walk on a chunk of interstate highway while reading about roads. "They allowed bigger trucks to carry more freight on faster schedules," the sign says.

We invite reader comments on that line.

Nearby, an interactive display allows you to ship goods in different eras to see the way supply chains have changed. A salmon goes 2,000 miles in eight days to reach the store in a can in 1950 while the fish is shipped 3,300 miles in a single day to reach the store fresh in 2000.

Unfortunately, there isn''t much about air transport, which is a shame in this the 100th anniversary of the first flight by the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk. There is a small corner with a model aircraft and some talk about Chicago O''Hare International Airport, but anyone who''s been in a holding pattern over ORD on a stormy winter evening will probably shy away.

"Hey, air has its own museum over there," sneered one trucking executive, nodding in the direction of the National Air and Space Museum.

It''s all underwritten by various transport interests - you didn''t think the lettuce growers and salmon shippers were going to kick in, did you? - including General Motors and the UPS Foundation.

And did we mention that it''s got trucks and trains?

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