Sing the body elec­tric

The only way to travel

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

I sing the body elec­tric,

The armies of those I love en­girth me and

I en­girth them,

They will not let me off till

I go with them, re­spond to them, And dis­cor­rupt them,

and charge them full with the charge of the soul. —Walt Whit­man

HARKANSAS DEMO­CRAT-GAZETTE OW to keep on giv­ing rides to kids of all ages at Creek­more Park in Fort Smith with­out their hav­ing to put up with all the noise, clamor, hisses—and on­go­ing re­pairs—that go with steam en­gines? Fort Smith’s city fa­thers and moth­ers may have come up with a way to re­place the old steam lo­co­mo­tive that goes back to 1949 and till last year was still mak­ing it around the quar­ter-mile track in two laps. (The fare is a quar­ter but no­body is ever turned away.)

Now the same mix of nos­tal­gia and econ­omy can be of­fered elec­tron­i­cally to the es­ti­mated 37,000 rid­ers who show up ev­ery year to clam­ber aboard. It’ll soon be All Abo-o-rd! again if the city of Fort Smith ac­cepts a low bid of $55,800 for a new elec­tric train— rather than the bids of $83,000 and $85,000. It’s as­sur­ing to know that com­pe­ti­tion is still very much alive in this coun­try even though the steam en­gine is grow­ing ex­tinct.

Doug Rein­ert, who di­rects Fort Smith’s parks de­part­ment, was able to tell the city’s board of di­rec­tors that Western Train of Te­mec­ula, Calif., has promised to sup­ply a scaled­down ver­sion of a func­tion­ing steam mech­a­nism with all the whis­tles and bells for de­liv­ery within two to three months. But this toy train would be run off an elec­tric bat­tery and carry car­loads of pas­sen­gers ‘round and ‘round the minia­ture track with­out need­ing to stop for a drink of wa­ter or a load of coal at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals.

For some folks, rid­ing the old steam and diesel trains at the park has been a fam­ily tra­di­tion. At 70, Larry New­man can re­mem­ber rid­ing old 999 as a boy back in the 1950s. Then his chil­dren rode it as a fun-filled rite of pas­sage. “The train will bring out the kid in ev­ery­body,” he prom­ises. By all means, let’s re­turn to the past, for that would be true progress. But do it elec­tron­i­cally.

Mr. New­man is one of a cou­ple of driv­ers who act as en­gi­neer, con­duc­tor, guide and all of the above as he takes some 400 to 500 folks around the track ev­ery day since he ac­cepted his job as train­man-in-gen­eral. A re­tired elec­tri­cal in­spec­tor for the city of Fort Smith, he pauses be­fore call­ing his new as­sign­ment a job, it’s so much fun. “Out there,” he says of his as­sign­ment, “you are the good guy all the time.” Imag­ine play­ing Santa Claus all year long. Or the per­son on the float who’s al­ways throw­ing the beads in a year-long Mardi Gras. Now that’s liv­ing. John Mankin, now of Che­co­tah, Okla., and for­merly a res­i­dent of Fort Smith, says his grand­fa­ther used to take him for a ride on the lit­tle train—af­ter the req­ui­site amount of plead­ing and beg­ging. “On a nice day,” Mr. Mankin re­calls, “you could hear that whis­tle all over Park Hill.” May it long con­tinue to stir the dreams of grow­ing chil­dren and the mem­o­ries of old folks with a full life to re­count. And now all can con­tinue to be stirred by its sound. Elec­tron­i­cally.

THE COAL fields ain’t what they used to be, but the coal com­pa­nies are catch­ing on when it comes to min­ing them elec­tron­i­cally. These days their ex­ec­u­tives have put out the Help Wanted sign for work­ers who know how to mine with gi­ga­bytes of data and a joy­stick at their com­mand that can ma­neu­ver coal-min­ing trucks that weigh hun­dreds of tons and dig into the earth hun­dreds of miles away. And in­stead of risk­ing life and limb and lungs, the worst in­jury a miner may risk nowa­days is a sprained thumb.

Out in Cal­i­for­nia, which is still the land of the fu­ture when it comes to turn­ing out the lat­est in Amer­i­can cars and trucks, all-elec­tric cars may soon be rolling off the as­sem­bly lines in­stead of old-fash­ioned horse­less car­riages pow­ered by fos­sil fu­els. That state is con­sid­er­ing a bill to give buy­ers of elec­tric cars a hand­some re­bate even be­fore they’ve cleared the lot in their all-elec­tric road­sters and sedans. That state could spend up to $3 bil­lion a year to put peo­ple with av­er­age in­comes be­hind the wheel of the all-elec­tric car of the fu­ture.

That fu­ture may al­ready be here for lucky Cal­i­for­ni­ans who have learned to sing of the (car) body elec­tric.

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