COBWEB CORNERS: License plates and trains

By Mel McFarland

       Recently, I was talking to members of the Veteran Motor Car Club about license plates. We think nothing of renewing our car plates. At one time it was done once a year, by everyone at the same time. Well, actually in the same month. In the earliest days everyone made their own tags! It was soon figured out that system would not work, even with only a hundred or so cars in the state. Back in the 1920s, Colorado already had 420,000 plated vehicles. It was big news that El Paso County would need 10,000 more in 1924 than in 1923!
       Plates were metal, not quite the same shape as today, and they changed color each year. Some states did not put their name on them until the 1930s, when the automobile manufacturers requested standardization of the size and shape. During World War II, some states experimented with early composite and plastic plates. Some were found to dissolve in rain, others were eaten by various animals and birds. For many years, bicycles and motorcycles shared requirements for plates.
       Another early car problem was railroad crossings. Crossings were not signalized, and only a few had warning signs. The state issued these suggestions: "Slow down when approaching a railway crossing; the train cannot be stopped in a few feet but an automobile can. Look both ways and listen to hear if a train is approaching. Be extra careful if there are two or more tracks, because trains could be traveling in different directions on the tracks. Exercise good, conservative judgment at crossings; keep car under control. When in doubt, stop before reaching all tracks."
       Every now and then someone in a hurry would just go, and find themselves smacking a train. Even employees of the railroad found themselves getting hit by a train at a crossing. The good thing is we do not see trains going up our streets anymore.
       Cars still get hit by trains. It is one of the worst kinds of accidents you can be in. Today most crossings are marked by bells, lights and gates. A coal train traveling at 40 miles an hour takes more than a mile to stop. Each of those cars weighs 100 tons or more. That is heavier than most brick houses! Some of those trains have 120 cars or more. Please be careful.