Trains, Planes, Ships & Cars by James Hamilton-Paterson – Review
By Liam Bird
I’m afraid I’ll to have rather embarrassingly admit that it’s taken me quite some time to finish reading James Hamilton-Paterson’s Trains, Planes, Ships and Cars: The Golden Age 1900- 1941, and other books have come and gone here too since its pre-Christmas arrival.
One could argue though that this lavishly illustrated celebration of what many might consider the golden age of transport, is something not to be rushed.
Divided, as its title suggests into four chapters, each one detailing the development of either the Steam Locomotive, Flying Machines of all shapes and sizes, the Ocean Liner, and the advent of the luxury Motor Car, this is a book in which each of the aforementioned modes of transport is expertly detailed and one’s effect on the other equally explored.
At the turn of the 20th Century transport of any kind, for the majority, was still the stuff of dreams. Land owners were objecting strongly to plans of railways crossing their estates (what’s new?) and many folk who lived out in the country were still telling the time simply by listening out for the church bell. Yet just forty years later, rival companies, be they in railways, aviation, motorcar manufacturing, or transatlantic crossings, were all competing to be seen as either the best, the most luxurious, or the fastest. Better still, all three. And if they could be perceived as the most stylish too, well…
Inevitably, there were failures. The Titanic, The Hindenburg, and a nine-deck Boeing 314 seaplane that almost literally failed to ever get off the ground. Seaplanes incidentally, Hamilton-Paterson reminds us, were not only both near deafening and so-cold-that-your-cocktail-froze to fly in, they promised both airsickness and seasickness in equal measure.
Still, like a vintage travel poster for The Orient Express – an equally uncomfortable experience by all accounts – they evoke images of near unimaginable wealth, style and glamour, the likes of which few, if any, have, or will ever, experience again.
Packed as it is with extraordinary images of how man’s desire to go faster, further, and more luxuriously than before, Trains, Planes, Ships & Cars transports the reader back to an era when travel really was the stuff of dreams – for both the man in the street, and the man behind the drawing board.
Personally, I’d happily part with the £30 asking price (for the hardback) for the beautiful black and white photo of the 88.5 litre Daimler-Benz engine that’s dwarfed by the air-ship to which it’s attached, alone. The Sultan of Brunei’s gold-plated Rolls-Royce shown in the afterword certainly raises an eyebrow too – it’s worth almost $15m apparently, (as the author suggests) presumably only if melted down.
Have our desires and aspirations really moved on, or have we just become more obsessed with consumerism than we ever were with style? That’s the question this book finally asks, and the question on which as a reader, you’re left to ponder.
‘Trains, Planes, Ships & Cars: The Golden Age 1900-1941’ by James Hamilton-Paterson is published by Head of Zeus, £30 hardback