Americans buy millions of pickup trucks each year, many of them difficult to squeeze into American garages. And as they get bigger and bigger — the trucks and the Americans — the seats get farther from the pavement.
What to do? Bring back running boards or install ladders? Manufacturers chose retractable running boards designed to appear when a door is opened.
Modern cars are generally so close to the ground that they don’t need running boards. I’m old enough to remember cars of the 1930s and 1940s. They had real running boards that stretched between the front and back fenders, right out where everybody could see them. If you kept the car long enough, the running boards rusted through and you might step right through one. This could result in a nasty cut and an unsightly hole in a very visible part of your car. The running boards weren’t unsightly — at least not before they rusted through — and they had a purpose. For instance, they gave truck owners a place to bolt a tool box to convince people they actually did some work.
I like running boards, and I’m glad to see them return. I wish the car makers would bring back some of the other things the engineers have eliminated to make all the cars look alike. For example, there used to be gear shifts on cars because the transmissions were operated manually, and not just on sports cars. These were often in the form of a rod sticking up from the floorboard and ending in a knob between the driver and the front-seat passenger.
Cars also had low-voltage batteries that might refuse to turn the engine over in cold weather but on the plus side would not power lights bright enough to blind oncoming traffic at night. The drawback was that you couldn’t see much with them at night either. The switch to turn the brights off and on was on the floor to the left of the clutch (used in conjunction with the gear shift), and in those days drivers actually used that switch.
The best thing about the cars of that era is that the body style changed every year. The day when the new cars came out, usually in September, was a big event — like a Broadway show. Car dealers taped butcher paper to their showroom windows before opening day so you couldn’t sneak a peak at the new models. When the public was allowed in, everybody slammed the new models’ doors to see if they were quiet and sniffed them to see if they smelled new enough for the price. Each car was different. You could actually tell a Chevy from a Ford. And some cost as little as $500, which you probably still couldn’t afford.
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