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The International Writers Magazine: Nostaligia

The Golden age of Magazines
• Leroy B. Vaughn
I was browsing through the magazine rack at the local supermarket when I came across the June 2013 edition of Popular Mechanics.   
Photo: Tom McCahill - Car Tester       

I looked at the index and saw the article titled, “Things my father taught me.”

As I placed the magazine in the shopping cart, I thought about the magazines that were printed in my teen years. People in my age group or baby boomers as we are called seem to have fond memories of the 1950’s and 60’s, as the golden age of television.

Being an avid reader, my golden age was of magazines. I used to sneak peeks at The National Police Gazette and Bluebook for Men at the barber shop or at the racks at the local liquor store, but my favorite’s were magazines that featured cars,  scientific  inventions and just about anything mechanical.

I even read the ads although I had no intention of becoming a certified locksmith, gunsmith, taxidermist, government hunter or taking a correspondence course to become a private detective. I didn’t need a two wheel drive motorcycle or a kit to build my own gyro-copter.

The early sixties was a time when the average kid and his buddies could take apart a flathead engine with a handful of basic tools, put it back together and actually make it run.  I know this because a couple of my buddies and I rebuilt a Ford flathead six cylinder in my parents garage, as well as a few Stromberg carburettors and an old Lambretta motor scooter. Not bad for sixteen year old kids that took auto shop together in high school.

Twenty five years later, I was working at a juvenile forestry camp in the mountains of central California.  I was pulling a night shift, a boring job that required me to watch the boys as they slept. Every fifteen minutes I would walk the floor and do a head count of the sleeping boys.

One afternoon before my shift started, an old man brought two large cardboard boxes full of magazines into the camp to donate to the camp’s library.

The boys at the camp were not interested in anything that required reading, and never ventured into the library.  So the magazines had not been touched.

The staff member that I was working with that night told me about the magazines and I went to the library and brought them back to the barracks, after the head count.

This was like Christmas for me. The magazines were all from the late 1940’s through 1965. There were old copies of Popular Mechanics, Popular Science and Mechanix Illustrated as I dug through my new found treasure.

One automotive journalist that stood out in my memory was a big beefy man with a bald head that appeared to have a smoking pipe stuck in his mouth, in every photograph taken of him.

McCahill Test

His name was Tom McCahill and he test drove and reported on cars for Mechanix Illustrated, a rival magazine of Popular Mechanics.  Tom McCahill was six feet two inches tall and weighed two hundred and fifty pounds, an impressive size for a man born in 1907.

McCahill started writing for Mechanix Illustrated and Readers Digest in 1946. He offered lots of information about cars, not just test drives.

I remember sitting at the desk at the camp and reading his question and answer column. One reader wanted to know if there was an advantage to having a spotlight mounted on the driver’s door and another reader needed to know if McCahill preferred 16 inch wheels over 15 inch wheels.

Whatever the question was, Tom McCahill seemed to have a good answer.

While researching this article, I came across a road test that McCahill did for Mechanix Illustrated, and  I’m sure I remember reading this test from the boxes of magazines at the boy’s camp.

In the October 1949 issue, McCahill tested the Crosley Hotshot. The car sold for $849.00 new at the Cincinnati, Ohio, Crosley manufacturing plant.

The Hotshot had a 44 cubic inch engine with 12inch wheels. McCahill called it a poor man’s M.G. and he road tested it on parkways around New York City at speeds between 70 and 72 miles per hour.

He was able to hit 74 miles per hour, from a standing start in one half of a mile, all this with a 250 pound man at the wheel, sitting 16 inches above ground level.

This was a time before Japanese cars, seat belts, on board computers, fuel injection, navigational  systems and all the bells and whistles of today’s cars. Engines were measured in cubic inches and no one except scientists knew the metric system.

In those days, McCahill could light his pipe with the cigarette lighter that was mounted in the dashboard of the cars he tested and put the pipe out in the ash tray built into the dashboard.

In 1959, he road tested the Chevrolet Corvair and said he liked the way it handled. As a matter of fact, he thought the Corvair handled better than the 1959 Porsche.

Ralph Nader did not agree and became a well known consumer advocate after writing his book, “Unsafe at any speed.”

McCahill was well known as a journalist by the 1950’s, and was interviewed by Playboy magazine in 1956. Playboy was interested in how much money he had made and his ex-wives, among other things.

He died in 1975 at the age of 68. Mechanix Illustrated didn’t want to tell their readers that he was gone, so they continued to run a column called, “McCahill Reports.”

© Leroy B. Vaughn    September 2013

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