Design is, by its nature, very forward-thinking: creating a better tomorrow by designing and building a better mousetrap today. Sometimes we fail to appreciate the achievements of yesterday and respect design and engineering effort required to realize a design, especially with significantly less sophisticated means.
My son and I were recently confronted with a five-ton example. He loves trains, so on a recent trip to our favorite breakfast spot, we convinced my wife to take a side-trip to visit a local railway station. The thick, black smoke billowing from the engine house was amplified by the cool, but humid morning, beckoning us to come and investigate. With a throaty whistle, the massive engine lurched from its slumber. It was intimidating, yet intricate; a marvel of modern engineering. And I mean modern, not contemporary.
Built in 1925 and sold for just over $25,000, this particularly train was a “Baldwin 2-8-0.” Built in Philadelphia at the height of post-World War I “modernism,” this engine is a landmark achievement; it amazes me that an instrument of this precision and complexity was designed almost a hundred years ago and is still operating today. Though the propulsion technology (coal-fired) is not particularly clean or sustainable, the return on investment is impressive. I wonder if some of the vehicles, buildings and other products that we are designing today will still be as viable in 2099.
Image courtesy of Josh Krayger