Welcome!

Twisted from the Sprue is my little corner of the internet. This site started as a simple web presence for the Three Rivers IPMS model club - as in middle-aged guys who never quite out-grew gluing together miniature cars and planes (and not a club of really good looking people who have their pictures taken for underwear ads and the like). But the club now has a spiffy full-featured web-site, and this blog has morphed into a place for me to post stuff I personally find interesting or just want to ramble on about.

While a lot of what I write about here has some loose connection to the model-building hobby, after a while I discovered I was writing more broadly about the topics of Aviation and Automotive History, the stories of unsung Pittsburghers, and the best places to get a good plate of eggs-and-bacon when you're in the 'Burgh.

I'm working on reorganizing the page so if you're interested in only one of these topics it will be easier to find it and ignore the other types of trivia bouncing around my head and out onto the page, but for now its all kind of lumped together just like it is in my brain. Please bear with me...

Its reassuring to know your not the only guy with an obsession with eclectic trivia - if you happen across something interesting here, or have a question or something to contribute, please leave a comment or drop me an email at dnschmtz@gmail.com

Don
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Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Last of the V8 Interceptors - part 5 of the Muscle Car History

In the last installment of this mini-series I covered the immediate aftermath of what was the Muscle Car Era through the rebirth of the muscle/pony car in 1982, and after banging away at the keyboard, I was thinking I was pretty much done. I thought this was going to be where I wrapped up loose ends and made a few snarky observations about the state of the performance automobile and today's muscle car culture.  But it looks like that will have to wait a bit longer.

The problem with being 55 years old is that I tend to think everything that I've been around to see happen is recent history. It seems like just yesterday that I traded my well worn '69 Road Runner for a brand new '83 Mustang GT, but a lot has happened since then, and since I'm trying to tell the whole story I just can't leave 30 years out...

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Life After Death - part 4 of A Muscle Car History

When I started writing this mini-history about the American Muscle Car phenomena, I expected to knock out 10 paragraphs and call it a day.  When you're doing this blog-thing, 10 paragraphs is sort of the sweet spot for telling a good story, keeping the reader's attention, and not spending all your time writing about things instead of actually doing things to write about. But somehow this story got in my blood and I decided to do a multi-part series, and even after I covered the backstory, the rise and fall of what is generally considered the Muscle Car Era (1964-1970), there was still lots of stuff left over. Let me try to wrap it all up in 10 sweet paragraphs.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Day the Music Died - part 3 of A Muscle Car History

Don McClean released the album American Pie in 1971, his anthem to the rock-n-roll of the just ended 1960s. The title song runs for over 8 minutes and takes up most of the first side of the vinyl LP, but it still managed to be a big hit. The lyrics are cryptic in the way of early Bob Dylan, but while exactly what it all means is up for debate (McClean once said "It means I don't ever have to work again if I don't want to!") the names and events mentioned clearly refer to the songs, singers and musicians of the decade. It starts with a verse about the day in 1959 that early rock-n-roll legends Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper died in a plane crash - "the day the music died" - but its just as easy to imagine he was singing about the end of the hot-rod and muscle car era.

The evolution and popularity of fast cars largely paralleled that of rock-n-roll (and a lot of early rock-n-roll featured hot-rods and muscle-cars, including songs like Hot Rod Lincoln, Mustang Sally, Little GTO, Dead Man's Curve, and every song the Beach Boys put out before 1966). But by the late 1960s music had gone in a new direction - much like the rest of pop culture - thanks largely to the Beatles and the war in Vietnam.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

More Muscle Car History - Part 2

How to describe the 1960s to someone who wasn't there?  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... The economy was booming, the US was going to the Moon, there were riots in the streets and 1000s of young men would die in Vietnam. The decade would start with incredible optimism and faith in the "American Way" and end with riots and a deep mistrust of government and industry that lingers to this day.

In the part 1 of this ramble down memory lane I told the story of the great American performance car from automotive pre-history up to 1964 and the first Mustangs and GTOs, and then I ran out of gas. While the muscle car era lasted less than a single decade, a lot of things happened in that time that would shape the future of both the automobile and American culture. With the background out of the way, lets set the Way-Back machine to the summer of 1962 and take another  look.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A (not so) Brief History of the Muscle Car - Part 1

When I got my drivers license in 1976, the only cars I (and most other working-class teenagers) could afford were well worn 1960s muscle cars. With plain-jane 1960s Mustangs and Chevelles and such selling for north of $20K today that probably seems a little unbelievable, but in 1976 we had just weathered the first OPEC engineered oil crisis. Leaving the politics and economics involved for another day, in the fall of 1973 the price of gasoline at the pump had gone up from less than $0.50 per gallon to more than $0.70 a gallon (remember minimum wage then was just $2.30/hour). Worse than the price hike, for several months there was a shortage of gas combined with panic buying that caused gas stations to literally run out - which at the time seemed akin to the sun not rising.

Suddenly all anyone cared about was fuel efficiency. Everyone wanted 6 cylinder Dodge Darts and Ford Mavericks; big-block muscle cars filled the classified ads at give-away prices.  Since high school kids don't drive all that much or have families to support, we were the only ones who could afford to drive 10mpg cars (just not very far). I bought my '69 Road Runner, with 70K miles on the clock and one dented quarter panel - for a whopping $500! As a result my high school parking lot looked like a scene out of American Graffiti.

As I now approach curmudgeon-dom (hold on a second while I chase some kids off the lawn :) - I'm often amazed at the confused and generally rose-colored view that today's car buffs have of those halcyon days. Like most (all?) 1960s American cars, muscle cars had the aerodynamics of a brick, the handling of a well worn pickup truck, and they rusted faster than a 16 year old kid could sling Bondo. The only things they did really well was go like stink and attract attention like Miley Cyrus at an awards show - and being part of that sure was fun!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Sneaking Through the Sound Barrier

Humans - men in particular - have a fascination with speed that is so universal that it must be genetic (probably the same gene that makes dogs stick their heads out of car windows). Coming of age in the 1970s, it was a rite of passage among my gearhead high school crowd to take our cars to a lonely stretch of highway and try to peg the speedometer. This was foolish beyond the chance of losing your license; the cars we were driving had crumby bias ply tires, stone-age aerodynamics and 120 mph speedometers. North of 80 mph the front of the car would start to lift and the steering got a funny disconnected feel; pushing past that was more aiming than driving. The only reasons any of us survived this stupidity were optimistic speedometers and a willingness to lie about how fast we actually went before backing off.

In the fall of 1947 a much higher stakes version of this game was playing out at the Muroc Army Airfield (soon to be Edwards Air Force Base) in the California dessert. Two experimental aircraft, both supersonic capable, were being flight tested by two distinctly type-A pilots.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Car Modeler's Breakfast

Its been a while since I wrote one of these articles about where to get breakfast in the 'burgh, but its a lot easier to knock one of these out than actually doing some modeling to write about. The Trolley Barn Eatery on Library Road is a classic breakfast dive; its a single storefront in a block building that holds a handful of other businesses (its too small to qualify as a strip-mall or shopping plaza). Inside are small tables with vinyl table cloths; you order and pay at a counter in the back, then pour your own coffee and wait for the food to be served to your table.  This is breakfast at its simplest: every imaginable combination of eggs, sausage, bacon, home fries and pancakes - but the food is good and cheap.

What makes the Trolley Barn truly special is that 200 feet further down Library Road is the Castle Shannon Fire Hall, site of two big Pittsburgh model car shows: the Three Rivers Automodelers hold their show here in the fall, and in early spring the South Hills Model & Toy Show is held at the same spot. Both shows have an amazing turn out of model car vendors, and most have their stuff priced to sell - I almost always come home with something unusual. My last score was an Aurora Cobra Daytona kit - complete and unstarted - for $10!

I don't have dates for the 2014 shows yet, but I'll update this post when I do.

If you're going to one of these shows, leave a half hour early and stop at the Trolley Barn to carb-up for multiple laps around the vendor room!

Don