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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • THE CITY OF RUINS AND ROSES, c. 1930

Ice Age Cadillac: 1957

Ice Age Cadillac: 1957

1957. "Robert and Norma Norton of Houston, Texas, with their family, illustrating life before and after having the house air-conditioned. Includes photos of the family at a drive-in restaurant having cool air piped into their car" -- a Cadillac sedan that already has air conditioning. Photo by Jim Hansen for the Look magazine article "How the Nortons Beat the Heat." View full size.

Prince's Burgers

That was my thought as I looked at the picture. I also thought this might have been a fast food business that was opened on South Main south of where the main South Main Prince's Drive Inn was located. I grew up close by and remember that there was big new Drive Inn that was built about that time but closed fairly quickly. There was a sign posted saying "Opened By Mistake."

[Help ... dizzy ... - Dave]

Aw, yes

I agree! Life was so much better when you could drink and drive, kids were secure and safe sitting on Mom's lap and you could stretch out in the backseat and take a nice nap without that pesky seatbelt.

Snort.

I have to admit though. I did miss those wing windows when they went. Made it so much easier to flick your cigarette ashes.

Car Seat

Is that a car seat in the back?

[No. - Dave]

Prince's Burgers

I recognize the drive-in and the car-hop's uniform as possibly being Prince's Burgers, a Houston original.

The Normans

Apparently the little girl in the back seat went on to become a doctor and teaches at Auburn University. Dad was an electrical engineer. Mom was quite the Texas southern lady having been a member of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, The Colonial Dames of America and The Daughters of the Confederacy. You can read more from Norma's recent obit here.

Heat exchange

I wonder how many degrees all those air conditioners raised the outside temperature around that place? An often overlooked air conditioning fact is that cooler in one place comes at the price of hotter somewhere else.

Never mind the morality

The mortality was much higher back then. There is still more than enough mortality left even with more stringent DUI prohibitions, speed limits and safety features that go unused.

And I very positively prefer good brakes, decent suspension, seat belts, airbags and gas mileage over tailfins and a chrome orgy. But that's just me.

But hey, it's a free world, just make sure you won't hit anything or anybody.

In case anybody wonders why drive-ins were headed the way of the dinosaurs? Well, no spills, no crumbs and no smears in the car if you eat indoors or take it home.

Before and after?

I've read enough "before and after" anecdotes to surmise that by 1957, any Houstonian able to afford a Cadillac would have been upgrading to central air from one or two window units, not getting cooling for the first time.

My dad was working on construction sites in the Houston area by age 12, helping his carpenter dad during the summers. He recalls, in the early '50s, working on a lavish home for a local banker, which had sealed windows, and a water-cooled chiller. But, as he said, "I wasn't impressed by the air conditioning, because stores had air conditioning. I was impressed by the remote-controlled garage door opener."

By 1957, split systems with air-cooled condensers and single-phase compressors were available, the same type of system that is standard equipment on Texas homes today. That is probably the upgrade that the Look article is referring to.

Pretty Cool

Before anyone asks, "How do you know the Caddy had AC?", the giveaway is the transparent plastic tube, visible jutting out of the rear package tray. It delivered the cold air from the trunk-mounted evaporator unit to outlets in the headliner.

Technology still in use today

I think it was on that TV series "Modern Marvels" that I saw an episode on super-modern truck stops. In order for the truckers to conserve diesel fuel and reduce carbon footprint, the truck stops provide conditioned air, electric power, etc., to the cabs of the semis. Thanks to switzarch for jogging my memory.

Where's the tray?

Virtually every drive-ins I've been to in the past 60 years or so have had a tray that hooked on a partially rolled up window.

[The tray is over Dad's lap, clipped to the inside of the door. The windows would be rolled all the way up with the AC hoses connected and photographer not present. - Dave]

Must've been a Texas thing

I grew up in Alabama and moved to Florida before all of the drive-ins had closed, and I never saw such a thing, either. Dairy Queen, Shoney's, Frisch's Big Boy, even Frostop Root Beer -- can't recall any having "cool air piped in" to your car.

Different time, different place

Mom holding a baby on her lap, Dad behind the wheel drinking Miller High Life.

How much the world has changed

A drive-in with a starched and uniformed waitress, Dad drinking a beer in the car, real glass glasses for the girl's milkshake, and a baby sitting on Mom's lap with no car seat.

The morality police would have a field day with some of the things going on here. I wish the world was like this once again. I was born too late.

The High Life

Dogs and suds Texas style.

And a beer for Dad, please

Oh, maybe that's just ginger ale!

Coals

And Newcastle type comments would fit here. I guess this is to avoid running the car while at a drive-in restaurant. Lived in Louisiana, don't remember ever seeing such contraptions there or maybe we just didn't go to the right drive-ins!

 
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