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Wreck on the Highway: 1939

Wreck on the Highway: 1939

September 1939. "Accident on U.S. Highway 65 near Iowa Falls, Iowa." Photo by Arthur Rothstein for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.


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Always thin

One thing evident in all these old pix, an overweight person is few and far between, and those that do look heavy also look extremely strong. In the circus or fair side shows in this era, the average weight of the 'Fat Lady' was 220 pounds. Now, that seems to be the national average.

Re: Those Driver Ed. High School Films

The reason you see the Ohio State Highway Patrol so much in these films was that the organization that made them, the Highway Safety Foundation was located in my hometown of Mansfield, Ohio. This now-defunct group had a bit of a checkered past. Read this.

Steering Wheel Triad

Folks who had a misspent youth doing shifts in an Emergency Room adjacent to a major highway in days before the adoption of seat belts, airbags, crumple zones, and collapsible steering columns learned about the triad of: multiple rib fractures, laceration of the liver, and fractures of both femurs as the driver moved up and forward rapidly decelerating against a steering wheel moving in the opposite direction. Those were not the good old days.

Those Driver Ed. High School Films

In the mid 60's those blood and guts car wreck films in glorious color all seemed to come from the Ohio State Highway Patrol. My high school showed them during assembly. As bad as they were the lung removal film from an OR to keep kids from smoking was even worse.

Chest crush injury

The bent-in steering wheel on the Dodge tells the tale of a classic injury producer in the days before collapsible steering columns. The steering box, and, in turn, the column and wheel, were pushed back at the same time the driver's body was traveling forward at a rapid rate. My guess is that the driver has rather more than a few broken ribs... if, indeed, he lived.

Death on the Highway Victim

Watching this film in the 70's during drivers education class there was a rumble and clank from the back of the room. A girl had fainted while watching and hit her head on a radiator. She was OK.

Re: Driver's Ed.

Although they were only animated, the shorts from the late fifties, narrated by Fletcher Pratt and produced by the Ford Motor Co. were a lot like those. They showed a real accident in animation and then went to describe who was a fault and why.

Onlooking/gawking Etiquette

REQUIREMENTS: 1], be male; 2], be willing to mingle in groups of three or more and hover close as possible to action; 3], if wearing cap or hat, must be at tilt to one side, or pushed up from back; 4], one arm across stomach with other extended up with as fist fashion with thumb supporting chin, or, arms be folded across chest; opts: both hands in front pockets, both hands on hips, or, if hands behind back must be connected in hook fashion by both forefingers; 5], must share expertise and sage advise with fellow onlookers; 6], refrain from conversing or offering advice to officials at scene; 7], remember sufficient graphic details in order to share with one's spouse upon arriving home.


Having been an accident investigator, this was most probably a fatal accident. Note that the steering wheel has been pushed back, then up. The steering wheel rim has been pushed down around the steering column (death grip), allowing the column to act like a spear. Unfortunately, padded dashes and seat belts are years away.

Driver's Ed.

This brings back memories of the "safety" films we had to watch in my Driver's Education classes back in Texas in the mid-'60s. The running theme in these films seems to have been to scare us into driving safely. One of the more infamous as "Death on the Highway", filled with scenes like this and images shot before the ambulance and hearse staff finished.

[“Signal 30" was the one that traumatized me. -tterrace]

Texting No Doubt

Back in the days when cell phones had cranks on the side.

I always hated to see pushed up steering columns and bent up steering wheels like we see in that Plymouth. You know that HAD to hurt!

No Winner Today

There seems to be a tie between the 35 Plymouth and the 38 Ford. Both are, likely, headed for the last roundup

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