The Bicycle: Social Impacts, Past & Present

The Surprising Social Impact of Bicycles
and Local Learning Opportunities

Did you know that before inventing the world’s first successful airplane, Orville and Wilbur Wright owned a bicycle shop? They repaired and rented out bicycles and eventually went on to build their own bicycles and invent small improvements to the machines. In addition to gaining practice in engineering skills, this business funded their aviation experiments.

Simpler and less expensive than cars, bicycles can be a fun tool for tinkering. The fact that the parts of a bicycle are exposed can help people understand the physics driving the machine. Plus, owning a bicycle can give you an immense sense of freedom. Bicycles obviously do not travel as fast as cars (depending on traffic flow!) and can’t take you as far, but at the same time they are affordable to more people and they are driven by human energy. Biking allows you to take a closer look at the world around you and get exercise in a fun way.
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Greenfield: A Town with an Innovative Past, Present and Future

Take an educational trip right into Greenfield’s innovative past, present and future

Taken from the upper story front porch of the Grand Trunk Hotel in Turners Falls, this image shows the trolley near Second Street and Avenue A (c.1890), an example of trolly use in the Pioneer Valley. – Courtesy Image.

The Pioneer Valley Institute is offering a day tour of the highlights of Greenfield on Saturday, June 7: “Spring into Greenfield: A Trolley Ride Through our Town’s History and Architecture.” The town’s trolley bus will be the mode of transportation for the day, and is a reminder of the active trolley system available 100 years ago throughout the Connecticut River Valley.

Greenfield, its buildings, its industries, and farmland, offers a complex story. This hub town for Franklin County is the site of fine examples of architectural design, of industrial innovation, and of current efforts to retrofit Greenfield’s fine older buildings to conserve energy for the coming decades. Greenfield was a crossroads for train freight service and will soon see restored passenger service. Waterpower and fine farmland attracted early settlers and investors, and innovators and businesses continue to recognize opportunities in the town.

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Parenting Green: 6 Reasons to Bike Ride with Your Family

Biking with Your Family

It just feels good to get out on a bike. It’s liberation, it’s exhilaration, it’s exercise, it’s transportation, and it’s free*! The little trips add up and if you can run your smaller errands by bike you’ll likely feel better, live longer, and save money. Now that you have a family, don’t let transporting children be the burden that puts you in the car. Taking them biking is fun and you can plan what type of biking system to use based on the length of the trip, the time constraints, or the weather. So really, it’s just about integrating it into your life and creating a new habit (or reviving an old one!).


We used to live in the Hilltowns and taking biking trips around where we lived was challenging, I won’t lie. The driveway was gravel (which is a hard surface for kids to get moving on) and we were surrounded by a lot of hills. These can be deterring factors. Finding a large paved lot or getting to a place that has less inclines can make it easier for everyone. If you’re schlepping from the Hilltowns into the Valley to do your grocery shopping you might as well bring your bikes to get around town and enjoy the paved paradise…I challenge you to watch how cars get stuck in traffic while your crew keeps in forward motion! Read the rest of this entry »

Railroads & Locomotives: Three Childrens Books About Trains

All Aboard!

Coming down the tracks and headed straight into the hands of young enthusiasts, are three new picture books about trains. If you have little engineers in your life, the ones who sleep with trains under their pillows, who hear the whistle from miles away, who build tracks from one end of the house to the other, then check out these exciting books. Featuring both modern and vintage trains, and artwork that transports the reader to railroads near and far, these books will have train lovers wanting to climb aboard.

Locomotive is a rich work by award-winning book creator, Brian Floca. From the moment you connect with the striking portrait of a regal locomotive on the cover, you are transported back through time, to the summer of 1869. Endpapers set the stage with an overview of the trans-continental railroad including a map, history, and small vignettes. Then the title page reveals another more personal layer to the story – a family photo, a railroad guide, and a telegram from Papa saying all is ready in California, come soon. From the beginning, the book has multiple dimensions: it is a fictional story of a mother and her two children boarding a steam train in Omaha, Nebraska, and riding the rails all the way across the country to San Francisco; and it is a nonfictional story of the transcontinental railroad, its history, and landscape, of the steam locomotive herself, her mechanical wonders and the people who kept her and the railroads running. The large size of the book enhances its full sensory effect and is worthy of housing the story of the powerful locomotive. Lyrical, rhythmic text, with lettering that often changes in size and color to help tell the story, brings the whole experience to life. Illustrations are done in watercolor, ink, acrylic, and gouache are often startling in their perspective and emotional renderings. Long notes and resources at the back provide more historical information, including how the trans-continental railroad impacted Native Americans. This is an incredible piece of work and a keeper for all railroad enthusiasts, no matter what their age.

  • Locomotive by Brian Floca. A Richard Jackson Book, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2013. ISBN: 978-1-4169-9415-2

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History of Transportation in the Pioneer Valley

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
History of Transportation in the Pioneer Valley

One of the best ways to learn about the changes that historical events and innovative inventions create is by studying local history.  By learning about broad concepts and eras within history, we can gain an understanding of how things changed on a large scale.  However, to really understand how these changes were played out on a smaller scale, we must examine the effect that they had on our own communities.

The Wistariahurst Museum is offering a series of lectures this spring on the history of transportation in the Pioneer Valley.  Titled, “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Transportation in the Pioneer Valley,” the series aims to teach the community about how changes in technology, industry, and politics played out in they way that we get from place to place.  Some of the topics addressed in the lectures will include:

  • Westover Field’s role in our country’s involvement in the Cold War
  • The short history of rail travel and transport in the Pioneer Valley, and its place in our future
  • Travel by foot or on bike, as supported by the many hiking trails and bike paths in the valley
  • The systems we’ve implemented in our waterways in order to accommodate changing energy needs and the upstream travel of fish

Best for older students, the lectures will explain lots of important local history and will focus on 20th century history (though a few of the topics deal with late 19th century history, as well).  Each event will take place at 6pm in the museum’s carriage house, and they will take place on Monday evenings from March 4th-May 13th, 2013.  The museum asks a small donation to attend the lectures.  Wistariahurst is located at 238 Cabot Street in Holyoke, and can be contacted at 413-322-5660.

More info on the series at www.wistariahurst.org.

Documentary on the History of Traveling the Mohawk Trail by Berkshire Students

Tales from the Trail:
Four Centuries of Travels Along the Mohawk Trail

By Gabriel Abbott Memorial School Students
(Florida, MA)

The Mohawk Trail has been an important transportation route to communities across the northwestern part of Massachusetts for hundreds of years.  Though the types of vehicles used for transportation and the purpose of transportation have changed, the Mohawk Trail remains an important route through the Western Massachusetts.

Students from Gabriel Abbott Memorial School in Florida, MA conducted a year-long study of the history of the Mohawk Trail, and their work has been made into a full-length documentary!  Students in grades 4-7 worked to conduct interviews with community members (featured in the film) and used primary and secondary resources to piece together the story of the Mohawk Trail’s role in the community throughout its history.

Titled, “Tales from the Trail: Four Centuries of Travels Along the Mohawk Trail,” the film is a full 90-minutes long, and is available for viewing at www.abbottmemorial.org. Watch it as a family to learn about Western MA history, the advancement of transportation, and the gradual changes in culture that the area has seen.

Community Service: Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum

Families Can Volunteer at the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum

Volunteers at the museum provide rides on the trolley and other historic railroad equipment, guide interpretive tours, repair the railroad tracks and are in the process of restoring many of the historic buildings and railroad equipment in the former Boston and Main railroad yard.

Help to preserve local history and an important part of the evolution of transportation by volunteering at the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum!

The museum is home to trolleys, a pump car, and information and memorabilia related to local history and the history of train and trolley transportation. Volunteers at the museum can help with many different tasks, depending on skills, interest, and age.

“There are opportunities for almost every interest in railroads and history here at the museum”, says Sam Bartlett.  The museum has an extensive collection of historic rail road equipment which is still used in operation. This includes a hundred year old “pump car” used by track repair crews which also rolls out on the weekends for visitor rides.

Volunteers under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult (who is also volunteering), but can choose activities based on their abilities and interests. Older kids can train to be pump car operators (12+) or to be motor operators or conductors on trolleys.

There will be a volunteer training session on May 19th, 2012 for new volunteers! Call the museum at 413-625-9443 or visit www.sftm.org for more information.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Brian Fisk]

Chester On Track Festival, ‘Just Around the Bend’

23rd Annual Chester on Track Festival
Saturday, May 19th, 2012
Chester, MA

The 23rd Annual Chester of Track Festival happens May 19th, sharing and demonstrating the region’s rich history of local industry and transportation.  Bring the kids for a fun and educational day in the foothills of the Berkshires! (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

All aboard for Chester On Track, the 23rd annual railroad-themed family festival in downtown Chester, MA on Saturday, May 19 from 9am-4pm, rain or shine. This FREE event gathers some of the very best early industrial, railroad, military and artisan talent from around the region and is a fun way for families to discover the history of local transportation and industry.

Visit with living history re-enactors and explore the stories of the local landscape: 10th Massachusetts Regiment Civil War, Continental Regiment Revolutionary War, Civilian Conservation Corps, and Irish immigrant Western Railroad workers from Storrowtown Village. Stop by the rail fan train show & craft fair at the depot. Marvel at the Pioneer Valley Live Steamers ‘one-lung’ steam & gas engine demos, and classic cars from Model ‘T’s to Corvettes. Other displays include a number of 1920’s-era freight cars, wooden caboose, wooden velocipede and ‘Children’s Boxcar’.  And when your kids (or you) are starting to get tired, take a sightseeing rides with “Maggie Saw Horse.”

Other featured events include tool demonstration by Alan Williams at an abandoned stone finishing works, within walking distance of the depot. Families can also take a bus tour, beginning at 11am and departing hourly to the Chester Granite Company for a glimpse into local industry.  You can also check out the area from air at the nearby ball field where there will be helicopter rides above the village.

Live entertainment will be happening all day too, including the Pioneer Valley Fiddlers, The River Dawgs, and The Electric Trains, and there will be local food and young children activities.  Get there at 10am and let their parade set the pace for the day!  For more info call 413-354-7878 or visit www.ChesterRailwayStation.net

Q&A: Where to Get New/Used Bikes for the Family in Western MA

QUESTION AND ANSWERS

Earth Day is being celebrated today and Summer time is on it’s way! So let’s talk BIKES… where’s a good place to get a new or used bike for the family in Western MA?

  • Amanda Saklad suggests, “Craigslist is good and good for the earth – REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE!!”
  • Kara Kitchen suggests,FJ Rogers in Florence.”
  • Susan Rees suggests, “Full Circle in Florence. Great tune-ups too.”
  • Abbe Laine Schiowitz suggests,Hampshire Bicycle Exchange on University Drive in Amherst and Valley Bike on Rte. 9 in Hadley has the sassiest bikes ever, but is quite pricey (then visit the new rock climbing gym next door which I heard is totally awesome).
  • Mark Pollard suggests, “I second the Hampshire Bike Exchange for cheap, used bikes. I also like Joe’s Garage in Haydenville for looking at hi-end bikes.”
  • Kim Tatro Kicza suggests,Highland Hardware & Bike Shop in Holyoke!”
  • John L. Grossman suggests, “Easthampton town auction.
  • Kate Paterson Parrott suggests, “We love Bob Perry, owner of Bicycles Unlimited in Greenfield. Not only does he have a great selection of new & used bikes, but the shop organizes group rides for ALL abilities. Plus while in G’field you can stop for a bite at Hope & Olive, Mesa Verde, or pop over the CT river and go to the Wagon Wheel or Holy Smokes. Great eats & exercise!”

Have a recommendation too? Share it here.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Joni]

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