Have you ever wondered about the time it took for people to move around in Ye Ole Days?

Hindenburg Burning

Last month I attended a lecture put on by SASS, where one of the speakers spoke about the Hindenburg, the rigid airship that had revolutionized trans-Atlantic travel in the early 20th century (but ended ignominously by bursting into flames upon landing in New Jersey in 1937). She pointed out that the 4 days to cross in a Zeppelin was faster than the week or more on an ocean liner. A-ha!

This of course got me thinking of my own battles with verisimilitude (yes, I just worked that word into a blog post). What was normal for a carriage ride from London to Leeds? How often did the post get delivered to a country village? That sort of thing often hangs up a novelist’s resolve, in my experience. Same for you? Or do you find other reasons to procrastinate?

A related question that has hovered for a long time in my mind was the origin of the  word “tarmac.” This question was brought to the fore when I moved to Portland, where there is a main thoroughfare on the west side called Macadam Avenue. I found out that it was the first black-topped road out of downtown Portland. Neat! Might it be related to tarmac?

Tarmac Road Sky

You may know it as black-top (the playground from my elementary school was made of this), but in the eastern U.S., these roads are known as “macadam” roads, because their inventor was a Scot named John Loudon McAdam. A Scot!  And as the West must take all their precedents from the civilized East, that’s what the road in Portland was named.

From which, we get the word “tarmac”, for a type of macadamized road that has tar added into the process. Fascinating… who knew my vocabulary expansion would include mention of another genius Scot?


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Sources: Wikimedia and TwoEyes.org