My name is Ab (Albert) Baird.
I am a transportation historian. One of my main interests is Canadian steam, especially that murky period before 1923. I operated my first locomotive before I drove a car. I have an abiding faith in the steel wheel on the steel rail. I am a rarity in the 21st century in having travelled further by rail than by air, commuting between two continents notwithstanding. However, I am not a railfan as such. SD70s pulling cabooseless double stacks are just things that impede my progress at grade crossings.
I am Canadian by birth. My family has been in what is now Canada for 250 years.
I have worked most of my life in the transportation industry: as a manager in the bus industry and as an instructor/examiner for air brakes.
I am now semi retired. I don’t think I ever want to retire completely. My father didn’t until his last few years when he was well past 80. But there is a difference between working because you want to and working because you have to. I am what Canadians call a snow bird. Except I go a little further south than most: Brazil, which is where this is being written from.
Semi retirement has allowed me to begin to organize the vast amount of data I have collected over the last 60 years. My first project was the Canadian Northern. I am an exacting historian. I am not satisfied until I know when every last bolt was tightened and every last fire was killed.
I am a big supporter of a green planet and the part that humane transportation can play in that. I am not your typical North American and have views that many would call extreme. I am not even much of a Canadian. I don’t like beer much. I am not a fan of professional sports (unless you call the Olmpics professional), and haven’t been since the “original six”. I like Tim Horton’s coffee OK, but refuse to wait in line for it. A house in suburbia is not my idea of heaven, or even a decent place to live. I neither own, need or want a car.
Unlike many advocates of respect for mother earth, we (my wife and I) try to walk the walk. We live in a passive solar residence. We have the sun for heat, and a massive earth berm to moderate it. We have neither a furnace nor air conditioning. We have a small portable electric heater which we use seldom and two electric fans for air circulation. We wash our clothes and dishes in cold water. We have an energy efficient electric refrigerator/freezer and shower, a microwave, and a television that is seldom on. And, of course, three computers, which are used for business as well as pleasure.
Many studies have been done about the relative costs of different modes of transportation. While, technically, they may be accurate, they are irrelevant. As long as people, and North Americans in particular, are obesssed with the elusive concepts of “freedom”, “individuality” and happiness through material consumption, they will chose the car no matter what. No matter what the cost in money, land and environmental damage. No matter what the cost in traffic jams and grid lock. They will always chose lifestyles that involve a lot of commuting. And partisan political leaders will chose what buys votes, despite the above factors. Hence the theme, yet to be developed, of [transportation systems] built to carry elections rather than people (the position of the Official Opposition to Sir Wilfred Laurier’s National Transcontinental Railway).
Unless history can be related to the present, it is just counting angels on the head of a pin.