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Charlotte, N.C., in the good old days

I was recently perusing some old newspapers and came across a picture of the square in Charlotte in the early 1900s.

The photo showed T-Model cars lined up at the stop light on the square and, of all things, an electric trolley.

I remember just such a scene from the 1930s. There were rails down the middle of the streets crossing the square and electric cables were suspended from above to power the trolleys. Of course by then the automobiles were A-Models as well as Buicks, Dodges, Chevys and many other models.  In that time the first few blocks of East and West Trade and North and South Tryon were where the action was. There were three hotels on West Trade as well as the courthouse, Post Office and bus station; just a few blocks down was the train station.   The tracks are now elevated, but back  in those days they were at street level and every time a train came through traffic backed up a mile.

According to the paper, there once were as many as 25 passenger trains through Charlotte each day, and every time one stopped at the station it blocked East Trade street. I can remember this in my time, and it was one heck of a pain in the neck as it took some time for passengers to load and unload, along with their baggage. It proved to be a real bottleneck.

Of course there were also freight trains coming and going. How many, I don’t know, but they only added to the auto-travelers frustrations while the long line of freight cars blocked the street.

I also remember that close by was the Mecklenburg Hotel, which I imagine catered to the salesmen who traveled from city to city pushing their products. Also nearby was a Canary Cottage restaurant. This was one of a chain of these little restaurants that were scattered about Charlotte. They were the equivalent of fast foods today. They served breakfast and your lunch could be a 15-cent hamburger and probably a 5-cent Coke. Of course, you could get fries for maybe a nickel or a dime.

If you wanted a good meal, in a comfortable setting, then there was the S & W Cafeteria, up near the square. Always good food at a reasonable price and usually jammed by the uptown crowd, especially at lunch time. I well remember that they had the best egg custard pie around. I still like to eat in cafeterias.

There was no Douglas Airport, but there was the Cannon Airport located in West Charlotte, just off Highway 27.  An article by Mr W.R. Boggs described an airshow held at the Cannon Airport in 1931, in which fliers of that day performed. He mentioned pilot Tex Rankin who held the record for performing outside loops, 131 at that time.

Now an outside loop is a difficult maneuver to execute. You get up high and dive toward the ground until you are flying on your back and then go back up to the beginning.

How strange, because in 1943 I took my primary flight training at the  Tex Rankin Academy in Tulare, Calif.

I met Mr Rankin and saw him perform one of his famous outside loops in his special stunt plane. He was some great pilot  and put on an air show for each graduating class.

Now what are the odds that 12 years after the Charlotte air show I would end up in California at his training facility?   Slim to none I would say. But it happened.

That’s just the way it was  … in the good old days.

Charles Eurey is a Lincoln Times-News guest columnist. 

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