Travels to the Heartland, page 2. Oct. 24, 2004. by Earl Cook

On October 4, 2004, SpaceShipOne rocketed into history, becoming the first private manned spacecraft to exceed an altitude of 328,000 feet twice within the span of a 14 day period, thus claiming the ten million dollar Ansari X-Prize. In addition to meeting the altitude requirement to win the X-Prize, pilot Brian Binnie also broke the August 22, 1963 altitude record by Joseph A. Walker set in the X-15.  

The Ansari X-Prize was founded in 1996, modeled after the Orteg Prize that Charles Lindbergh won in 1927 by flying solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

The rocket is fueled by a relatively safe blend of butyl rubber (tires) and nitrous oxide (laughing gas). The White Knight carried SpaceShipOne (SS1) to approximately 55,000 feet and then dropped the craft. The rocket engine on SS1 then fired and the space ship rocketed almost vertically until it popped out of the atmosphere at almost 70 miles up.

Brian Binnie's SpaceShipOne flight carried him all the way to 367,442 feet or 69.6 miles above the Earth's surface into the initial darkness of space. SpaceShipOne is designed to flip its wings up to create a high drag craft that will attempt to 'float' its way safely down as it decreases speed when reentering the atmosphere. Once enough speed and altitude are lost, the wings rotate backwards and the craft becomes a glider that slowly brings the crew back to earth.

Sir Richard Branson has created Virgin Galactic and will license the Rutan /Scaled technology to create a fleet of craft that will take passengers into the edge of space for approximately $240,000 each.

If you are a Google fan, on the day that the X-Prize was won, Google made a special page icon that showed SpaceShipOne popping out of the atmosphere like a small guppy and as it did so, it was met by a 'Martian' craft upside down and facing SS1. We had a small link to this historical event as the page I created was the first site returned on Google when a search for 'Rutan Space' was conducted.

This website is about pioneers and trailblazers and our next journey into the heartland took us north in the center of automotive and American history.


This has been a year for travel and we have chosen to make most of these trips by car. Fittingly, October saw a trip to Detroit for a surprise birthday celebration for a dear sister. During the 1920's, 30's and 40's, my greater family had been drawn to the auto manufacturing jobs and left the farms of the south for the big money of the big city. They left their farms in southern Georgia and went to work for Ford and became workers on the assembly lines in the belief that they could make a difference and provide for their family.

For over 50 years, I have heard the stories of these places from my family but had never visited them myself as I came along later. On this trip to the heartland, I made a reconnection to my past that answered many questions and finally put images with the stories. And what better way to go the capital of the automobile than driving a car?

My family first lived in Ann Arbor next to the Univ. of Michigan and just around the corner from the Train Depot that sat between Chicago and Detroit. My older brothers and sisters loved this area and remember going down to watch the trains and the people as they traveled between two of the great cities of America.

Today, the depot has been transformed into an elegant restaurant that preserves the spirit of trains and rail travel of the past. Just as we all have lost the excitement of this mode of travel, my family seems to have left part of their hearts in Ann Arbor and every time they return, they find joy.

As we drove through Ann Arbor, we saw only a portion of the old campus with its gray stones and ivy-covered walls. It all seemed magical or something out of King Arthur's Camelot and then we saw this house and it sealed the image.

Amazingly, we were in Ann Arbor on the day of a football homegame which can have 105,000 people at the game. We came in while everyone was at the stadium so we had no traffic, toured the old neighborhood, ate a nice lunch and got out of town before the game was over.

My father had an accident while working in Ann Arbor in 1949 and was off work for several years. When he recovered, he bought a house in the New Center area of Detroit and the family moved so that he could be closer to his work in the automobile plants.

New Center is an area just north of the Detroit main central district and is basically located near the intersection of Woodward Ave. and Grand Blvd.

The Fisher Building, GM Building, Henry Ford Hospital, Motown Studios and Henry Ford's Piquette factory where he first manufactured the Model T are all within a one mile radius. Just a mile away is the birth place of Charles 'Lucky Lindy' Lindbergh and Henry Ford's first home in Detroit is also only a mile away in the opposite direction.

Our house was located in this area and is where I spent the first 9 months of my life. It was in New Center, but I had never visited the area since then. So, visiting this area for the first time in over 50 years caused a bit of anticipation and excitement. I had heard all the stories and knew the history and now I was experiencing it.

I was shocked as we began to drive through downtown Detroit. I had heard all the stories, but seeing the amount and abundance of urban decay and neglect was depressing. Detroit is an icon of the best and worst of America.

On the day of my birth, I passed near Henry Ford's old residence and was born down the street from the Highland Park Model T factory, where the second industrial revolution began and the assembly line was introduced by Ford. Up to 29,000 people worked in the factory where they produced up to 1,000 'tin Lizzies' a day during the early years of the 20th century.

A little known Detroit fact is that Dr. George Goodheart discovered Applied Kinesiology in Detroit in his clinic at 542 Michigan Building at 220 Bagley St. in 1964. After we working with Dr. John Thie for several years, we learned that Dr. Thie was also born in Detroit! Then last year, we learned that Dr. Walter Schmitt, another leader in Applied Kinesiology, was born down the street from our home in the Ford Hospital! So, it was interesting discovering this facts over half a century later!

Detroit was the center of personal locomotion so that people could independently move around on planet Earth for those that could afford a car. The growth, then demise and possible regrowth of downtown Detroit are representative of our societies greatest challenges. A recent satellite photo of downtown Detroit showed that nature was trying to take back over as much of the desolate urban area has grass, weeds and trees taking root. Birds and wind have deposited seeds on skyscraper rooftops and open windows and trees are growing!

The Fisher Building is called "Detroit's largest art object" and "a Cathedral to Commerce." My older brother worked across the street as a kid selling the Detroit Times on the corner of Grand Blvd. and 2nd Ave. in the late 1940's and early 50's. He thought of the Fisher Building as "the Taj Mahal." My older sister remarked that in the late 40's and early 50's, "Detroit was beautiful." She worked in a store on the corner of Woodward and Grand.

I remember seeing the carriage shown at the left on many General Motors (GM) vehicles where it included the words, "Body by Fisher." I did not realize until my visit to the Fisher Building that the 7 Fisher Brothers' contribution to the automobile was the enclosed body so that the car could be used year round. It seems like such a simple concept today, but in the era of the "horseless carriage" this was a real big deal. Today, we complain if we do not have air conditioning or heating, but back in the early 20th century, just having an enclosure was a huge advancement and being the designers made them very wealthy.

The Fisher Theatre remains a grand place for live theater and events. Back when my family lived around the corner, my sister and her husband took my mother to see Gone with the Wind at the Fisher Theatre when it was a movie house.

My brother Dan sold the Detroit Times newspaper on this corner of Grand Blvd. and 2nd Ave. and across the street from the Fisher Building as a kid over 50 years ago. Representing the spirit and reality of our country at the time, Dan began working at the age of 12 and often times made more money than our father who worked in the sporadic jobs of the automobile industry in the early 1950's. Henry Ford had drawn our family northward and shaped the history of our family.

The family migrated northward on the 'Dixie Highway' and traveled the road both ways as visits were made between rural Georgia and the industrial Detroit. Henry Ford had promised a good days wage for an honest days work while you worked on producing an automobile that the average person could afford to purchase. It seemed like an ideal combination, the common man working to help his brothers, the other common men and families of our land. But, Ford also helped introduce social conflicts that would dramatically alter Detroit in the coming years.

Our father admired Henry Ford and told us stories of seeing him in the factories. My father's first job was working on the Ford Tri-Motor airplane. One of my favorite stories was when he saw 'Old Man Ford' and Charles Lindbergh taking a tour of the plant. I've loved cars and airplanes my whole life, so maybe this explains the source of these affinities.

As our family became one of the first to begin the Exodus out of Detroit in the early 1950's, we returned to the south. Dan continued his business acumen and started his appliance repair business at the age of 17 and proclaimed that he could "fix anything with a cord" and still continues in business 50 years later.

copyright Lowell Boileau Permission granted

When I asked for directions to see the hospital where I was born in Highland Park I was told, "Don't go there! There is no police force or fire department so if anything happens, there is nothing they can do!" Jeepers! I just wanted to drive by and look at the hospital where I was born. A shiver went up and down my spine and I began a search on the Internet to find images and descriptions of what the places look like now. I found a great website called The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit by Lowell Boileau. which displays the grand buildings and homes of when Detroit was at a peak of glory and success before the huge calamity.

Just several blocks from our home in New Center the Motown Studios were located. Berry Gordy created a new sound in music with the Motown Sound. The artists that recorded under the Motown label are a who's who of the music business: Diana Ross and the Supremes; Four Tops; The Temptations; Stevie Wonder; Marvin Gaye; Smokey Robinson and the Miracles; Gladys Knight and the Pips; Jackson Five and others. We moved from New Center in 1952 and the first Motown hit occurred in 1954.

As we headed back down the Dixie Highway, we moved to a town that was the hometown of another musical genius, Ray Charles, who also helped start the Rhythm and Blues and Soul Music movements. With Charles' recent death, I discovered that Ray Charles' and my family had lived on the same street... Mercer, albeit 8 blocks apart.

The Dixie Highway was actually a collection of highways that together formed different routes from the Canada to the below Miami.













Map provided courtesy of:

As a photographer and after being born in the middle of automotive history, I find great pleasure in taking photos of prototypes. These prototypes are extremely advanced automobiles that primarily race in endurance events where speed and efficiency are important.

The car shown at left is the Zytek DBA Reynard built in the UK. I happened to walking up the stairs to the bridge that crosses the track and the driver pulled up below me and turned the engine off.

Possibly the most advanced automobile in existence today is the Audi R8 sports car prototype. This car has been more successful and dominant in racing than any other car in the modern era. Capable of driving in rain or shine, day or night, the car can travel over 3,000 miles during the 24 Hours of Le Mans while reaching speeds of 200+ mph.

Almost indestructible, the cars have been wrecked and almost demolished and then driven back to the pits where they were repaired and then returned to race as if nothing had happened. The car had its entire rearend assembly replaced in approximately 12 mins. during a Le Mans race causing this type of procedure to be outlawed as they were so far ahead of the competition.

When the racing required more fuel mileage as well as retaining power, Audi introduced the Direct Fuel Injection (DFI) engine and once again left the competition behind due to its increased efficiency.

Lake Eden is located in the North Carolina mountains and the site serves as the location for the Lake Eden Arts Festival (LEAF) in the fall and spring. Montreat is the site where some of the great thinkers and artists of the 20th century used to gather at the retreat for inspiration and rest. Albert Einstein was a participant and Buckminster Fuller first publicly displayed his geodesic dome on the site.

Today, the LEAF festival is a celebration of music, art, healing and dance. A lot of tie-dye, beards and long hair are prevalent in today's participants and contra dancing is the prevalent dance held like an old-fashioned barn dance daily and nightly in the dance hall. The American tradition of freethinking and exploration continue today with the participants.

Sunset from Mt. Washington along the Blue Ridge Parkway northeast of Asheville, North Carolina. Amazingly, during late 2004, parts of the Parkway are still closed after heavy rains from the remnants of several of the hurricanes blew through the NC mountains.

In this contentious election year marked by extreme polarization, I created this Conservative vs. Liberal web page and used the dictionary and thesaurus to build this page of terms. Whenever I hear someone getting self-righteous about their beliefs and ridiculing their opponents, I ask them to look at this page and tell me which attributes they admire about their side and which they do not like about the other.

This page is another one of mine that ranks at the top when searched on Google.

©2004 Earl Cook & Gail Cook