Roadtown: A Mecca for Physical Culturists

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Roadtown: A Mecca for Physical Culturists

By Milo Hastings (1910)

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Edgar Chambless, inventor of Roadtown

It is gratifying to note the tendency on the part of thinking men and women the world over to search for some means of counteracting the blighting influence of the highly concentrated life of our great cities. The novel methods of transportation and housing described in the following contribution seem to offer a practical and adequate remedy for urban congestion and its coincident evils. There is no doubt that the results attainable through this system would soon compensate for any difficulties which might be encountered in its Inception. Certain it is that any plan which tends to permit the dwellers of our crowded centers of population to secure the benefits of country homes without prohibitive expense and loss of time in transportation is worthy of thorough consideration.—Bernarr Macfadden.


THE proverb says that man has grown weaker and wiser. Some will point to the splendid records of modern athletes, which far surpass those of the ancients or of savage peoples, as a proof that the proverb is untrue. Considered from all its viewpoints there certainly is room for a good deal of argument as to whether civilization as a whole has aided or hindered the evolutionary progress of the physical man, which is the fundamental basis upon which not only all the splendid mechanical civilization, but the mental or spiritual life rests.

But of this we may feel sure—civilization has taken comparatively little thought for the permanent consideration either of the physique of the individual or of the race. Occasionally we drain a malaria- infested swamp or make some real improvement in nature, but for the most part the efforts of the hygienist and physical culturist are spent in attempting to ward off physical evils inflicted upon man by civilization.

Our city hygiene and anti-tuberculosis campaigns are but heroic attempts to overcome the evil effect of city congestion, brought about by the mechanical and commercial progress. Our gymnasium and athletic grounds are at best a faint protest against a civilization that has replaced the muscle of man with expanding power of steam. Our dyspepsia tablets are but silly efforts to relieve a case of stomach fermentation and a conscience guilty of an over indulgence in the products of a civilized kitchen. Our preachment against corsets and French heels, and our fight against the social evil is but a reaction against conditions brought about by the development of economic conditions which makes it possible, and too of ten necessary, for the woman to earn her living by pandering to the sexual instincts of the wealth possessing male.

Now the ideals of physical culture and eugenics are glorious as ideals, and ideals are necessary for progress, but we should not let the possession of such ideals obscure to us the realization of the fact that the cause which determines the immediate action of the typical man is the immediate pleasure he gets from an action, or money he gets which will buy other immediate pleasures around the corner. With none of us does the future weigh as strongly as the present. We eat seven-course dinners now because we like them even though we know it will result in dyspepsia later on. We take the car to get there quickly and to work longer and make more money, even though we know that we would live longer if we walked.

Granting then this fundamental human weakness for immediate pleasure and immediate profit, all those who have the physical welfare of the race at heart, will take keen interest in the Roadtown project, an invention which promises to bring about a great advance in the physical life of the race, and one which ought to establish itself quickly because the new living scheme promises to pay from the start. In other words the inventor claims that Roadtowna will be built because they are economical, and that once built the people will move into them because Roadtown rent will be about half that of present rents, and that once the people move into Roadtown, an improvement in health and the adoption of a better regime of living will come about because the environment is such that it cannot be otherwise.

The Roadtown is not a single invention, but a plan to combine many inventions, and to combine them in such a way as to involve a saving in construction and operation so remarkable, that the new plan, whether developed by capitalists or co-operation will be economically inevitable.

The Roadtown is a continuous house or row of connected dwellings, built over a noiseless railroad, and wired and piped in an open basement. It is a line of city through the country, and combines home, factory and farm.

The Roadtown is a skyscraper built on low-priced land and laid on its side—obviously the least expensive position in which to construct it. As the skyscraper, for one rent, provides the tenant with water, heat, light, power, elevator. etc., so the same facilities (substituting a noiseless railroad for an elevator), may be provided for the tenant of a continuous house, the construction of which is not so great a protest against the law of gravity.

A fanciful dream, you say—think again.

Modern civilization is a matter of rails, pipes and wires. Rails, pipes and wires can be most economically placed in a straight line. Houses can be built in squares, cubes, circles, or sown broadcast on the land. They can also be built in straight lines. And when they are so built there is a material saving of expense of construction without any material loss of light or air or privacy or contact with the soil, to gain which we now choose an isolated cottage in preferance to an elaborate suite in a city apartment.

We already see the tendency where rapid transportation is provided, for civilization to string itself out in lines. But the imperfect service of cumbersome steam trains or the reduced speed and danger to life from surface trolleys has not allowed this tendency to exert itself to any where near its mechanical possibilities. As for the pipes and wires, the present method of burying them beneath city pavements and leading a branch off under the sidewalk and through the foundation of each house is a method which represents the height of civilized absurdity.

The first mechanical necessity to the realization of the Roadtown or continuous house is that of a rapid and noiseless method of transportation. The mention of the bicycle and electric automobile should satisfy the reader that noise is not essential to a rapidly moving vehicle.

Of the various devices available for the purpose, Mr. Chambless considers that the Boyes Monorail best fits the Roadtown transportation needs.

The Boyes system, the patents of which have been donated to Roadtown use, is not dependent upon the gyroscope for its stability, but straddles the rail, which stands several feet above its foundation. The supporting and propelling wheel of the train is incased within the body of the car.

These heavy drive wheels form the armature of the motor, thus eliminating gearing. They are faced with leather and with the aid of rubber washers between the couplings, all sources of noise are eliminated. A further point of advantage is in the fact that the leather faced wheels give better traction grip than steel wheels, and hence make it possible to construct very light cars on the order of a bicycle instead of immensely heavy ones, as in the case of present high speed locomotives and electric traction. This feature means economy in construction and operation, and gives great efficiency in quick starting and stopping and speed generally.

The monorail will be placed in a trench beneath the house. It will here be out of the weather and out of sight, which for a high speed structure is desirable. The ventilation will not be deficient, as in a city subway, for there will be a continuous opening beneath both sides of the house.

Complete monorail service will require three tracks, one local and one express track for trains running in either direction. These three tracks will be beneath one another, for as the cars must be entered from both sides, this will require less climbing than if side by side. Express stations will be four or five miles apart and local stations about every hundred yards. From these local stations a continuous platform will extend beneath the houses along which the resident will walk till he comes to his own front door, that is, to a stairway leading to a private house above.

The main body of the Roadtown building is to be constructed of cement. The walls that separate each private house from the one adjoining will be poured in monolithic fashion, which means in one solid block, and this be sound proof, fire proof and vermin proof. Thomas A. Edison, who, as many of our readers know, has perfected a scheme of pouring cottages of cement, has offered Roadtown free use of his patents. In the Roadtown there will be two important savings in addition to those of pouring cement; first, the elimination of one- fourth of the wall area; second, Road- town excavation would first be made with a steam shovel and a railroad laid in the trench upon which work trains would be used to move the excavated material —the cement, sand and crushed rock for the building, and the heavy steel moulds for pouring the walls. In short, the entire construction will be a matter of steam power as compared with human labor, and railroad hauling as compared with horse carts.

The completed Roadtown will have stairways leading from each dwelling to the roof above, and just as the monorail in the basement will be the means of rapid transit for business purposes, so the roof will be used for walking, bicycling and skating with rubber tired skates. Certainly a more unique location for a “street” could not be imagined than this roof promenade.

The roof space may be laid off in separate paths for bicycles going in each direction, and likewise for skating. The walk for pedestrians will be in the center and will be covered with a rubber mat and roofed over for protection from the weather. It will be entirely feasible to side up this path in winter with glass panels, forming a continuous sun parlor which will be provided with resting alcoves and drinking fountains. On the outer edges of the roof, alcoves and parapets built for architectural variety, will also furnish location for seats, fountains and pots of earth for climbing vines.

In addition to the railroad in the cellar and a street upon the roof, the Roadtown will have even more remarkable features, due to the fact that the present enormously expensively system of street piping will be replaced by a continuous accessible runway, in which will be placed pipes and wires to convey every conceivable utility, many of which are not available under present housing conditions, even in city life.

Among these utilities which may be brought into every Roadtown home, are:—sewage, hot and cold water, steam or hot water heat, gas for cooking, electricity for lighting and power, vacuum devices for sweeping and dusting, refrigerating brine for cooling the house in summer, spring water or distilled and aerated water for drinking, telephone, dictograph or loud speaking telephone, the telegraphone or recording and repeating telephone, and music and lectures by wire, either directly transmitted by dictograph or recording and transmitted by telegraphy.

There are several applications of this cheap pipe and wire service that may not at first be thought of. Cheap plumbing will mean that every sleeping room may have a shower bath. Power in every home will mean that many little tasks can be made automatic. Among these. Mr. Chambless suggests that the bedding, including a light pad or mattress, may be attached to a frame, that, moved by electrical power or air pressure, will swing the entire bed up and around into a closet, one side of which is formed of shutters that freely admit the outdoor air. Thus the bed will be daily aired, and the sleeping room converted into a library or living room in the day time.

An even more suitable scheme that Mr. Chambless has in mind, is, to pipe this closet for a disinfecting gas. By tightly closing the outdoor shutters it will be possible to annihilate all vermin and disease germs. Certainly such a device would eliminate one of the most unpleasant duties of the present-day housekeeper, to say nothing of the general sanitary effect of thoroughly airing and disinfecting the bedding, clothing, and for that matter, by vacating the premises for a day, the entire house could be thus fumigated.

Still more remarkable in its effect upon household life will be the cheap and ready service in the transportation of all commodities. Co-operative laundries and co-operative establishments for the preparation of food will follow as logical results of the putting of transportation facilities in the home. The objection today urged against co-operative food preparation is, that it breaks up family life; and so with present arrangements, it does, but the Roadtown permits of all the advantages of such co-operation without in any way interfering with family privacy. The Roadtown bill of fare may be sent out daily from the food department, and the people will order by telephone. Deliveries can be made by the monorail, or a still better system will be that of mechanical carriers, which may be set with keys to switch off at any house. Such automatic delivery cars are good to carry any amount up to fifteen or twenty pounds. A meal for a family can be delivered in two such cars, one hot and one cold. The dirty dishes may in turn be sent back to be washed, hotel fashion.

The probable effect of such a system of food distribution will be of great interest to physical culturists. Let it be clearly understood that neither Mr. Chambless nor the other enthusiasts on Roadtown wish to force conformity in the bill of fare. When we order food at a restaurant we can only get certain foods cooked certain ways. The Roadtown food department will be a combination of cooperative grocery store and cook shop, and will keep on hand at all times all food materials cooked or uncooked for which there would be a demand. Another point to be considered is, that the Roadtown co-operative cook shop would be without inducement to adulterate, color, flavor and complicate food, as is now done under the competitive grocery and baker shops and delicatessen system.

People who now favor simplicity in diet are fought by all commercial forces in the food trade, for the simple reason that complexity means profits. With the co-operative distribution of food which will in the Roadtown be of such easy attainment, the manager’s profits, i. e., his appreciation and promotion, would increase, as he taught the people to use wholesome and simple food, instead of the enormously profitable products of the food trusts, canning factories and bake shops. To illustrate my point, let me ask if anyone can doubt that the reason cleaned whole wheat cannot be purchased for human food is because, if the customary rate of profit was charged, the price would be so visibly extortionate that the people would object. So the grocer pushes his meats and canned goods and other foods wherein the profits are obscured by the manufacturing processes.

Another wonderful effect of the Roadtown style of city building will be, that by supplying power directly to the homes of the people, it will render possible the re-instatement of the industrial conditions prevalent before the invention of steam took work out of the hands of the worker, and made him a wage slave to the factory proprietor. With

power in the homes and a ready means of transporting the raw material and the finished product, there is no more reason why the worker in many of the lighter manufacturing industries should be a wage slave, than there is reason why a farmer should be a wage slave. There have been abundant efforts of moneyed interests to buy up land and hire farmers to work it, but their efforts are almost invariable failures because a man working for some one else is not so efficient as a man working for himself. The Road- town will put light manufacturing in the same economic class as farming.

The agricultural opportunities of the Roadtown can hardly be overestimated. The excellent living quarters and the close contact of an advanced form of civilization with the soil, is bound to result in a great boom for intensive agriculture.

Will there be enough land? In reply I will say that with twenty-six foot houses there will be two-hundred houses to the mile, which will give within one mile of the Roadtown line over six acres per family. This is an ample acreage to support a family at market gardening or fruit culture, or in any kind of agriculture that results in the direct production ol human food from the soil, except grain growing. Such an area would also do very well for poultry raising, and for dairying.

As a matter of fact, but a portion of the residents will engage in agriculture as a leading occupation, so that the land area for those so engaged will be considerably more than that given.

Moreover there is no reason why farmers cannot live in Roadtown and have peach orchards or grain fields several miles back. There are a hundred times as many reasons why a man’s home should be in Roadtown line than in his wheat field, which he needs to visit but a few days each year. In practice the class of crops grown on the land will undoubtedly arrange themselves according to the frequency with which they will need attention. The more distant fields the farmers will visit at harvest or seeding time, and may even carry camp outfits and stay on the ground for a week at a time, returning to the Roadtown to work the rest of the season at gardening or indoor machine work.

The advantage of the Roadtown farm in the way of market facilities is at once apparent. At the present time only about one-half of what the consumer pays for farm products goes to the producer, the rest being eaten up by middle men and transportation agencies.

The Roadtown itself will be the farmer’s best market. Cost of living experts say that about forty-five per cent, of our expenditure is for food. Therefore forty-five per cent, of Roadtown population could be food producers without over supplying the home market. For the over-flow product there is the best kind of transportation to the city markets.

This opportunity to mix occupations is one which will mean much for human welfare in the future. Under the factory system and the large farm, great specialization in industry has occurred, with the result that the indoor machine worker becomes merely a human automaton, and the farmer works fourteen hours a day at monotonous back-breaking toil during the hot days of summer, while on rainy and wintry days he sits around the fire and toasts his corns.

The Roadtown, by taking electric power and a railroad station into every home, will do much to break up both systems. Every “factory worker” can have his garden and chickens, and the farmer can provide himself with some sort of indoor labor, so that he need not work so hard during any one season.

The location of the Roadtown in the country, gives freedom for the outdoor work and play, the denial of which to the city man, and especially the city child, is one of the glaring crimes of civilized society but one which cannot be changed until we find some better fashion of living than is at present in vogue.

On the other hand the present farm is far from being an ideal place to live—it is lonesome, and lacks the social life necessary to the development of the best in recreation and sport. The Roadtown will offer the best and cheapest kind of transportation imaginable. The result will be that the entire population will be free to gather at the games and festivals.

The very love of social life which is largely responsible for the growth of city life, and yet the best of which is lost by the crowded and artificial environment of the city, can be restored in the Roadtown to an extent that will surpass the days of Greece and Rome. Such great social and athletic centers owned by the people and equipped with gymnasium and athletic fields, swimming pools (or located on natural bodies of water), theaters, lecture halls, dance halls, museums and art galleries are part of the Roadtown plans as mapped out by the inventor.

Of course the point will be raised that other dreamers before Mr. Chambless have devised like schemes, but other social schemes had only enthusiasm back of them; they lacked the economic foundation for success. The Roadtown, if we may believe the engineers’ figures, will, because of the fundamental economies in construction and operation, offer homes at bargain rates, and the co-operation and magnificent social life will follow because of the superb opportunity to develop it.

Many of my readers will wish to know if this article is only a description of a dream, or if the Roadtown is to be a reality. In reply I will say that it will cost between half a million and a million dollars a mile to build Roadtowns. There are plenty of men in the country rich enough to build a Roadtown from New York to Philadelphia, or even from Chicago to St. Louis, but the inventor does not expect the Roadtown to fall into private hands. He believes that the Roadtown can be financed by bond sales under a plan that will make the ownership and government entirely municipal.

It is not to say at this date just what will be the outcome, except that many men of prominence and large human interest approve of Mr. Chambless’ plans, and that we can rest assured, that the Roadtown when built, will not be a private money-making scheme for any individual or group of individuals, but a truly co-operative enterprise for those who live and work in this twentieth century town, which is to have the advantage of both city and country and the evils of neither.


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Villa effect in Roadtown, where unsightly wires, pipes and rails are all laid underground.

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A short section of Roadtown, showing workroom, combined toilet and shower bath, and covered promenade on roof.