"The Negro Motorist Green Book" was an essential tool for the black motorist in the first half of the 20th century. In the American South, the early decades of motoring overlapped with the region's most virulently racist "Jim Crow" era. Black motorists were confronted by challenges largely unknown to white travelers, and a slight misreading of the local racial norms could turn the most commonplace activity into one that brought down on them humiliation, brutality, or death. Many black motorists would not take to the roads without their copy of The Green Book; it was their bible for discovering safe places.
In 1950, Lee Petty showed up at a stock car event with his race car painted bright blue. The color would become known as "Petty Blue" and would become a signature look for generations of racing Pettys, including Richard and Kyle. In today's world of intense branding, you would expect such a color to have been carefully designed and maybe even tested in focus groups before appearing in public. In truth, Petty Blue resulted from a random mix of paint remnants by a man who was just trying to help neighbor Lee Petty by making his Plymouth look better for an upcoming Saturday race.
A rail line across the state from Goldsboro to Charlotte would energize North Carolina and arouse it from the economic, educational and cultural stagnation that had earned it the derogatory nickname of "The Rip Van Winkle State." So construction of the North Carolina Railroad in the 1850s was cause for great celebration up and down the line. Festivities often included rah-rah speeches, tooting brass bands, shrieking steam whistles, booming cannons, and lots and lots of barbecue.
In 1849, legislation created The North Carolina Railroad – at least on paper. But before tracks could actually be laid, someone had to decide exactly where the line would run. Some of those decisions were driven by engineering considerations. Some decisions were shaped by demographics. And some decisions – we should not be surprised – were influenced by the voices of those with money and power.
Railroad track gauge is the distance between the two rails. In the United States today, the standard is set at 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches. That measurement was also almost exactly the standard distance between the wheels of Roman chariots. The similarity has led some to conclude that the current standard was passed down from Roman times. The story is actually much more interesting than that simple telling.