Once upon a time, most towns of any size had a livery stable or two. Travelers could pull in and get some oats, hay and water for the horses. Perhaps the buggy wheels needed some grease on the axle.
In the bigger burgs, a person thirsty and hungry could walk down the street a ways and buy some homemade food.
Then everything changed.
“Ooooga,” here came the horseless carriage. The internal combustion engine changed the game.
You didn’t have to shovel out a stall or put the transportation out to pasture. Cars were clean, fast and technologically marvelous — at least compared to hitching a plow horse to a farm wagon — so any young man or woman worth their salt preferred to be cutting edge by riding in a motor car.
Gasoline-powered engines beat out electric and steam cars for consumer preference.
But at some point, when cars were everywhere, they needed a place to buy more gas, air up a tire and add oil to the crank case.
The gas station was born.
A staple of my parents’ and my eras dominated the roadways in the 1900s, seemingly never to be replaced. Somebody soon figured out that adding a pop machine and some boxes of candy bars brought in some spare change.
The gas station grew into a mini grocery store and café crammed into a joint next to self-service gas and diesel pumps.
But hold onto your jumper cables, a new era is dawning.
Kansas City Power & Light recently announced plans to build a network of more than 1,000 charging stations for electric cars. Gimme a jolt and wash the windshield. They plan to put several in the Northland.
You can bet Platte County will be getting a charge, too.
We’re a crossroads county, crossroads of the world if you count the airport, but we have a history as a motor-car way station, too.
Why if the late Ed Young was still holding court down at the Red X in Riverside, Mo., he’d be looking for a way to beat KCP&L to the electric punch. Young and others once made Riverside a gas station and gas-price-war paradise for motorists.
That was decades ago.
But I noted recently in The Citizen that QuikTrip is building a bigger fuel and food stop in that city at the county’s southern tip. The new setup will be one of the chain’s new generation stores that features made-to-order items, while seeking to separate the fuel patrons from those looking for a food and beverage refill.
Some new bridges are being built connecting the southern part of Platte County with Kansas. Downtown KC across the river and a bit downstream is booming.
Surely, an electric car recharge station is in that town’s future, too.
Parkville has riverboat history, a railroad still roaring through the downtown, major roads that crisscross and an annexed area bordering Interstate 435. Surely a station with a watt meter is up coming.
We’ve gone from telling a uniformed station attendant to “fill ’er up” to staring at dim lights on a pump as we figure out which buttons to push for the debit card to work. So I guess some new terminology is in the offing.
“Plug me in, please.”
Or perhaps we will just need to know the right cell phone app to tap the juice for our car batteries. I worry a bit about the quiet. Will I hear a car coming as I’m absent mindedly crossing a street in downtown Platte City?
There’s some amazing electric-powered technology already in use. I got to test drive a battery-powered mobile chair last year that was designed to let people with mobility challenges enjoy the outdoors. They were on rubber tracks rather than wheels, like a tank.
Platte County resident Bo Woodruff continues to spearhead a campaign to bring more than one of these chairs to the area for citizens to utilize. I couldn’t believe how fast they could move and turn or spin in an extremely quiet fashion.
I wonder if electric cars will be the same?
Perhaps they’ll have various lasers and warning sounds that will get burned in our brains.
Sort of like now when I hear a “ping” and I think of my cell phone. I’ve noticed “pings” added to songs and advertisements lately to quietly grab out attention.
What will they add to electric cars to move our imaginations, imagination being a part of the automobile choosing and driving experience?
My grandfather marveled at how automobiles evolved from his horse-and-buggy youth, and he loved their conveniences. I’m still a little stunned at how fast the Internet went from being a brand new thing explained in news stories to what I count on to send my editor this column.
Our youngsters may find public electric charging stations old fashioned before they hit middle age.
Flip a switch and punch a button, text me now and beam me later, we’re always ready to head down the road. But how we go is ever changing.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area with his family, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.