Love road trips? Meet the woman who pioneered them | #ukscams | #datingscams | #european

If you had to pick between a road or a train journey, what would you choose? Each has its charm, of course. But for me, roads take the win. If it had not been for road trips, I wouldn’t have been lost in new places with oddly coloured rocks, or thought about where rivers begin and how people figure it out. Neither would I have seen five dust devils (or mini-whirlwinds) in a row, on a trip from Diu to Vadodara, or learnt the art of patience stuck in long queues at toll booths. On that note, here are my rabbit hole dives for this week. Two stories about roads, in two very different places.

Bertha shows the way

While I enjoy road journeys, I’ve not been very interested in cars beyond their practical use, which is to drive me from point A to B. But in my search for a safer car over the last year, I have developed a deeper appreciation for all that this machine can do. And the appreciation grew when I learned about the first person ever to take a long road trip. The woman who changed the car game for good — Bertha Benz.

Bertha (born Bertha Ringer) married Carl Benz, a German inventor and the Benz of Mercedes-Benz, in 1872. In 1886, Carl received a patent for his first car, Benz Patent-Motorwagen. It had a single cylinder, rear-mounted engine, and three wheels, one in the front and two in the back. (You can spot the Patent Motorwagen in ‘Enola Holmes’ on Netflix). Bertha had both financed her husband’s invention, and had helped design the car. Still, she wasn’t allowed to apply for the patent because married women at the time couldn’t do so.

In July that year, they unveiled Benz Patent-Motorwagen for the public. However, the car’s demo, which involved a short test drive where the driver apparently lost control, didn’t attract buyers. Bertha wanted to do more to publicise the car, but her husband, following the lukewarm response, had retreated to his factory.

So, she came up with a marketing plan. The story goes that in early August 1888, Bertha snuck out a Patent-Motorwagen No. 3 from Carl’s factory, with the help of her two teenage sons. Then, with her sons beside her, she started driving the car toward Pforzheim in southwestern Germany, more than 100 km away, where her mother lived.

Bertha was both the driver and the mechanic. When the fuel pipe was clogged, she used a hairpin to clear it. When the engine heated up, she used water from nearby streams or public houses to cool it down. The car had no fuel tank. It could only hold 4.5 litres in the carburettor, so she had to find pharmacies that stocked ligroin, a petroleum product used then. In fact, the pharmacy at Wiesloch, where she found her first supply of ligroin on her journey, calls itself the first gas station in the world.

The long road trip was hardly easy. The car wasn’t powered enough to climb steep hills, so Bertha and her sons would have to get down and push the car uphill. Downhills were heart-in-the-mouth experiences. In fact, when the brake shoes wore out quickly, Bertha went to a cobbler and got him to cover the brake shoes with leather, ultimately inventing the brake lining.

Bertha hadn’t told Carl about her plan. But Carl had been hearing of her journey from people in towns and villages who had seen her pass them by. On the way back, Bertha took a different route, demonstrating the car’s ability to many more people, who were both amazed and scared. Bertha’s marketing plan had succeeded. Benz & Cie soon became the world’s largest automobile company. All thanks to a woman who took a car to her mother’s home and back.

Toll scams: Blast from the past

Have you come across unauthorised “parking attendants”? People, with official-looking receipt books who want to collect fees for parking in certain places where parking is free? Or maybe you’ve come across or read about fake toll booths that collected crores of rupees fraudulently? Turns out, scams like these go way back in history. Like this one story that I came across while going through a story from May 1876 in The Times of India archives.

Here’s what happened. In 1876, four Indians and a European pensioner masterminded an illegal “private toll agency” in Bangalore. The agency set up five stations across the city, each with “peons” sporting official-looking badges and uniforms. They also displayed the toll “bye-laws” in a prominent place, which was dated 1st April. Entry and exit of all “native vehicles” and animals were taxed. Pigs attracted the highest tax of two annas, while mules, bullocks, horses, and sheep were taxed at lower rates. All of these rates were displayed, like you see at toll booths today, and toll receipts were given. The bye-laws also had this warning: “If any disturbance be made with the peon, a fine of 10 annas or fifteen days’ imprisonment.”

Everyone paid the toll without any questions asked. And this continued for 15 days, which is when the local civil judge came to know of it, and got the fake agency folks arrested. It was suspected that the police were in on the conspiracy.

This is what The Times of India wrote then: “The Bangalore police must be sadly in want of a little reorganisation. The only explanation of their conduct appears to be that they were in collusion with the toll-gatherers…It is one of the most audacious frauds we have heard of.”



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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