Like many others these days, I enjoy the benefits of high technology. Cell phones, computers, GPS, Smart TV’s and other technological marvels have all made my life easier, if not more frustrating at times.
And although I use the stuff, and certainly benefit from it, (for the most part) I’m not one of those that immediately recognizes the benefits of or embraces new technology. It usually takes me a while to cozy up to a new idea or device. I guess I take after my dad in that respect.
It’s Hereditary; Honest!
The product of an impoverished depression era family and also a World War Two Veteran, my dad resisted new technology like a cat resists a leash.
My dad specifically asked to join the cavalry in World War Two and happily trained on horseback in South Dakota before shipping overseas. He was quite put out when he found himself now a horseless member of the newly formed “mechanized” cavalry pursuing German troops in Europe. Later, having been trapped with his unit in the Battle of the Bulge, he spoke very fondly of General Patton and his tanks who liberated my dad’s unit from the Huns that had them surrounded. He probably realized he’d have been “duck soup” if the U.S. Army still had to rely on horse drawn weaponry for that operation, though he never acknowledged it.
Dad’s resistance to change carried over into civilian life as well. Although, thanks to his World War Two experience he was a very competent driver, he held off owning a motor vehicle for as long as he could. Some of my earliest child hood memories are of me and my brother riding in the huge front basket of his bicycle while he pedaled around our fine city of Kenosha, Wisconsin. I particularly liked the bumpety bump sensation while going over the railroad tracks.
When dad threw in the towel and finally started buying cars, he usually found the oldest car around that was still serviceable. My best friend Jim, who lived across the street, used to say that whenever he thought about my dad he always remembered that when he came over to our house, my dad’s butt was usually hanging out from underneath the hood as he worked on one of the many used (I will not patronize the reader by referring to them as “previously owned”) Nash Ramblers he always managed to find. He’d jack the cars up and lower them on an ancient tree stump he had. After decades of absorbing motor oil and other fluids, the stump was pitch black and weighed near a ton. My guess is it’s probably lying around in some hazmat facility, requiring another five thousand years before becoming fully neutralized.
Our family was the last in the neighborhood to get a television, naturally. I remember many Saturday nights laying on the living room floor listening to the old Victrola. And when we did finally get a tv, it was an ancient used black and white hulk which required countless episodes of hand banging along with several tube changes and plenty of rough language to get through an evening of viewing. When color tv’s hit the mainstream market, we of course were the last to get in on that technology. I recall one time my dad fell for a scheme in which you purchased a plastic film composed of different colors. You put the film over the tv screen and it was supposed to provide “color” viewing for you. As bad as it sounds, it worked even worse, turning everything either blue, red or green depending on which part of the screen it was on.
We finally came to own a telephone after my mother got weary of running to one of the neighbors every time she had to make or receive a call. (The neighbors got weary also) I remember the new phone well, it was a wall unit and we were so proud of it! We stood around staring at it waiting for the damn thing to ring. We thought we were hot stuff; now on the cutting edge of technology! “Hello? Jim? How ya doin, you coming out to play this aft?” Important stuff, you see.
And Maybe Just a Tad Frugal??
My mother always contended that in addition to being resistant to change, my dad was…well just a little bit cheap. He held off on replacing a garment…. any garment until it was worn to the point of disintegration. He had an old cap he wore for all occasions, and I believe it lasted him twenty some years. He had an old pair of rubber galoshes which he wore only in absolute blizzard conditions or floods. The buckles on them had worn out several times, but he took them to the shop where he worked repairing bicycles and had them spot welded each time. He also applied tire patches to the bottoms, toes and heels as needed. I’m quite sure he had them for more than two decades. There were always several innertube patching kits around the garage and workbench. Every innertube from the tires of any one of Dad’s vehicles was festooned with patches of all sizes and shapes.
Dad worked full time at the post office and part time at a sporting goods store repairing bicycles. He had an old black lunch box that saw at least three different presidential administrations. It was welded almost as many times as his galosh buckles. His industrial grade thermos bottle had more dents and dings than a garbage truck. The original metal handle having been replaced by at least three different leather belts over time.
Our little cape cod on the south side of Kenosha, Wisconsin was one of the last homes in town to be converted from coal to natural gas heating. The fuel company informed my father they no longer delivered coal to residential homes, forcing him to make the change. Neither my mother, my brother or I were saddened upon hearing of this development. My mother had been complaining for ages about the coal dust and mess. My brother and I had to do all the middle of the night coal shoveling and clinker disposal, so were very happy when that unpleasant chore was finally driven into obsolescence.
Having experience with coal furnaces actually served me well some years later, however. While in the U.S. Air Force I attended Tech School at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, Colorado. Being the colder months of the year and at the higher elevation it was quite cold, particularly at night. The barracks we were housed in were old World War Two barracks with coal furnaces. Myself and three other guys who were familiar with coal furnaces became furnace tenders while we were stationed there. Being a furnace tender was good duty, getting us out of most KP and morning PT as well, so all those cold days and nights shoveling coal and cleaning out clinkers back in Wisconsin paid off.
My father’s outdoor activities were fitted out in much the same way as all his other activities. He loved perch fishing on Lake Michigan and fished with an old cane pole all his life. (see my earlier blog story Perch Fishing in Old Kenosha) His landscaping equipment, hatched in the same mindset was always “old school”. He (or I) spaded up his garden every year by hand; dad wouldn’t use a power roto tiller if you put a gun to his head. Our lawn mower, naturally, was an ancient hand reel job which pushed with the same ease as a football blocking sled carrying William “The Refrigerator” Perry. Dad had a lawn edger which looked like a small Amish plow that I believe was intended to be used with draft horses. Though Dad was barely five feet four inches tall he had the strength of Bruno Sammartino and expected his kids to match him from age ten on up.
And though Dad worked at a sporting goods store my brother and I rode rebuilt old balloon tire bikes long after most other kids were zipping around on stiff hubs or ten speeds. He apparently didn’t want to spoil us. Dad’s work bench in the basement was something to behold. Cobbled together from ancient timbers, it could have held a Sherman tank. And each tool he had dated back to the turn of the century and beyond. Saws with teeth sharpened so many times the tiny blades were as thin as tissue paper.
The hardware Dad stored in and around his work bench was usually gotten by taking “old stuff” apart. Dad never purchased any new hardware, and some of the hardware he had was forged in the previous century. Any appliance, device, or piece of furniture he owned was taken apart for salvageable hardware as well as other useable parts when it’s natural life had expired. If anything hit the garbage bin, you could bet it was something totally worthless. The term “repurposed” was created in honor of my father.
Now what about that Acorn?
Yeah, some of Dad’s traits have been passed down the pike. (I said some!) I’ve always joked that I am on “the cutting edge” whenever I’ve managed to pick up on a new technology or process. I don’t resist every change kicking and screaming like dad, but I have sidestepped some over the years.
When it comes to vehicles I do follow in Dad’s footsteps to a degree. I have owned very few brand-new vehicles in my life, and I do tend to hang on to the ones I have until way past the expiration date. My first vehicle was a 1956 Rambler I bought from my dad for a hundred bucks. It was only about ten years old at the time, but for a first car that’s not bad at all. Most all my vehicles since then have been used…in many cases well used, and in some cases, abused. A few had their lives cut short by inadvertent meetings with other vehicles, trees or fires, while yet others required transport to the nearest salvage yard for a final blessing before entering the “crusher”.
I was a pioneer in one area however; I drove pick-up trucks long before they were fashionable. One of the few new vehicle purchases I made was a 1972 Ford Courier mini pick-up truck I bought while living in Southern California; great little truck. Since then I’ve had a couple of Toyota pick-ups, another Courier, a Ford F-150, a Jeep pick-up truck, a Dodge Dakota, a GMC and a couple of Chevy Silverados; all but one used. Yep, I’ve made the rounds.
I also had a couple of motorcycles, (well-seasoned of course) the last of which was a 1974 Honda 450 (very fast bike!) which lasted well into the eighties.
But the die hard “frugal” side of me has come out most often in the selection of the many boats and RV’s I’ve owned over the years. I’ve had a whole string of rowboats including the current one I own (reference my blog story The Flying Row Boat) which dates back to the 1940’s. My first outboard motor was a 1940’s era 1 ½ HP Pine Marten which I attached to my equally ancient row boat. For reverse, the motor actually spun around 360 degrees. I had that one for many years until I could no longer get parts for it.
I’ve had a couple of pontoon boats, one which was over thirty years old when I purchased it, while the other was relatively new, (a gift from my older brother) it was only around fifteen years old when I picked it up, and in mint condition (For a time). I’ve owned a number of motorized fishing boats over the years, most of which might be referred to as “vintage” by the polite crowd. My current fishing boat is a 15-foot, 1973 aluminum boat with a 1978 7.5 HP Mercury engine. The engine runs great! Well…. almost great. BUT the trailer was made in the 1980’s; so that brings the whole rig up to within acceptable limits; in my opinion.
To get a feel for the RV’s I’ve owned over time, reference my earlier blog story The Fire. Now before you judge me, keep in mind that most of those RV’s are still in service to this day! (Of course, not the one that burnt down to the ground, nor the boat that burnt up with it)
Do the Tools make the man?
My tool collection is not unlike my Dad’s; as a matter of fact, many of my tools were my dad’s at one time. But I must point out that a fifty-year-old hammer works just as well as a brand-new hammer; same with screwdrivers, chisels and saws. (Except the ones with the paper-thin blades)
Since I’m in a confessing mood I’ll admit that many of my tools were also my Grandfather’s. My Grandfather got his tools from previous owners as well, so there’s no telling how old some of those are. I have one of his wood planes, and if you take it a step or two farther it could go back as far as Columbus. My grandfather was a highly skilled general contractor who used his tools frequently. He took care to keep the blades sharp, the wood handles well-oiled and located all his tools in an organized tool box.
I, on the other hand, am what my Grandfather called a shoemaker. My skills are of the Neanderthal period, and I use my tools much less frequently than Grandpa did. As far as care and maintenance…. I keep them out of the rain for the most part and they are often found where I last used them.
Moving on to High Technology
Now when it comes to technological advancements in the workplace, I of course, have an edge on Dad & Grandpa, as the electric typewriter was probably the most advanced marvel they had ever seen. Machine tools and construction equipment did not really change much from the 1930’s until the 1970’s when Computer Numerically Control Machinery made its entrance.
I, on the other hand, have been exposed to computers ever since my days in the Air Force, when the Univac-1050-2 hummed away on many large military facilities. As big as a freight car, the Univac’s controlled materials, manpower, payroll and any other number of tasks for Uncle Sam. If you worked on a large military installation in Vietnam and were assigned to the computer department you enjoyed cool crisp air conditioning in a building designed to withstand attacks from 80-millimeter mortars and Soviet built 122 rockets. Our barracks and hootches had no such protection or degree of comfort so we often fabricated reasons to enter the privileged compound. We were usually ushered out unceremoniously after ten minutes or so, but we enjoyed every second of our brief respite while it lasted.
Entering the workforce after military service I again found the computer a nearly worshipped entity, this time in American industry. The large IBM central processing unit, though not as big as the Univac, took up the better part of a large room. Enclosed by walls of glass it hummed away happily like “Hal” in the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey. Red, green and blue lights all over the monstrosity blinked on and off in quirky patterns; processing information gleamed from keypunch cards spirited in from all over the manufacturing facility.
Serious looking men and women marched in and out of the laboratory like confines adjusting the controls and gathering the reems of paper which flowed out of the device like water over a dam. The serious looking men and women spoke in hushed tones and referred to everything as a “program”. They discussed languages called “Basic” and “Fortran” that used strange hieroglyphics and nobody else seemed to have any clue as to what the hell they were talking about. But even more important serious looking people constantly marched in and out of their enclave proving that they indeed, ruled the day.
Starting out in the factory in Quality Control, I had limited interaction with the Gods of Computerworld, however after moving up into Engineering my star unwittingly became attached to the whims of the IBM Central Processing Unit, along with the many others held captive in it’s large domain. I learned to feed the monster and gather the produce it put out in the form of giant computer reports which we obediently put in large green binders that were so thick a .50 caliber bullet could not pass through them.
We would wield these computer reports like a weapon, citing it to anyone who challenged the information we provided. “It’s in the computer!” We would say, which was usually enough to cause any challenger to cower. “Oh…Ok.”
After years of serving the IBM Central Processing Gods, I became very comfortable and secure laboring under it’s umbrella, when suddenly the chain moved again. The central processing unit was replaced with small processing units which were now located at each work station. The large CPU was removed and the cavernous room now sat naked and ugly; used only to store old key punch cards and dusty office furnishings which were no longer in use. The formerly untouchable computer staff was now reduced; and dethroned. The survivors in the department wandered around looking like the deer in the headlights for months after the cataclysmic event.
Within just a few years, the small processing units by each work station were removed and replaced with personal computers; PC’s. We were familiarized with floppy discs and given access to a central printer. Within another couple of years the central printer gave way to small personal printers attached to the PC’s. The once mighty Information Systems empire was now reduced to one or two consultants in a cubicle.
While all of this was going on the “downsizing” trend which started in the eighties exploded all over America as factories were shut down or sent overseas. I moved from company to company during this time, dodging plant shut-downs and relocations like the Mario Brothers dodging laser bullets and darts.
I managed to survive all of the technological barrages until I eventually retired and left the workforce. Retirement didn’t save me from the onslaught of technological change, however as I soon bumped up against cell phones, GPS’s and the explosion of the internet.
I resisted getting a cell phone until my wife and I sat watching our truck, camper and boat burn up on the side of a highway one year. (Ref my earlier blog The Fire) Fortunately bystanders who stopped to help called it in for us. And when I did finally get one it was a flip-phone which I held onto until the numbers wore off; after which I reluctantly advanced to a “smart” phone.
Since writers in this day and age must do most of their own marketing I have embraced the technology known as social media. I use Facebook to showcase my books as well as this website which fortunately, has been crazy busy.
My children often help me get through the technological challenges I butt up against, and now my grandson is teaching me computer games, so I have plenty of “consultants” available.
I have my little toe in LinkedIn but I don’t twitter, tweet, huff or puff. I’m guessing I’ll have most of my dad and my grandpa’s tools till I float off to that big technology center in the sky. My son will inherit most of the stuff at that time, and who knows…they may end up in the hands of my grandson…..if he’s lucky!
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