Tuesday, April 20, 2010  
   Volume 80 - Issue 16 Website:www.passherald.ca   email: passherald@shaw.ca   $1.00   
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Quote of the Week
“It’s like a paradise here. It’s got to be one of the prettiest places on earth.”
- Corporal Clayton Blight  
- on his promotion and   
transfer to Manitoba   


Looking Back - John KinnearI am not mechanically inclined. I survive with a pair of pliers, some mechanics wire, a staple gun and MacGyver (duct) tape. Oh yah, don’t forget that indispensable pistol of patching, the glue gun. If I can’t fix it with these tools it is toast.
Despite this handicap, as a young boy, I enjoyed reading Popular Mechanics magazine and digesting the new and innovative ideas and how to’s put forth each month. So when a friend produced a 1927 edition of a Popular Mechanics book entitled “Make it Yourself”,  I gleefully absorbed its contents.
I knew immediately as a historian it would contain a lot of outdated but creative for its time period ideas. I wasn’t disappointed. Among the 900 things to make and do I found some still worthwhile tricks and designs that I just have to share with you, the reader.
In the book’s 460 pages of fine line sketches, gridded design drawings and black and white photographs are such marvels as a bicycle lawn mower, burnt out lightbulbs as Christmas decorations, instructions on how to vermin proof your icebox and one of my favourites, using an old Ford crankcase as a hog trough.
The tricks and handy tips were sometime hilarious. While no one today would consider straining their engine oil through an old felt hat it was, in 1927, a worthwhile money-saving trick. Engine oil after all does not break down, it just gets dirty.
Unlike today wastage back then was frowned upon and measures were always taken to minimize it. For example: “When candles are burned part of the wax is wasted by running down the side of the candle.” The book’s suggestion courtesy of Walter Michel of Jersey City, was to hold the candle by its wick and dip it in shellac two or three times. “The shellac forms a thin coating around it, and as this coat does not melt so easily as the wax, it forms a cup at the burning end, which holds the melted wax until it is almost consumed.”
While I have been known to pick up a hand saw in a desperate moment I inevitably find myself without anything to support what I want to cut. Page 62 carries the suggestion that a single wooden saw horse works really well for ripping or cross sawing if you cut a slot in the top member of the sawhorse. “The slot receives the saw and allows the smallest pieces to be held firmly upon the horse while cutting or trimming.”
Today’s modern conveniences make slicing and dicing a piece of cake but back 80 years ago it was a little more tedious.
So the books homemade device for thin sliced potatoes is rather fascinating. You drill a hole in the end of your best paring knife (grandma just fainted) and make the hole square with a three cornered file. Then you take a wood screw about 11⁄4 inches long and file its shank, just above the threads, so it fits snugly in the knife hole. “After the potatoes are peeled the screw is slipped through the hole in the knife and then driven into the potato. Turning the knife drives the screw further in while the knife cuts a thin continuous slice.” Don’t you just want to give this a try?
The book has hundred of designs for shelves, kids toys, boats (real and model), clotheslines, ladders, birdhouses and so on. You can use an old washer wringer to shell peas and beans, dry towels on your hot water heater with a conveniently designed towel rack, lubricate keys with a lead pencil or get rid of gophers by putting moth balls down their holes (if you can catch them)!
How about this trick? To clear land of stumps drill holes in their tops and insert three tablespoonfuls of saltpeter into each one. Cover and leave for one year. The saltpeter is absorbed right to the ends of the roots and when set on fire the stumps “burn slowly but surely and will keep on burning under the ground until every piece of root is consumed.”
One of the illustrations in this column is of a device that instantly recaptured the winter child in me. It looks, like they say, more fun than a barrel of monkeys. It is called a “skating whirligig” and is made from “an old hayrake wheel, an iron rod about twice the length of the wheel hub, a long post and a length of rope.” Just grab hold of one of the ropes, skate like hell, hang on tight and when your really flying, let go and you go screaming off in a wide arc, splat right into a snowbank.
Further on, on page 177, I found another winter device that’s got wintertime fun written all over it. It is called a monorail coaster, a sort of combination ski and bicycle. It has a steering bar operated by your feet that turns a boat-like rudder left or right.
So there you have it. Some nifty tricks and shortcuts from 80 years ago when life was so much simpler. You can keep your skidoos. Give me a whirligig everytime.
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John Kinnear Archives

   Volume 80 - Issue 16 Website:www.passherald.ca   email: passherald@shaw.ca   $1.00   
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