Lost to Time

My neighbor, an elderly lady, has a clothesline in her backyard. Metal T posts with four wire lines attached to the horizontal bars. It does not appear to have been used recently, except for the birds that lounge on it.

Clothesline are ancient history for most city dwellers, probably resigned to older parts of town or country living. A lot of clothing and bedding used to be dried by the sun and wind, replaced many years ago by an appliance. I don’t really think that was trading up.

One upon a time, to make massive copies of a form, mimeograph machines were used to produce many handouts and tests. This was before cheap mass production using a photographic image. As a student assistant, I made hundreds of mimeographed copies for consumer economics class. The emulsion had a distinctive smell, as depicted in the film, Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Before the flash or thumb drive, or even the Internet, saving and sharing electronic files were copied onto magnetic floppy disks. There were 8 inch, 5 1/4 inch and 3 1/2 inch medium. Computers had drives for these, similar to SIM cards. These disks were often unreliable and had to usually be formatted before using. I ran across a box of the 3 1/2 disks while unpacking recently; many original manuscripts were on them. The last disk drive I had for those was 3 or 4 computers ago.

From the early 20th century through the 1970s, machines punched holes in cards to record data. This was before the wide use of CRTs, network file servers and other technology for computing massive amounts of data.

I worked for a physics research program in college that generated these massive amounts of data to be analyzed using the university’s mainframe computers. The data was recorded on paper by students (me), then other students gathered more precise data which was ultimately punched onto IBM cards. Theses hundreds or thousands of cards were placed in boxes. The computer program information cards was put at the beginning and end of the boxes of cards, carried to the computing center where they were fed into computers. You hoped none of the cards jammed, it could mess up the feed and even destroy cards. The program cards signaled which magnetic tapes to spool up to read and process all the card data. Thank god for technology!

Ever heard of a swamp cooler? It is an old alternative to an air conditioner. Warm, outside air is blown over water droplets and sent into the living space. The moist, cooler air absorbs the heat in the room and in effect, cool the inhabitants. This technology is also called evaporative cooling.

My grandparents had such a contraption 60 years ago, their house seemed humid during the hot, moist summers of southeast Kansas. Swamp coolers obviously work best in low humidity environments. This technology is still around, you can buy portable machines for cooling various size areas, clean the air and do it with energy efficiency. I will always think of swamp coolers as poor peoples’ air conditioning.

A few weeks ago, my newfangled can opener failed when I attempted to open a can of beans. It opened part of the can before ceasing. I figured that I could get the rest of the van opened by punching the lid free, but not before the contents of the can exploded. I became bean dip, as it covered by shirt, face and hair.

Why didn’t I have a backup, the old kind where you sort of saw the lid off? They work incredibly well, just requiring a bit more effort.

That misadventure got me thinking about the times you had to punch holes in drink cans to the fruit drink or beer. This was before the pull rings that come off the lid. Those things littered the environment and sometimes failed by breaking and not completely opening the drinking hole. Notice that I did not say soft drinks; those came in glass bottles.

If you wanted to enjoy a drink from a can, you better have one of these devices handy.

Corn poppers used to be made for the stove, not the microwave. Even before Jiffy pop, and hot air blowers, if you wanted popcorn, it took a pan, some oil and corn kernels.

My stepfather sold the Atom Popper for many years. When we closed the hardware store after he passed, people were still asking about this product.

As a kid, Jiffy pop was a nice treat, it was fancy living. Having pizza for dinner might have include the do-it-yourself pizza from a box. Gourmet or not, what a treat!

Products used to come in metal containers instead of plastic or coated paper.

Instead of cardboard boxes or metal containers, many products were shipped in wooden boxes. Mostly discarded, these box’s are collector’s items now.

It’s fun to reflect back to fun things, treasured memories and events we view through the lens of nostalgia.

For many, those good ole days were anything but. Supreme Court and various federal laws championed progress, but did not end violence, wipe away the lingering Jim Crow laws, and even worse, the attitudes that would remain and be passed down through generations to still be repressive and continue to divide our country.

End of part one. Attach the next reel.

6 thoughts on “Lost to Time

  1. Great trip down memory lane. Sorry to hear about your ‘bean bath’ .
    I am looking forward to another installment which should include the history of the pocket knife. For real!


  2. A (mostly) fun and entertaining blog. I remember most of these items very well. Except for the red color, my parents clothesline looked just like the photograph. I also remember your stories from the KU High Energy Physics Department well. Thanks for the look back in time!


  3. Our family had one in our backyard as did most of our neighborhood. In the 1950s, dryers weren’t the norm and you were hot stuff if your household owned one. The next door neighbor, Mrs. Mister, a transplant from California, had a dryer and she also drove a small Italian sports car and hired a man to mow her yard. Our clothesline made a great zip line before we knew what a zip line was. I tested it by putting my little sister in a harness and giving her a shove. It worked! My mother witnessed the test and to my dismay, I sported a Tupperware emblem on my butt for a few days. I had no idea Tupperware could be used as a paddle. The good old days. Right?


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