Agriculture, Culture, Marketing, Thank You

Own Your Burger!

A welcome sign on route 94 into Wisconsin.

One of the great treats of living in northern Illinois is being able to hop over the state line into Wisconsin. The land of beer, cheese, sausage, milk, football, hunting, fishing, camping, farming and hard work is a near infinite portal to the pursuit of happiness.

I need to tell you about just one of those diversions: the Culver’s Butterburger.

In an era when dairy products are viewed as gateway fats, it’s crazy to promote a burger naming butter as a signature ingredient.  But in Wisconsin, what else is more appropriate?  This burger is not politically correct.  It’s frank, and honest.

In fact, the Butterburger is a winning trademarked name that has been touted proudly since 1984.  And its sidekick?  Fresh Frozen Custard, which is made with, yes, you guessed it, eggs.  Not a lot, but they are in there.

The Butterburger is raw culinary honesty at its best.  Culver’s makes no bones about promoting the zest and robust fullness of their foods.  Yep, it’s got fat, and it tastes good.   The Butterburger is a visual treat too.  Packed with yellow cheddar, red tomatoes, green lettuce, pickles, and purple sweet onion, it looks like a miniature carnival carousel.  It lacks only a calliope and an operator.

The Culver’s bag is all message. “Welcome to delicious”.

We were told about the Butterburger nearly 20 years ago, but never had the temerity to go to Culver’s and try one on. The thought of it repelled.  We visualized a hamburger swimming in butter, squirting mayonnaise, dripping juice with every bite.

And then the ads started.  We saw Craig Culver, capped and jacketed in blue, coaching the cook staff on the proper way to flatten the fresh beef patty on the grill.   It had a family feel about it, and somewhat reminiscent of another family burger business, Wendy’s.

We ordered two sandwiches, well beyond our appetites and good guidance.

But the ads persisted, and one day, they introduced the Butterburger Deluxe Double.  Two beef patties, mayo, and all the colorful rest.  That was when I learned that the butter was actually brushed onto the bun and grilled before the burger was assembled.  Well, that’s not so bad, is it?

So on a hot day in September, we drove to a Culver’s in Wisconsin, just over the line, and against all dining habits and trashing healthful instincts, guiltily ordered up two Deluxe Doubles to go. We waited a full five minutes as they actually cooked the burgers for us, squashing them down just like Craig instructed. Then, presented with a bulging bag of two you-know-whats, we drove like bootleggers off to a neighboring lakeside park to enjoy our feast with some ice-cold beers.

The experience was “our first” of a sort, and it was sinfully delightful.  Forbidden foods should be like that.  Reaching into the bag, we pulled out two promising, boxed beauties.   They looked just like the ads.  Sitting down on a bench, we marveled at the sensory delights of a bulging fat, colorful, shameless sandwich, dripping in beef juice and mayo.  It was hot, succulent, cheesy, and messy, with chunks of tomato and purple onion escaping out the sides of our mouths.  To some it might just be a burger.  To me, it was ambrosia.

The sandwich bulges with color, meat and veg, and oozes cheese and mayo.

Just wondering how deeply we had entered into the badlands of fat, I checked the Culver’s website, and found that our Butterburger Deluxe Double weighed in at 810 calories, with 155 mg. of cholesterol.  Bad?  Eaten every day, not good.  But once in a while, I could live with.

Incidentally, I took the fight to Wendy’s and bought a “Double Dave” named after the late Dave Thomas, founder, and felt the experience similar, but lacking the purple onion and extra mayo and raucously celebrated butter, it was a second place presentation.  The Double Dave also boasted 810 calories and 175 mg. of cholesterol, but without the hutzpah, the bravado of the Butterburger’s brazen image, it didn’t deliver the guilty satisfaction I felt in Wisconsin.

To some, a burger. To me, ambrosia.

The Culver’s website also gave me a look at the larger picture.  It’s a family run, privately owned business, 736 restaurants sprinkled across the midwest and south.  Wendy’s has 6,000.  The company is HQ-ed in Sauk Wisconsin, a smallish town north of Milwaukee.

Culver’s targets its charitable giving and philanthropy towards agriculture, supporting the education of young farmers with activities in the National Future Farmers of America, Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center, and most intriguing, Cows on the Concourse, in Madison Wisconsin.

Welcome–a burger most proud!

 

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childhood, Culture, Thanks

Where The Time Went

The James Park Grandad from Preston Lancashire.

As I’ve mentioned before, the curse of the Baby Boomer is to inherit their parents’ estates. It is a blessing too, but the cursing starts when you search for a place to put it all. Nevertheless, in our case, we have been blessed with time…time in the form of clocks.

Taking a stand in the workshop.

The Park Grandfather Clock
As a very young fellow, barely walking, I was enchanted by the tall, wooden long-cased clock that guarded over our hallway in our first home in Delhi. The antique was built sometime between 1816-1855 by James Park in Preston, Lancashire, England. My great great grandfather had acquired this handsome old wooden gentleman when it was fairly young, and had kept it running, just as his son, grandson, and great grandson, my father, would continue to do. A gorgeous piece of cherrywood sculpture, graced by a brass works that with regular winding would tell the time of day, the day of the month, and chime the hours with a beautiful bell.

As a toddler, I scrambled and slid across those hardwood  floors with baby fat knees, making it up to the glass-windowed front door of the clock. Inside, a long pendulum punctuated by a baseball-sized brass medallion swung slowly behind two ominous, bullet-shaped weights. These weights were cast iron, hung on pulleys, and tipped the scales at 20 pounds each. They looked like ’88 shells from a WW2 anti-aircraft cannon.

The grandfather clock’s windowed door presented a tiny brass handle which I found intriguing, and happily, just within reach. Fascinated by the pendulum’s slow swing, and the twin 88’s, I pulled the door open for a closer look. The bob was suspended on a steel pendulum connected to a fragile tin hook called a feather, at the top of the clock. With the strength that only a curious tyke can offer, I pulled at the bob, stopping it in its perpetual track, and without a moment’s delay, gripped it hard while I climbed into the case. The tin feather gave way, and I fell in.

As you might guess, calamity followed, and the clock tumbled  over on top of me, spraying the hardwood floor with shattered glass and chunks of 150-year-old lacquered cherry and clock hands. When my horrified parents lifted the clock up, they found me nestled between the two 88’s, unharmed.  The clock’s case was demolished, and after a forceful, shrill, and pointed scolding from my mother, dad picked up the pieces, and packed the works into a box.

Grandad’s works. The gnarly toothed wheel counts the strikes of the bell.

Forty years passed before dad opened the box again.  Using some plans he purchased from a clock company in Kitchener, he built a new case, out of Norfolk County cherry, installed the aged brass works, and had the clock up and going.  It was another thirty years later in 2012, with some transitions along the way, that the now shrink-wrapped clock was retrieved from storage and made its way into our home. I mentioned storage because that is an essential tool for seniors today: a place to store our late parents’ stuff.

The clock was a mechanical puzzle for me.  It took literally 2 months of leveling, machine cleaning, tinkering, timing and fiddling with the works of the clock and its chime to get it to run.  During this time I scanned the internet to identify its maker, James Park, and thereby, date the clock.

Today, the revered piece quietly and solemnly ticks away beside my workshop bench in the basement.  It’s not exactly a man cave down there, but it’s home to the clock.  I visit regularly, and address it as my old friend, winding up the 88’s, a reminder of my heritage, and its place in our family.

The Seth Thomas Clock

The Seth Thomas. It had not moved in over 70 years, but comes to life.

Still again, as a young boy, I sat at an ancient cherry desk, once owned by my grandfather, worrying an eraser across a smudged arithmetic drill sheet. Above the shelving of the desk rested an equally aged mantel clock.  Its rectangular wooden case stood about 16 inches high, and housed a chipped black and white face.  By opening the hinged, windowed door, one could wind the works.

This clock, in my entire history with it, never worked.  It merely sat as desk candy, adding some dignity to our den, but no timely input.  The brass bob hung still, and the black  bedspring that acted as the chime, stood mute.

When we were emptying out my parents’ home, it was one of the first items we took for our own home.  It was placed on top of our piano, a previous inheritance, still and quiet.

The Seth Thomas works, made by Ansonia Clock Company, which was sold to the Soviets in 1929.

Having revived the James Park, I felt emboldened to bring Seth Thomas back to life, or at least, find out why it was comatose.  Taking the machine apart, I discovered that the works were brass, and made by the Ansonia Clock Company of Connecticut, and New York.  Seth Thomas was started in 1813, but Ansonia came 62 years later, so the clock was built after 1875, but before 1929, when Ansonia was sold to the Soviet government under the direction of Joseph Stalin.  A little known legacy of Stalin is the birth and robust growth of Russian timepiece manufacture which still prevails today.

Having bared the brass works, I viewed a spotless brass and steel jumble of springs, cogs, spindles, bushings and wheels.  They were wound up tight.  I removed the bob, and laying the machine on its side, washed it down with some mineral spirits.  Suddenly, the pendulum started to quiver sporadically.   More scrubbing, and the pendulum rattled to life, flicking back and forth unimpeded by the brass bob.   After a few minutes, the clockworks were up and at it, relieving wound-up spring pressure frozen since the early 1940s.

The Seth Thomas has now taken a new position on a side table in our family room.  It needs winding every three days, and faithfully attempts to strike its bedspring marking the hours and half hours.  I turned off the striker to avoid the continual reminders that time is passing.  But still, I enjoy twisting the brass key to re-wind the clock, and it gives me a moment to reflect on who has touched this antiquity.

The Railroad Clock

Our railroad station clock. Sparkling, shiny, stainless bob and weight.

Our first acquisition was a wall clock that was hung in the house of my wife’s family.   It has no apparent brand stamped on it, but was reputedly taken from a railroad station in the years before WW1 by her grandfather, and passed along to her family, and then to us.

The rail road clock is a beautiful weight-driven clock with a sparkling, engraved stainless steel bob and cylindrical weight. Tom, my father-in-law saw to it that this time piece worked flawlessly, and had it refurbished by a professional years ago.  It keeps perfect time, and that’s all.  No chimes.  No rising and setting suns and stars.  Perfect for predicting arrival wait times in a train station.

An instruction in DYMO.

This clock is distinguished in two ways.  First, Tom placed a cautioning instruction inside the case using his ever-present DYMO labeler: “Do Not Wind Weight Above This Level”.  This is no small point to recall.  Everything that moved in his home was liable to be DYMO-ed. He loved labels.  Second, Tom left a small tin inside the case which held a tiny oil cloth, soaked in paraffin and Packers Pine Tar Soap.  I don’t know why, but perhaps he cleaned the works with it.  In any event, I open the case and wind this clock once a week, never above the line, and breathe in the pine tar bouquet.

It is a warm reminder once again of the person who gave it to us.  I think he did that on purpose.

 

Thanks for reading! I hope you will share your own experiences with inheriting precious items from your folks!  Here’s another story, too.

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Culture, Government, Legal, Marketing, Media

When Your Number Comes Up

You know that funny feeling when the cell phone vibrates in your tight jeans pocket, and you struggle to extract it before the caller hangs up. Sitting in a movie theater is tougher because you know to leave it alone. But, it continues to zing—zing—zing, vibrating like a terrified june bug caught in your pants.

A couple days ago, my phone wouldn’t stop zinging. Starting at 10:30 in the morning, I got a call from San Antonio, TX. I know no one there. It’s hot, dusty, and except for the Alamo and the acclaimed Riverwalk, San Antonio doesn’t figure on my list of destinations, let alone origins. But the phone zings insistently.

It’s an unrecognizable number. Area code 210. I skip it.

A few minutes later, another call. San Antonio again. Flush it.

Two more calls after that, and I decide to pick up.

“This is to inform you that your Social Security Number has been suspended, and that there is a warrant for arrest under your name. Please call back immediately…”

I give high marks for originality on this call. It turns out that so does the caller, because they continue to zing in my pocket until a little after noon. 13 calls in total. 13 spoofs: each number changed, but the origin and area code remained San Antonio, Texas.

Next to our annual plague of stink bugs, I think the robo call is the most obnoxious–and noxious–element in our midwest existence. What amazes me is that nothing much is ever done about it.

The telemarketing channel has been a constant irritant to me, and to probably 99% of the adult American public.  In fact, it was the subject of my very first post in 2013: Let Me Get This Call.

In a typical day, we will receive at least 5 calls.  I am thankful for these, as:

  1.  They force me to get up and walk to the phone, providing necessary joint movement;
  2. They frequently remind me that I am eating dinner when they call;
  3. The calls provide a fleeting moment of excitement thinking a family member is calling.

We’ve nearly reached the tipping point to give up our land line, which was the main robo conduit into our normally quiet existence.  And then the cell phone becomes the new target.  What to do?

I looked up the Do Not Call registry, and confirmed that all three of our phones have been registered since 2005.  Fat lot of good that has done.

Checking the FCC page, I read some business-like claims by the department head that multi-million dollar fines have been handed out recently.  $80 million.  $40 million. Serious money, but the zinging doesn’t stop.

The government site points to the measures that phone companies are taking.  AT&T, my server, offers a Call Protect App for the zinging cell phone.  It’s free, and I install it.  Then quickly and effortlessly the app reports I have had no robo calls in the last 30 days!  What about the last three hours?

A Facebook friend has suggested I take a third party anti-robo app.  I may do so. We’ll see how AT&T performs over the next few weeks.

Surely AT&T wants us to keep all of our phones, right?  But mean time, I have this nagging concern.    AT&T is now HQ-ed in Dallas, Texas, area code 210.

Could it be possible?   No, don’t even think of it.

 

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Cars, childhood, Culture, Thank You

Gus’s Coffee Shop

Mobs of students crossed Hwy #3 every day to Gus’s.

Gus Vander Elst was a genius. He was a father, uncle, pump jockey, counter clerk, cop, teacher and short order cook. But most of all, he was a genius who bought the Cities Service gas station directly across from Delhi District Secondary School.

Can one grow wealthy selling burgers and 10-cent coffee?  Yes.

My first memorable experience with a diner hamburger was Gus’s, and like 800 other high schoolers, I reveled in the unshakeable aromas of grilled hamburgers served up under chopped raw onions, and spiced with the intoxicating clouds of cigarette smoke that floated across the tables of this busy, bustling hangout.

Gus’s was our off-property school cafeteria. Like the M*A*S*H Rosie’s Bar, Gus’s attracted a majority of kids, just for its noise, warmth, foggy windows, forbidden foods, back room and unstoppable traffic.  The coffee shop was a magnet, a cash cow, and Gus was king.

So it was that every lunch hour we exited the school driveway to the eastern curb of highway #3 and strode across to the center line in crowds, intimidating the stream of drivers going to and from town. With a break in the oncoming, our hungry mob would cross over the second lane to the white, two-story concrete block building, occasionally pounding on the bell wire by the pumps, and enter ground zero, our family teen haunt.

Lunch counter, or teen haunt, prepared for the daily rush at noon time.

Inside Gus’s was a lunch counter with six red, swivel stools. Diners could face the cook’s window, or turn to the two large picture windows that looked out onto the gas pumps. But more likely they faced two banquettes separated by a Wurlitzer juke box. The banquettes were perennial turf of the seniors–that’s high school seniors– and pretty much filled with bubbling squads of girls who laughed, screamed, rolled their eyes, primped, gushed and stared dismissively at the guys shuffling in front of them, the guys who studiously ignored their looks as if the table was circled by bags of oats.

At the south side of the small diner were two more tables where a junior or soph may get lucky to be invited to sit, but space was limited, so most visitors took their lunch standing up, the whole time, bumping shoulders and elbows while they downed their burger.

Gus managed the crowd like the Music Man. He was loud, smiling and all business, hustling orders to the cook’s window, spinning burgers onto buns, and dressing the patties as they appeared, “what’ll you have, mustard, relish? Onions with that? Cheese?” He bantered with his young eaters flipping on the extras.  He knew everyone’s name.  When an order was built he’d smack a bun top onto the mountain of condiments with a cupped hand like he was slapping down a set of dice on a sponge. We took our food happily, while his wife Jeanie took our coins in payment.

Wurlitzer: the heart beat of Gus’s Coffee Shop

The jukebox was a powerhouse.   It was always in motion, pounding a super bass speaker that shook around our ankles.  Sounds of Freddy Cannon, Little Eva, Gene Chandler, Chubby Checker, and Dion moved pairs of girls to dance in the crowd.  The guys would swagger and slouch as Dion would tell his story of The Wanderer.

The back room was where Gus stored the empty pop cases: stacks of large worn wooden crates that nested four 6-packs of empty Coke, Canada Dry and Wishing Well bottles.  These were lined along the walls, and leaning up against them was a cadre of guys, staring at each other through the haze, smoking, and telling impossible, implausible, and richly impressive stories about girls, cars and teachers.

Out front were the cars.  Old Fords and Chevys mostly, but always with doors and windows open for more conversation and music.  These were driven by seniors, all in grade 13, ready and restless to escape, off to university, off to work, back to the farm, off to the lake.  One drove a beautiful plum-coloured Volkswagen, and with help from four of his buddies, would rev up the engine, spinning the wheels while they lifted the rear of the Beetle a foot off the ground.  As the engine whined its loudest, they would let go of the bumper, and the car came down on those tires that screamed as he scooted across the pavement.

When Gus couldn’t reach the pumps in time, the guys would get their own gas.

Jeanie and Gus fed us from 1951-1969.

Gus looked after his customers like a parent.  On a wintry January day, a silly joke nearly turned violent until Gus walked out to settle the score.  It was cold, and the frozen, Brylcremed hair of a young student looked like it might repel water.  Experimenting with a bottle of Coke, a second student poured a couple drops on his head, and indeed, the Coke did bead up and roll off.  Moments later, a third student decided to pour a whole bottle of Coke down the neck of the second in retaliation.  That was enough to enrage student #2 who then smashed his bottle against #3’s bottle.  The tense exchange was viewed through those picture windows as the two kids faced each other with broken Coke bottles raised towards each other.   Gus suddenly appeared between the two, and with a few words took their weapons and shut them down.  I was thankful he showed up when he did.

Everyone who went to DDSS has a story about Gus, and the student body loved him and Jeanie for the place they took in our youth: steady, reliable, hard-working, dependable and non-judgmental, they were the older couple who parented us for an hour every day as we journeyed through our high school career.  He watched over us for nearly 20 years.

The last time I saw Gus, he was a much older man.  He lived in the Delrose Retirement home at the south end of town.  Always the spark plug in a crowd, Gus led a daily exercise and work out routine for the residents who lived with him there.  They loved him too.  He was wealthy in the best way.

Thanks for reading and sharing!   You can add your Gus memories below, too!

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Agriculture, childhood, Culture, Thanks

History Lessons

 

A swing bridge over Big Creek, long ago.

My hometown of Delhi has a Facebook group site exclusively purposed to recall the days of our youth. Growing up in Canada’s most unique farming community, the premier source of flue-cured virginia tobacco for nearly a hundred years, the Facebook members post daily about their early experiences. They also remind us of what our parents and grandparents did to get us here in the first place. A couple world wars and a hostile political environment in Europe pushed our ancestors to Canada’s open doors, and Delhi was where they landed.

It struck me this past June, as I read the many stories emerging from the 75th anniversary of D-Day that we, as its beneficiaries, have an awakened reverence for what our parents did for us.

RCAF’s finest, off to Europe.

Is it just a function of getting older that we spend more time remembering, or is there a sense of responsibility to our predecessors of not letting them be forgotten?

Lest We Forget

But to my point: we now look back with respect. There is a lady in Delhi who is daily researching and compiling a history and narrative to describe the little town and its inhabitants from decades ago.

Kilnwork: our main stock in trade.

Another gentleman posts documents, clippings, ads, pictures, bills of sale and civic events, clearly from materials he has sought after and kept for posterity.

When my parents passed, we inherited a library of photography and letters, some dating back to the 1890’s. The pictures are eloquent, in their black and white motif, depicting the youth of a different time. Vacations, school, romance, marriage, kids.

1914: Canadian Expeditionary Force

They also include military poses: those ‘before’ shots, getting ready to ship off to some unknown and dangerous place, dressed in perfect uniforms, spotless, neat fitting and inspiring.

The hand-written letters dig below the pictures though, and reveal what’s really going on. I photo-scanned them all for sharing with our family.  Unlike Facebook, where our lives are generally perfect, the letters from 50, 75, 90 years ago talk of privations and scarcities. Life in its rawest forms was much more daunting back then, than we would know it today: lining up for rations…looking for materials to sew a dress… finding a place to live… battling an illness…waiting for news of a loved one.

A 16th birthday.

Yet there was a confidence, a resilience and persistence like moss stuck to a wave-washed rock in the shoreline that these ancestors of ours would grin and bear it, and get through it.

We have a neighbor who is writing a book about her father’s service during the war. Her source is the collection of papers and manuscripts which he had written 50 years ago. Within these letters are the details which are news to us today. Who knew? It may be half a century ago, but the revelations are still mind boggling.

My conclusion is that for the Baby Boomers, who are now enjoying retirement, or looking forward to it shortly, we have an obligation to use our spare time to dig up the past.

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An expressive lesson in lighting a coal fire.

Our kids need to know the table that was set for us and for them.  In today’s digital environment, where every piece of history is accessible, it’s really only there for background, a general context of the times, and only if you have a user-name and a password to see it. What we find in our attics and closet shelves is much more telling.  We owe that to our parents, now long gone.

The Diary

My young grandson reinforced in me once of the value of writing it down: “Don’t put it in an email.  That’s technology, and it will just disappear.  You’ll never find it again.”  Out of the mouths of babes…

As an experiment, I started a small diary. This is a 2-1/2 x 4″ moleskin which I keep in my pocket, with pen. Originally I used the book to write down things I didn’t want to forget: passwords, shopping lists, names of bartenders, song titles, movies, plumbing fixtures–you name it. But starting in July, I wrote about my day. Not long windy stuff, but a factual account of my travels. At first it seemed a self-praising pastime. But about six weeks later, I paused to read what was in the diary. The surprise was that I had forgotten most of what I had done, and there it was, in print. Multiply that awakening by 12 months, and you start to realize how much we experience in a year, and then forget forever.  It’s like a beige mush of time spent, and little retained.

As a business manager, I regularly advised my staff to write down their accomplishments for the month. “You are going to need this one day. I won’t always be here.  Someone will come to you, and ask what you are contributing, and your mind will go blank. Your job security is in the balance. So make a list!”

Thankfully, they did this, and their accomplishments rolled into mine, and we always had a resource to explain our worth to the company.

So I am keeping the diary going, not to explain my worth, but at least as a hard copy reminder for me, or for whomever follows, that this is how life was today.

Thanks for reading and sharing, and thanks too, to Dave Rusnak Sr. and Doug Foster for the images! 

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Culture

Saving The Malek Adhel

3.5 Power Specs To Do The Job

Five years ago I wrote about the coming surge of property transfers as the Baby Boomer generation haltingly succumbed to the problem of having too much stuff. As The Greatest Generation leaves us, we have inherited not only our parents’ things, and their legacy of accomplishment, but also their survival instinct for saving.

My post of December 2014 “What’s Coming Next” was prescient, and we are living it daily.

We have personally taken ownership of art, photography, china, silverware, correspondence and numerous pieces of furniture. A few of these items have passed immediately to our children, but some pieces are beyond their desires, or capacities. In our case, we are the latest owners of three antique clocks and a ship model that defies the march of time.

The Malek Adhel 

Grandad and Mom at the beach, 1937.

My grandfather, Dr. James Harrar, lived in New York for many years where he was an obstetrician. Sometime in his early 50s, around 1937, he started building ship models. These were works of discipline: intricate, incredibly complex recreations of planking, masts, yards and rigging. We had two of his creations.

The Malek Adhel was in my childhood home in Delhi, placed on the piano well above my head as I practiced in vain below.  Still, I marveled at the wooden ship model, and visualized tiny crew members scurrying across the decks, securing fly away halyards or rolling miniature cannons into position.

Popular Science Magazine, 1937.

The Malek Adhel, named after a Turkish sultan, was a brig that sailed the Caribbean around 1840. The ‘Molly Coddle’ as we called it, had some history attached to it, being the subject of a piracy charge, under the direction of its Captain Nunez. It was notorious enough that in 1937 Popular Science Magazine published the building plans over 5 issues. Apparently in those pre-war years, ship modeling was a popular pastime.

Hull blueprints of the Malek Adhel

My grandfather wrote for the detailed blue prints. He went to work and recreated the ship. He wasn’t alone. If you Google the ship’s name with ‘model’, you will find numerous images.

This is a treasured and obscure art object. When we emptied our parents’ house, it was kept under wrap until a brief display in my brother’s home for a few years. But he too was looking for downsizing, and the Malek Adhel was shunted from one resting place to another before finally repatriating to the U.S. in the back of our car.

Everything I touched disintegrated.

The journey, and exposure and time have not been kind. The spars were dislodged. The rigging made of 80-year-old cotton thread had disintegrated. The joints which were once glued, freely dissembled with every bump in the road. Its sorry condition reminded us of the sunken ghost ship from Pirates of the Caribbean.

The task of re-rigging, 80 years later.

Still, there was an obligation to restore the Malek Adhel. On my workshop bench I uncovered a little box of tools that my mother had given to me thirty years ago. “Here, keep these,” she instructed, “these are the tools your grandfather used to make his models.” I opened it up to look at small tweezers, drills, snips and a spool of golden thread.

Nearly microscopic turnbuckle and belaying pin.

I placed these on the bench beside the ship.   On close inspection, I concluded that pretty much all of the rigging would need to be replaced. Not only did that include 50-60 halyards arcing from the gunwales to the masts, but also a host of little coils carefully wrapped around microscopically small belaying pins.  Oh, the care grandad had taken.

Intricate web of rigging.

My first reaction  was to order a pair of magnifying spectacles.  These are what stamp dealers, jewelers and dentists use.  After fitting them I ventured into the works, and owing to my clumsiness, broke every halyard my fingers approached.  While the glasses were 3.5 strong, I was more than 10 strong, and thrashed through the rigging like a banshee.   So I struggled with every re-do, sans spectacles.

A month later, I performed the final act of hanging a new stars and stripes on the rear gaff.  It has 26 stars, which totaled the history of our nation in 1837, 182 years ago.

The finished product, with 26-Star Spangled Banner

Today, the Malek Adhel resides inside a glass case in my office.  It is at nose level for small people.

 

 

Thanks for reading and sharing!  I’ll tell you next what we did with a grandfather clock from the early 1800s.

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Cars, Culture

Gone But Never Forgotten, Ever

Blue opened the door to travel across Norfolk county, and across Ontario.

The Volkswagen folks announced the last run of the Beetle is rolling off the line, to be placed in museums around the world. Can it be? Viewed as the ‘peoples car’ of the 30s, it was re-instated after the war, in Germany, under the Marshall Plan. By the 60s, there were over 300,000 in the U.S. and Canada.

Ours was Blue.

Blue was a 1964 Volks which was our first car. A hand-me-down from the family garage, Blue transported us from school to summer jobs, from carefree excursions across Ontario on brilliant summer afternoons, to riveting, ice-rutted winter traverses along highway 401 through the snowbelt to Delhi. It trundled over two-wheel dirt paths along the tobacco fields, and parked in the breezes of Lake Erie at Long Point.  Blue was our getaway car when we waved goodbye to all the good folks on our wedding day. He delivered me to a thousand businesses in my first job, a reporter at Dun & Bradstreet.

A labor of love, I scrubbed and polished, even in the rain.

The first car for everyone is really the first adult responsibility that involves the threatening combination of technology, heavy machinery, rules of the road, and expense. Blue was my teacher, a frustrating, whimsical, joyous, moody partner in this journey into adulthood.

Thanks to the creative genius of the New York ad agency Doyle, Dane Bernbach, I was smitten with the Volkswagen ethic.  Homeliness, parsimony, modesty and minimalist statements conceal the rugged individualism of a Volkswagen owner.  “Four on the floor, dual exhaust, slowest fastback in America” was one headline that has stuck with me ever since I saw that first ad in a New Yorker magazine back in the 60s.  Branding at its finest.

I thought they could float, thanks to DD&B’s ads.

Another ad pictured the VW floating in a swimming pool, demonstrating its air tight body.  I took this message quite literally.  True, when you slammed the door shut with the windows closed, your ears popped.

What I did not know was that the exterior was not immune to water. Once, facing a flooded intersection in Kitchener, I chose to drive through the knee deep waters under the illusion that the car would be dry.  As I drove in, the car slowed, and gearing down with the stick, I stalled the car.  No water entered.  However, the engine was deep in a muddy wash, and cracked the cylinder heads.  Ouch.

Blue had an occasional leak.  Not oil, but water.  Every time we drove in the rain, water shot up through the pedals.  When we braked to a stop, a small wave would rush forward soaking our heels.  I solved that problem by punching a couple holes in the floor to let the water drain out.

Traveling companion and occasional VW pusher.

Blue was the training tool for automotive repair 101. Way back then, there was the universal belief that one could fix their automobile just as easily, and more economically, than the local mechanic.  To that end, I stripped off its rusty running boards–a vestige from the 30s–and repainted its doors and hood with Canadian Tire spray cans.  Back then paint colors were limited and easily matched.  Don’t try it today.

Canadian Tire aided my descent into the mysteries of automotive technology, selling a book entitled: ‘Fix Your Volkswagen’.  For $4.95, I had a manual to delve into the intricacies of oil changes, plug changes, setting points and timing.

Minimalist, modest and self-effacing DD&B ads built a solid brand.

I did all of these mechanic specialties, once. I changed the oil, emptying Blue’s lifeblood into a bed pan.  But what to do with the oil?  I put in new spark plugs, once.  The plugs at the back of the rear-mounted engine are almost impossible to reach.  Once I installed new ignition points in the distributor.  Following instructions, I set the fan belt wheel to 7 degrees off ‘top dead center’.  Little did I know I had re-installed the distributor cap wrong, and the pistons fired out of sequence.  That little escapade took about 3 hours to correct under dim light in our parking garage.  My knees still hurt from crawling around the cold concrete.

After the wedding reception, our getaway car.

The book did help on one recurring problem however.  Being nearly 8 years old, its ignition system sometimes did not work, which was a disturbing phenomenon.  Our brains and muscles develop patterns for repetitive actions.  One is sitting in the driver’s seat, inserting the key, turning, and listening to the engine start up.  But after several thousand repeats, it comes as a surprise, a speechless awakening, when the car does not respond.  Nothing. No sound.  No whine. No lights.  Similar to stepping onto an escalator that’s not moving.  You are off balance.

Turns out, according to the book, that underneath the rear left wheel well, there is a little cylindrical electrical device called a solenoid.  About the size of a can of beans, it has wires stuck to it and to the 6-volt battery that hides under the rear seat, just above.  The solenoid jumps when you turn the ignition key, and engages the starting motor.  But after 60,000 miles of water-laden travel, the device corrodes, and sometimes is not up for the challenge of jumping.

Pitstop.

I could have replaced the solenoid. But the book advised, that I could start the engine by rolling the car, with stick in third gear and dis-engaging the clutch.  It worked!  Thereafter I always looked for a hill to park the car on, in case the solenoid was on the lam.

This however was one bridge too far for my better half, Jane, who was designated car pusher.  So the book also instructed that connecting a jumper cable to the hidden battery, and then zotting the solenoid could also free it up.  I bought some cables, and thereafter lay on my back, regardless of weather and local environments and poked the jumper up into the nether regions of the car to give it a little jolt.  Reportedly this is also a known torture treatment used in some dastardly countries to extract information.  I still have the cables.

This book: the road to perdition.

Blue’s odometer eventually stopped counting.  It fell asleep finally. That forced me to falsely report my daily mileage at work.  This was a concern because the good folks at D&B occasionally scanned our odometers to seek out miscreants like me.  So, concerned, I went to a mechanic and asked if they could spin the odometer forward a few thousand miles.  I did not fully understand his alarm and puzzlement.  Usually people asked to have miles taken off, not added.

Sentimentality and wishful thinking.

As you can expect, Blue was entering the final stage of his time with us.  For me, the affair was over, like the weight of a fading romance that was wearing down.  More cost: valve jobs, gas heater repairs, cold weather complaints–do cars get chilblains?– I eventually was guided by my brother to purchase a new car.

The VW shield, a friendly reminder of Blue.

The salesman was Kassam Barwanni.  That was 1974, and I remember his name to this day  because in his kindest, most sympathetic voice, he offered me $50 trade-in on Blue. I needed $100.  After some writhing body moves that would have impressed Houdini, he winced his approval, and took Blue away.  And that ended our early education on cars, points, plugs, oil and water.  Our travails were over.

Valentine: our new ride.

In exchange, we took home a nice Datsun 510.  It was red and white, so we called her Valentine.

 

 

 

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