Monday, July 29, 2013

They Don't Make Tools Like They Used To

The object that I found at a local antique shop was made totally of wood, except for a metal pin and a screw. It looked old, having the start of a wonderful patina which gave the impression that it had been used for quite some time. When I first found this old wooden tool, I made the decision to purchase it simply because I liked its color and the simple beauty of the wood of which it is composed.

The tool is stamped with the name: Stanley; the town of

manufacture: New Britain, Conn, USA; and the model number: 64.
A check of the item revealed that it was called a marking gauge, and that it was used to scribe lines on wood at a set distance from an edge. It would scribe the line parallel to a reference edge or surface. A common name of this tool was: scratch gauge.

The tool is made of beech wood with a thumb screw that was usually made of boxwood. A brass pin on the one end protruded through the 8" long arm that is 3/4' square on cross section. The arm was marked off and incised in inches and sixteenths of an inch up to the six inch point. A small metal screw beside the pin allowed the pin to be replaced and kept tightened in place.
The long arm, more specifically called the bar or beam, is passed through a thick wooden plate, more specifically called the main body or headstock, and the thumb screw loosens and tightens to allow the main body to be moved along the length of the bar and then tightened in place. A piece of brass plate, cut in a fancy shape, and attached to the side of the main body facing the scribing pin, provided a smooth, slick edge to run along the reference edge or surface.

The No. 64 model of marking gauge was produced by the Stanley tool company circa 1912. It is a nice example of hand tool produced in an era before mass-production resulted in dull, boring and simply utilitarian tools.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Little Stool For A Big Job

It is very nice to be able to get in the car and drive just two miles to the store where I can pick up a half gallon of milk any time I wish ~ no hunkering, squeezing, or pulling. You know what I mean, don't you?

The little stool shown above was owned by my step-grandmother, Luella. Although she was my paternal grandfather, Eldon Smith's third wife, she came into my life shortly after my maternal grandmother, Grammy Nofsker, had passed away. And so, even though Luella was not a blood relative, she most certainly became my true grandmother. She shared with me her memories, and sometimes, as in this case, some cherished items from her life.

Luella (Burket) Smith lived a hard life ~ much like the life that most women from the Pennsylvania Appalachians lived during the time reaching from the earliest settlement into the late-20th Century. It was a life of taking care of the children, cleaning the house, cooking the meals, washing the clothes, besides perhaps having to work outside the house to help make ends meet. (For those young readers who never heard that phrase, "making ends meet" was another way of saying "earning enough money to pay all the bills".) Luella worked for a number of years at a railroad repair facility to help make ends meet. She told me stories about the work she did ~ such as having to roll barrels of parts and materials from one location to another. My own mother took a job housekeeping for a local dentist to help make ends meet. It was a time before mechanical conveniences, so work was, in many ways, tedious and tiring ~ and not only for the men.

The three legged stool that is shown in this post was an object that my grandmother, Luella, used just about every day for many years. This stool, and a tin bucket, were the two things that were used for the job of milking cows. Luella would carry the bucket to the barn. There, she would grab the little stool ~ perhaps by the oval hole at the stool's front edge ~ and position it to the one side of the cow that she intended to milk. Then, hunkering down onto the stool, she would get into position to begin the task of coaxing milk from the cow. Luella would grasp one of the cow's teats in one hand by encircling it at the point where it extends from the udder with her thumb and forefinger. With a gentle, but firm, pressure, Luella would tighten her grasp between the thumb and forefinger, and then in an even rhythm, the teat would be encircled by the middle finger, the ring finger and finally pinkie. The grasp would be released and repeated a couple times with the first few squirts of milk being directed onto the floor. This ensured that any bacteria that might have grown from the last time the cow was milked would be cleaned out of the teat. After the first few squirts, the metal bucket would be placed under the cow, and the milk being squirted out would be directed into the bucket. In case the cow gave a kick while being milked, Luella could move quickly off the stool and out of harm's way.

With the milking completed, Luella would stand up, picking up the little three-legged stool with one hand and placing it out of the way, perhaps by hanging it on a nail stuck in one of the barn's support posts. The little three-legged stool was the perfect type of seat for this job. A four-legged chair with a back would have been difficult to handle when the milking was finished. A bench would have been equally unwieldy. Luella could easily grab and lift the little stool with one hand. She would probably grab the handle of the bucket at the same time with the other hand to lift it out of the way before the cow had a chance to kick it.

Since a cow needed to be milked twice a day, the little three-legged stool shown above was, no doubt, used hundreds, if not thousands of times. The little stool served a useful purpose for a job that was very important in the lives of the Appalachian people because there weren't many stores close by to which you could drive for a half-gallon of milk any time you desired.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Did Little Briar-Rose Prick Her Finger, Or What?

According to the tale, upon the birth of their daughter, a king and queen gave a great feast in which they invited only twelve of the thirteen wise women in the kingdom. The reason given was that they possessed only twelve golden plates for them to eat from, and therefore one guest had to be left out. On the night of the feast, each of the wise women gave the beautiful baby a gift. The twelfth gift was just about to be bestowed, when all of a sudden the door burst open and the uninvited, thirteenth witch (for that is what the wise women really were) came storming into the hall. "This child will prick her finger on a spindle in her fifteenth year and fall down dead!", she exclaimed before storming out again. Everyone was shocked; wouldn't you be? Luckily, the twelfth wise woman, who had been interrupted before she could bestow her gift, stepped forward and announced that although she could not remove the curse just laid upon the child, she could soften its effects. The gift she gave to the newborn babe was the promise that the child would not die, but only fall into a deep sleep ~ a sleep of one hundred years ~ a sleep from which she could be revived by a prince ~ a charming prince. Just to be safe, the king decreed that all the spindles in the kingdom were to be burned. The child grew into a beautiful princess and her fifteenth birthday came and went without incident. Everyone sighed a sigh of relief that possibly the curse would not be fulfilled after all. But despite all the precautions they had taken to protect their daughter, the king and queen were appalled to find, upon returning from an outing one day, that their daughter was lying prostrate on a bed in an old tower of the castle.

Apparently, the young princess had wandered through the various rooms of the castle, and finding the door of the tower room unlocked, had ventured in. There she found an old woman rocking back and forth in a chair, and spinning flax on a spindle. The girl was fascinated since she had never before seen anyone spinning ~ remember, the king had years before decreed that all the spindles in the kingdom be destroyed. The princess, being enraptured by the rhythmic motions in which the old woman was engaged, asked if she could, herself, try to spin the flax. The old woman agreed to show the princess how, and as she reached out to take the spindle, the finger of the princess was pricked.

According to the tale, published in The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales by Pantheon Books, under the alternative title: Little Briar Rose, the exact wording is: ...and there in a little room sat an old woman with a spindle, busily spinning her flax. "Good day, old mother," said the King's daughter; "what are you doing there?" "I am spinning," said the old woman, and nodded her head. "What sort of thing is that, that rattles round so merrily?" said the girl, and she took the spindle and wanted to spin too. But scarcely had she touched the spindle when the magic decree was fulfilled, and she pricked her finger with it.

I have always loved the tales spun by Jacob and Wilhelm ~ the Brothers Grimm. In fact,on my bookshelf I have three volumes of their tales; and in two of the volumes, the tale of the sleeping beauty is illustrated with images of a shriveled old crony hunched over a flax spinning wheel, with the young princess approaching.

I'm sure that all the readers of this post understand why the image I just described is so wrong, and why it bothers me. It bothers me that the engravers of the illustrations felt they could take the license to interpret the spindle with which the old woman was spinning, as a flax spinning wheel. I own a number of spinning wheels, both flax and wool, and can positively state that it would have been difficult for the young princess to have pricked her finger on the spindle of the flax wheel, because no sharp point extends from the spindle assembly. Granted, the spindle assembly of the flax wheel (shown above) contains two rows of bent wire hooks to guide the fibers as they're wound onto the spindle shaft, but the Brothers Grimm did not state that the princess got her finger pricked on one of the spindle assembly guide hooks. Now the spindle of the wool wheel, which is variously called a great wheel (shown below), is indeed pointy and sharp. A princess could certainly prick her finger on the spindle of the wool wheel, but the Brothers Grimm did not say that the old woman was spinning wool, it specifically stated that she was "spinning her flax."

No, the tale, as written by the Brothers Grimm, describes the old woman as spinning flax on a spindle ~ simply a spindle. So it must be assumed that the tool upon which the old woman was spinning ~ and upon which the princess pricked her finger ~ would have been what's known as a handspinning drop spindle. The accompanying photo shows one of these spindles.
It is made of wood ~ which would corroborate the part of the tale that stated that the king decreed that all spindles in the kingdom be burned. Wooden drop spindles could indeed be burned. The action of spinning flax on this kind of drop spindle involves attaching some flax fibers to the slender spindle, giving it a twist to make it spin around, and then suspending it so that it's weight tightens the loose fibers into a tight spun yarn. And that action would indeed corroborate the part of the tale in which the princess asked: "What sort of thing is that, that rattles round so merrily?"

I think that it can be stated, unequivocally, that the thing upon which the young princess pricked her finger would have been a wooden drop spindle like the one I have illustrated. There is one problem, though. It seems that it would be difficult to prick your finger on one of these spindles, unless one end would be sharpened to a sharp point with a knife. The witch who wanted to bring her curse to fruition could have sharpened one of the ends of her spindle into a very sharp point, but then that sharp end would have probably caught on the forming thread ~ making it impossible for it to rattle "round so merrily." But the Brothers Grimm did not include such an important point in their tale.

Perhaps we'll never know what exactly the princess pricked her finger on, but we can be certain that it wasn't the flax spinning wheel that commonly appears in illustrations of the tale.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Sometimes A Half-Peck Just Isn't Enough

The subject of this post is the peck/half-peck measure shown above.

The word peck is derived from the Middle English word, pecke, which in turn was derived from either the Old French words, pek and/or picot, or from the Middle Low German word, pekken, all dating from the 13th Century. One source suggests that the word peck was derived from the Latin word picotus. The original meaning of the word is unknown, but it might have referred to the amount of oats fed to horses. A peck has, over the centuries, come to amount to one quarter of a bushel, or eight quarts in dry measure. It is a measure of volume rather than weight.

The word cooper comes from kuper, a Lower Saxon word meaning "a tub", and was conferred on one who makes tubs, along with casks, barrels and similar items. It has been suggested that the idea of containing liquids inside a vessel constructed of wooden staves or slats arose from the shipbuilding industry. In the days of ships that were constructed of wood, the idea was to fit wooden boards tightly together so that the liquid of the ocean waters would be kept out. Someone must have looked at that and realized that if you could keep the ocean water out of a wooden ship, you might likewise keep liquids inside a similarly constructed wooden vessel. A cooper might make nothing but containers other than casks. In that case, he was called a white cooper.

The kinds of things the white cooper made included: buckets, piggins and peck/half-peck measures, in which the ‘head’ was installed part way between the two ends. The head was so positioned so that two different dry measurements could be obtained from the single cask, such as shown in the accompanying illustrations.

One might wonder why the peck/half-peck measure was created. A half-peck measure simply needed to be filled twice to obtain the amount that would fill the peck measure. So what was the point of constructing a single container that measured both, pecks and half-pecks? I have searched high and low for an answer to this question, but have have no luck. Perhaps the cooper who initially created it, thought that the peck and half-peck sizes were good one to work with. A bushel/half-bushel measure would have been too large for anyone to handle easily, while wooden containers smaller than the peck/half-peck size would have been less than convenient to use. Apparently the first cooper to construct the peck/half-peck measure realized that it was an ideal size for a combined measuring container.