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Artifacts of the long-gone-man

June 17, 2006

“He was a carpenter and contractor,” said the man running the estate sale at the little ranch-style house.  “He died about 15 years ago and she just passed away this year.”

Indeed, the house looked as if about 20 years had passed since it had any serious maintenance.  But it was so well-built in the first place, that it had weathered the time without much loss.

I went into the garage.  The organized, productive mind of the long-gone-man reflected clearly in cleverly designed cabinets, drawers, and shelves for every imaginable tool, fastener, or part.  Many of the power-tools had been custom-made.  He could measure and calculate.  His mind had already travelled the length of every process by the time his hands opened its beginning.

Most people came into the garage, cast a quick glance, and went into the house to look for silverware and jewelry, and to wonder at the purpose of kitchen and craft implements left behind by the woman who survived him for a decade and a half.

I bought a little reference calculator, “Key to the STEEL SQUARE”.  When it was designed and marketed, two world wars lay in the future, and vast expanses of what is now suburban America were not even yet pressed into service as farmland.  Reference calculators like this one are a wonder to contemplate.  The typography and design present a standard of clarity that few modern devices can claim.  Its creator would probably work for Google today.

I also bought a pencil box, because I wanted one of the pencils in it:


The pencil has a string connected to the back, with a little screw eyelet so it can be affixed to a voting booth shelf.  It was used in a method of voting that produced a paper record of each vote cast.  This is the pencil of Democracy.

Election fraud was still possible with that anachronistic system, but it required the cooperation of very large groups of people and could be easily prevented by proper poll management and supervision.  Certainly it was not possible for one person seated at a console and armed with a code or two, to sway the outcome. 

I can’t guess at the politics of the long-gone-man.  He may not have been one to talk much.  But our town is probably a veritable showplace of his work, and will be for the next century or so.

Categories: Artifacts
  1. June 18, 2006 at 07:20 | #1

    At the same estate sale, I bought a quality ceramic platter made in the USA, and a pretty bracelet with red Austrian crystals.
    So I would say the lady had good taste as well.
    It seems sad that we must figure them out from what was left behind.
    They were probably good friends and neighbors for the folks who knew them before.

  2. basil
    June 18, 2006 at 09:38 | #2

    The framing chart reminds me of an old purple, round, proportion chart that was my grand fathers. He was an artist for the Detroit Times; compleatly out dated by todays standards, but it’s one of my most treasured family tool/artifacts. I liked your blog DOF, because I’m always interested in people and history. Being a machinist and a part time lawn cutter, I always tinker with engines, pullys and belts, (when performance mandates such tinkering) so most of my interest in history and people leans
    torward mechanization.

  3. June 18, 2006 at 19:59 | #3

    I don’t know if it is even taught anymore but when I was a kid a carpenter went on a job with a fifty foot tape and a framing square. Any angles he needed to figure he did with the square as well as figuring pitch in the roof. Maybe a lost art—wish I had learned it.

  4. June 26, 2006 at 10:56 | #4

    I love that sort of old stuff.  I’ve kept various boxes of pencils and other desk cruft from my grandfather, just for that reason.

  5. Condominiums Mississauga
    July 14, 2009 at 16:41 | #5

    My father is a general contractor, and I’ve spent many days on jobsites with him. From what I’ve seen, it’s quite strenuous. Days are normally 7am-4-5pm minimum. All of the materials (beams, plywood sheeting, shingles, etc) have to be moved by hand from where they came off the truck to where they will be assembled, and you do it. There are days where you are doing more detailed work (finishwork, etc), but I’d say most days are fairly challenging physically. Of course, you get used to it. There’s nothing quite like seeing something that you built with your own hands.

  6. Dog Tags By Nas
    December 1, 2009 at 18:22 | #6

    I am so jealous of those gems you unearthed in the house of that man, who without a doubt is a master of his profession. The “Key to the STEEL SQUARE” reference calculator is particularly outstanding as it has survived so many years and the craftsmanship of the one who made it is indeed awesome. Knowing that the calculator is older the 2 world wars makes it even more valuable. 

    Like you, I also have a thing for antique pieces that got special meanings to them. One great example is the “Pencil of Democracy” you have acquired. Though it may now look ordinary and useless to some people, it has served a very important purpose in the establishment of the government long time ago. Your choice of stuffs to buy is truly amazing that it as well made me want to own them.


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