What Is That?

When we travel with the kids, a favorite stop is Cracker Barrel. For those of you not familiar, it's a restaurant chain specializing in home cooked food, of the meat, potatoes and gravy variety.

Columns From: 9/1/1996 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Chris Koepfer

When we travel with the kids, a favorite stop is Cracker Barrel. For those of you not familiar, it's a restaurant chain specializing in home cooked food, of the meat, potatoes and gravy variety. The stores I've visited are decorated with numerous antiques. Old signs, photographs, memorabilia and bric-a-brac are scattered floor to ceiling.

"What is that, Dad?" my kids ask, looking at some common item from another time. "That washboard was used to clean clothes," I reply. They sort of believe me--but not totally. "Well, what's that?" they ask. It's an iron. Really skeptical now, they come back, "Yea sure, where's the cord?"

Patiently, I explain the little I know about a world I never witnessed, but heard about from those who did. I told them of a time when many of the seemingly weird things hanging in this restaurant were as common as TVs and dishwashers are today.

Well, attention spans being what they are in children--especially when it comes to ancient history--it didn't take long for the kids to move on to more current interests. I, however, lingered in that mode a bit longer. It occurred to me that just in my lifetime lots of stuff has gone out of common circulation.

Many things that we saw and used everyday aren't around much anymore. I can remember the bottle opener that many homes had mounted on the kitchen wall. When's the last time you saw a typewriter used? Dial telephones? Not many of them around these days. Let's not even get into the disappearance of ashtrays. Although, I wonder what kids now make in their first ceramic class.

Okay, so what's the point? It's a small point really, but it's pervasive. Things we get used to using and become comfortable with are transitory. Some things, like typewriters, are reborn in another form--word processors. Other items, like bottle openers, are unneeded except on all but a few beverage bottles.

For shops that make things for a living, it's a private and professional fact of life that many products and processes change or go away. We need to accept that and make contingency plans.

Imagine a young person seeing a machine tool with a reel-to-reel NC tape reader on the front and asking an old timer, "What is that?"

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