Friday, September 16, 2016

Special Discovery Channel edition!
Harley and the Davidsons. An intimate glimpse at the birth of Industrial America.

photo source: Discovery channel
I just caught this three part miniseries and I am very impressed. The period of innovation that existed as the 1880's was ending and the new Century was approaching is amazing. There was an explosion of new technology and new thinking that ultimately ushered in our Modern Era. There seemed to be so much opportunity for an individual to enter into these new industries and leave their mark.

This series recreates an era that has largely been ignored by television and movies. The industrial birth of modern America. The important early years of manufacturing motorcycles at the dawn of the Twentieth Century. Not only is it fantastic to see these early motorcycles brought to life and in action racing across the countryside, it is fantastic to see the process of manufacturing brought to vivid life.

There are shots from a foundry where molten metal is poured into forms to create the basic castings of the motor. A huge press is stamping out some type of metal product part. There are metal lathes, welding torches, bending and riveting equipment. We see the aluminum crankcase halves being drilled by William Harley, by hand! The components of the crankshaft, pistons and valve assemblies are on full display.

Will's beautiful hand drawn blueprints show how a home draftsman could design a machine so that it could be constructed at a rudimentary machine shop. Or backyard shed.

At this time, casting, machining and welding technologies had already ushered in the steam engine, the basic motive force for the Industrial Revolution. Machining techniques were further refined as the great popularity of the modern bicycle created a need for precision production methods. Samuel Colt introduced standardized parts in gun manufacturing, Henry Ford was perfecting the use of the assembly line to increase automobile production. Henry Leland introduced the use of precision tolerances and founded both of the great American luxury marques; Cadillac and Lincoln. There was an increase in the number of draftsmen and pattern makers. Precision machine shops were springing up everywhere. This was the perfect storm for innovation.

photo source: Occhio Lungo

Can anything capture the essential mechanical beauty of an early motorcycle better than a Harley Davidson four valve racer?

Lately my interest has turned towards the early days of the automobile and motor cycle. I find that I don't have much interest in the "Good Guys" muscle cars mentality. I prefer events like "Friendship Day" and "Pacific Coast Dream Machines" where I can find original antique cars and occasionally, motorcycles. I'm trying to search for antique car and motorcycle shows to attend. I find myself drawn to original or faithfully restored vehicles. The question is, "why have I become so interested in this historic period?"

Several years ago there was a movie entitled "The Prestige". I had caught the previews while at the theater but didn't pay too much attention, I mean, it was about magic.

Last year I stumbled across the novel at the local library. I read it and was intrigued by the depiction of turn of the Century technical expositions. There was also the mention of Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison and a hint of a dark competition between them. In reality there was an actual competition of ideas. Edison favored direct current electricity versus Tesla's favor of alternating current. This was a real drama carried out in the early days of electrification.

Photo from the movie, "The Prestige"

This piqued my interest and I found a book entitled "The Age of Edison: Electric light and the invention of Modern America" (2013) written by Ernest Freeberg.

This made me realize how the existence of electric light changed American lifestyles forever. It allowed for an expanded freedom to use our time as we see fit. No longer was public life restricted to daylight hours. Just imagine if you looked out the window at night and saw the city lying in darkness. That would shatter our modern sense of security. The electrification of the city lead to the use of motorized transportation and appliances in the home. Early photographs illustrate how power poles were strung with multitudes of wires like so much spaghetti. creating an enormous safety hazard. Wires would fall and electrocute humans and horses alike. There were no standardization of methods which resulted in a amazing chaotic system.

This lead to my reading of this book, "Edison and the rise of Innovation" (2013) by Leonard DeGraaf.
This is a fine book that is beautifully illustrated with photographs of Edison's laboratory and inventions. Besides the electric light bulb and phonograph, Edison also innovated in the area of ore processing, movie making and Portland cement.  Not every venture was successful, a fact that history conveniently overlooks. Still it is amazing to see how Edison built a technology developing plant in New Jersey, bringing together not only intellectual assets but also skilled craftsmen like machinists, draftsmen, wood workers, glass blowers and pattern makers. He kept a huge storehouse of raw materials on hand. As he is quoted. "I don't want work to be stopped for a workmen's lack of a handful of boar's bristles!"

I read this book last year and found it to be a treasure trove of information on the state of the industrial innovation and manufacturing methods at the turn of the 21st. Century. While the cover of this edition depicts a 1949 model,this book actually spends the most time describing Henry Ford's early development of his cars and production methods. Now Henry Ford was a genius, an innovator, he was a promoter, even a race car driver. He was saddled by the prejudice filled thinking of his upbringing. He was, sad to say, virulently Anti- Semitic, and used his Ford newspaper to rail against the Big Bankers of Wall Street. Amazingly he ran a one man show and maintained one man control of his empire until his stubbornness almost resulted in the destruction of his kingdom. One thing I found so interesting was how Ford, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone used to hang out and go on elaborate camping expeditions, always followed by an entourage that could provide for their comforts. Other Titanic figures emerge at this time also. The Dodge Brothers, portrayed on the recent spate of Dodge TV commercials were even more outrageous than pictured. This was a pair of hard working, hard drinking, hard fighting, womanizing young lions. They were fiercely loyal to each other and the business they built up between them. They insisted that all mail directed to them be addressed to "the Dodge Brothers". When a business associate addressed mail to either brother, it was promptly sent back unanswered. The Dodge Brothers built up one of the largest and finest precision machine shops in the Detroit area. They built the Ford motor and other components under contract to the Ford corporation. They initially received a portion of stock as part payment for their investment. This later became a problem as Henry Ford did not like paying out dividends. He much rather preferred holding onto the profits and investing them back into the company. The Dodge Brothers felt that they should receive a larger return on their investment. This lead to a showdown between the two parties. Actually other investors felt the same way and Ford, through a series of financial machinations succeeded in banishing all investors from the company. Really a fascinating story.  

Not that I forgot actual motorcycle history books. I bought this book back in high school. Still have it in my library.

Harley Davidson written by Maurice D. Hendry (1972). This book goes into great detail about the early days of the company. There are terrific photos of early boardtrack and speedway racers. This was the era brought to life so vividly and beautifully by the Discovery Channel miniseries. The book also covers the development of  less known models. The successful "Peashooter" singles and the unusual fore and aft aligned flat twin "Sport Model." The Sport Model featured an enclosed motor and enclosed chain drive.. This model was popular with middle class riders as well as women. Have you ever seen one? I wonder how many still exist. Of course the story of the 61 cubic inch OHV V twin, "The EL" is documented. This model pretty much set the tenor of the breed up until this day. This book was written before the marque has been so well received by the general public. There are no mention of bob jobs or customs and thankfully "American Chopper" was still forty years in the future.

photo source: Secrets of Speed Society

An excellent source for century old motorcycle information news, technical information and entertainment is the website "Occhio Lungo"  If you love the mechanical aspects of early motorcycles and cars, you must visit this site. Another fantastic website that deals with early Ford Speedsters is, "Secrets of Speed Society" Just so many great photos and coverage.

photo source Occhio Longo If this isn't enough to make you visit this site, you have no heart!

This issue of Motorcyclist magazine was a long way back, but it just hit me hard, in the gut. I haven't recovered yet.

photo source: Motorcyclist magazine

More to follow on that subject.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A little bit of this, A little bit of that.

Elvis in a hot rod. This pressed steel toy was one of the first vintage collectibles I bought. A little research revealed that the plastic Elvis head actually came from a liquor decanter from, I'm guessing the 70s. At some point someone stuck the thing on.

This heavy steel hot rod has just the right patina. I don't know the manufacturer, maybe Buddy L? It's definitely not a repop, I guess it's from the early 60's. I found it last year at the Goat Hill Antique Fair, at the Santa Cruz County fairgrounds. Generally these shows usually feature the kind of stuff that interests my wife, foo foo stuff, but since I'm there I always take a look around. I know that collectible Tonka trucks now carry a pretty hefty price tag. When I saw this, and it was priced at a reasonable 25.00, I snapped it up. The prime rule of vintage hunting: If you find something you love and you can afford it, Buy it! Chances are someone else will come by and get it while you" think it over."

There's nothing wrong with repops, at least in my opinion. As long as you don't confuse them with an authentic piece and pay the authentic price. The Route 66 signpost is a little different than the usual highway shield marker. These came from Hobby Lobby and are nicely done. Unfortunately unscrupulous dealers will often misrepresent repops as originals. Not so much in an active way but in a more passive manner. When asked, they "don't know" if it's vintage or not. My wife has a friend up in Idaho that produces a vintage show called "Funky Junk". We were up there and I found what I thought was a handcrafted "We don't call 911" sign. It was metal with barbed wire and I thought it would be a cool gift for my brother. The vendor was asking 95.00 for it. I thought that was kind of high but assumed it was an artist's one of a kind piece. On the second day, just before closing I approached the vendor and they agreed to sell it to me for 65.00. Wasn't that nice of them. At the time I was pretty satisfied. On the way home we stopped in a gift/ decor store near Park City Utah.

 Hanging on the wall, this is what I saw. With a price tag of 24.00. I had been " Hobby Lobbied!"

Now when we see a repop piece selling at a vintage show my wife and I say "You've been Hobby Lobbied!"

That little aluminum airplane model is similar to models that were very popular in the 1940s. These usually sell for around 300.00. I passed one up for 175.00 at one time, since I wasn't aware of how expensive they usually are. I found this a couple of years ago at the Petaluma Antique Fair offered at 30.00. I bought it with no complaints. This will do for now, until I stumble upon another bargain.

More gifts from my kids. My Son gave me this set of engraved copper bookends which are from the 1934 World's Fair held in Chicago and the 1938 Radio Almanac. I found a copy of the guidebook for that Fair at Goat Hill a couple of years back. It is visible next to the aluminium airplane model in the photo above. Held in the bookends is a copy of the Radio Industry Yearbook for 1938. There used to be a nationwide radio convention held every year. These books contained all the call signs for every radio station in the U.S. and articles about the convention.

This is an embossed leather shield with a helmeted Castilian looking fellow surrounded by miniature swords and a lance/hatchet thing. As a group, contemporary Mexican Americans do not usually pay any notice or tribute to the Spanish component of our heritage. However like any other unpopular relative, that doesn't negate their existence or influence. I have become very interested in the Colonial period of California history. I've been reading books and visiting Missions and other historical sites. I found this great copper tray that depicts  all three characters of the Early Californio period: The Spaniard and the Mexican gentry on horse back with the Indio riding in an ox cart. There are traces of many cultures in all our pasts. I find all this to be very interesting.  Not to get too political, but suffice it to say that as an American, I feel that I can lay claim to the heritage of all of Western Civilization.

I keep a look out for these little figures when out and about. It seems that they used to quite a bit more common. That little rusty coupe came from Funky Junk in Idaho. My older Brother found that old license plate in Wyoming.

I'll finish up with one last item. I found this cool Jaguar tapestry at the Alameda Antique fair just last week. I immediately fell in love with it. I don't mind kitsch if it's good kitsch.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Collecting cool stuff is so much easier than having a bunch of cars. And this stuff doesn't leak oil in your driveway.

My wife bought me this painting a few years back for my birthday. I saw it in a local consignment store and was attracted to the dark moody appearance. I don't know what the artist was trying to convey but I thought it was whimsical that the two little bunnies are hiding in the camp when it looks like an entire army was out in the woods looking for them.

This is a print of an iconic image. These steel workers enjoying their lunch back in 1932. These were real brave men that had to work hard for a living. They were probably happy to have a job during the Depression. My maternal Grandfather worked for the railroad as part of a section crew in the Bay Area during that time

This is especially appropriate this week. I found this large snow globe displaying key features of the New York City skyline. Of course it includes the World Trade Center towers and a subway train runs along the base. I found this at the Alameda Antique Fair, a couple of years ago. It was brand new, in the original box, originally sold by Saks Fifth Ave. We should never forget.

This book is one of my most prized possessions. "Boy gets Car". Written by Henry Gregor Felsen in 1960. Felsen wrote a series of teen hero car books in the late Fifties. "Hot Rod", "Street Rod"," Crash Club" are some of the best known titles. In most of these cautionary tales the car loving teen ends up in a lot of serious trouble. "Boy gets Car" is a more innocent story. For me this books distills the essence of the love that I and other teen aged boys developed for tired old cars. At least this one has a happy ending.

Luckily, I found a copy of this edition.
I first discovered Felsen's books when I was in third or fourth grade. A paperback copy of "Hot Rod" was available in our classroom lending library.  I read that book and was amazed. This story gave witness to the dreams of escape and adventure that I was craving along with Bud Crayne, the young hero.

A few years back Felsen's daughter Holly, was trying to arrange a new printing of "Hot Rod". In order to gauge the audience for the new release, she posted a message on the H.A.M.B. (Hokey Ass Message Board), a well known site for old school car nuts. She was asking for pre-sales to ensure that the book could get printed. She was overwhelmed by the response. Not only were sales brisk but so many car guys posted how they were touched and affected by her Father's books. She had no idea of how important her Dad's writing was to a generation of gearheads and how these stories were still vividly remembered and cherished. Felsen's books are our dirty fingernail literature.

Of course I ordered my copy. 
Another huge influence on my early mechanical thinking is the classic tale of "Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel", written in 1939.  In this story,  Mike has a proud history of achievement built in partnership with his trusty shovel, Mary Anne. After a career of success this team is relegated to the sidelines, all the jobs are going to the new diesel shovels. They are dejected but unbroken. They accept the challenge to dig the foundation of a new town hall in just one day. It's a close race but they accomplish their goal. This story really means a lot to me, and I find myself misting up a bit just writing this. I know that there is an allegory important to me contained in this story.

To me this story defines the bond between man and machine. Especially in the terms of the  Hot Rodder/Old Car guy. We see the value in what is considered obsolete, old machinery that has a proud history and is fully capable of delivering respectable performance today. But it depends upon a caring heart and a capable committed hand. I found this cool little Mike Mulligan alarm clock.

James Dean? We all like old cars because we all wish were that cool. When we're behind the wheel we can pretend!

Isn't this beautiful. This is a radio lamp from the late 1920's, a gift from my youngest Daughter. I had a couple of early floor console radios from this era that would fit this period exactly. I decided to go with the '40s radio/phonograph and let these old radios go. You can't keep everything.

Gotta have Art  Deco. I also managed to sneak a Jaguar in here! That's a brochure displaying the 1991 Jaguar line up.

Her's a close up of the card my Wife made for my 54th. Birthday. I am very lucky to have such a very
talented family. Yes, that is an old Jaguar oil fill cap.

Well, it looks like it's going to take one more installment to finish up with my collectibles. After that it's time to get back in the garage.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

There's more to life than cars.

How about a painting featuring cars? This painting is hanging in my Den (Never refer to it as a Man Cave!) If you are familiar with Historic Downtown Los Angeles you might recognize the Angels Flight railway at the Third Street tunnel. I purchased this painting several years ago at the Pasadena Rose Bowl Flea Market. Besides being a huge Raymond Chandler fan, I am also a great fan of the city of Angels, as I worked their for a few years in the early 1980's. Michael Connelly, my current favorite author, wrote a thrilling novel simply titled  "Angel's Flight".

My Den is one my favorite places and creations. I have developed a love of classic detective novels from the 1930's and 1940's, Big Band music, and the furnishings of the period. So I have tried to create a vintage vibe that blends the styles of that time into a spot I can use to read, listen to records and relax. There is no TV, or sports memorabilia, instead I am trying to create a mature, lounge atmosphere.  Why does everything have to be "family friendly"? I think it's about time that we can act like adults without it being a pseudonym  for unnecessary profanity, crudity and stupidity. I don't know about you, but when I was growing up I wanted to be a "Grown up". I don't drink very much, but when I do, I don't think I need to apologize for it.

I found a 1940's secretary desk on Craig's List and turned it into a bar. I fixed the broken foot, broken glass, removed the letter shelves and drawers, and refreshed the finish. I added mirrors, lights, and some recycled brass material.

This display case is filled with lots of stuff and on top I have a cool neon "Drinks" sign as well as two giant Martinis. I've got all kinds of stuff displayed all over the place.

There are bookshelves all around the room. I have a very old cabinet that was once a built in unit in a turn of the Century Craftsmen house. This cabinet had been in my family for over fifty years. My Dad bought this at some kind of auction in the mid 1960's to house the Encyclopedia Britannica. My folks bought those, at a great expense, the same way that parents today would buy a computer so that they could help their kids succeed in school. My parents were great believers in education. They paid for twelve years of Catholic schooling for each of their three children. Is it a coincidence that all three of us graduated from college? I don't think so. That old cabinet now holds the Encyclopedia Britannica that my wife and I bought for our kids in the 1990's.

One wall of the room is dedicated to bookshelves. These are mostly filled with auto related books that I've read and don't want to part with. These aren't anything special or even old. They were a gift from my Mom when we first bought this house.

The top of the bookcase is filled with some lounge type stuff. That slot machine replica was a great find. I've wanted a real vintage slot machine for years, but I could never afford one. I found this at a vintage travel trailer antique sale in Auburn. It cost me all of 15.00!

That painting is special because it was painted by my Daughter in her Junior year of High School. It's a detail view of the 1996 Mustang that I still own. That multi meter to the right of it is the same model that my Dad built from a kit. This was in the very early Sixties when he had a foot operation that laid him up for a couple of weeks. He took the time to put this instrument together and study a correspondence course on television repair. He then opened up a repair business that he ran out our house for many years. My Dad was not one to waste time!

I store some of my vintage record collection on the bottom shelf. I prefer "High Fidelity" albums from the 1950's. There was a format change from 78s to 33-1/3 rpm long playing records. There was a re-release of earlier recordings to the newer format. Do you remember when cassette tapes gave way to CDs?

This is a 1942 Silvertone console radio/ record player. I bought this from a lady whose parents had bought it in the summer of 1941. New model year radios like cars, were released in the fall. I believe that she and her family heard FDR's "Day of Infamy" speech on this radio. Amazing. I restored the case by repairing the veneer, replacing the grille cloth, and re-staining and refinishing the cabinet. I found an elderly gentleman in Castro Valley who restored the electronics. I added a modern Denon record changer which has been very satisfactory.

Now we come to my favorite place in the room. I love to read. I can sit here without the distractions of the family watching television in the family room. This big leather club chair with ottoman was purchased from a Salvation Army store. It was on sale for 60.00! I think the thing that prevented most people from buying it was just that it was so big! The bridge lamp is a reproduction of the a style popular in the 1930s. I found it falling apart in an antique store in Healdsburg for 15.00. I brought it home in pieces in the trunk of my Mustang. I stripped and polished the uprights, rewired, replaced the socket, repaired a broken die cast joint, and added a mica shade. I researched the manufacturer and found that it had been made in the early 1970s.

I usually use the ottoman as a little table. I have a little wooden tray that I'll put my drink or coffee cup in. That tray came from a local flea market for 5.00. I usually don't like to sit with my feet up. This is an incredibly comfortable chair. 

This desk is a little hard to see. It's a mid 1940s Oak unit with a black work top. I picked this up at the Salvation Army main headquarters in Healdsburg Ca. I'm pretty sure that I paid only 10.00 for it. Lucky I saved it. It was about to be smashed to smithereens. Furniture that doesn't sell after awhile must be destroyed to make way for all the new inventory coming it. That Bakelite telephone looks right at home on top. Do you know why the telephone number would be Penn 6- 5000? 

This is a very comfortable room to hang out, listen to music, read or talk with friends. I will share some of the details about the little treasures displayed around the room in the following post.