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The Museum of What Used to Be

March 20, 2011

Today’s my 68th birthday and, while reading thru my journal, came across a list I compiled in 2003 of items that once were commonplace and now are found only in the Museum of What Used to Be. There are far too many to list them all here so I’ll pick and choose and do some more later, maybe on my 69th. (I have no plans not to be around.)

Coin dispensers worn on the belt. I remember them from untold encounters with the Good Humor man over the years. Corner newsstand vendors (also long gone) used them as did, I believe, bus drivers. The shiny metal dispenser had four tubes, each with a coin slot at the top, a vertical slit that allowed the vendor to see how many coins remained and a lever for dispensing the coins. One push, one coin.

Cars with the headlight dimmer switch on the floor and the gearshift on the steering column. Now, of course, the dimmer control is on the steering column and the gearshift, in many cars, is on the floor.

Curb feelers on cars. Curb feelers were thin, flexible wire rods, about nine inches long, with a little ball at the end, two on the passenger side of the car, one fore and one aft. Each was attached at a downward angle to either the bumper or the lowest part of the fender (I don’t recall which). They scraped against the curb and let the driver know by the scraping sound that the car was close to the curb.

Cod liver oil (also called castor oil). This was a thick, brown, vile-tasting liquid children were given for the vitamins they contained, usually a tablespoon, sometimes two. Nothing tastes worse than the oil from the liver of a codfish. Nothing. It was so bad that it was also used at times to punish children. I know. From experience. (It may be that cod liver oil is still around. If so, I don’t want to know.)

Skywriting. As kids, we used to lie on our backs and watch for the half hour or so it took a skywriter to complete the commercial message. Sometimes the wind would kick up before it was finished and the first letters, already starting to dissipate anyway, would be gone, leaving a sometimes incomprehensible message for those who happened to start watching late.

A slot in the medicine cabinet for used razor blades. We moved into our house in Sherman Oaks in January, 1948. Dad died in October, 1955. I estimate there are at least a couple of thousand of his old razor blades in the bathroom wall.

Elevator operators. In department stores, the elevator operator not only operated the elevator but announced each floor and what was sold on that floor: Fourth floor! Ladies’ shoes, hosiery, jewelry, skirts, blouses and hats!

Inner tubes. Lucky (and popular) was the kid who had an old inner tube in the garage. These were taken on every swimming trip, whether to the municipal swimming pool or the beach. You just had to be careful that the valve was facing down when you sat in it so that it didn’t gouge your thigh.

The old Pacific Coast League teams: The Hollywood Stars. The Los Angeles Angels. The Oakland Oaks. The San Francisco Seals. The Seattle Rainiers. The San Diego Padres. The Portland Beavers. The Sacramento Solons.

Oilcans. (Or is it oil cans?) These had completely abandoned my memory until I saw a couple in an antique store (!) in Astoria. My dad always had a couple on his workbench. They were little, teapot-shaped metal containers with a long, thin spout. You turned it upside down, put the tip of the spout where you wanted it and depressed the bottom of the container quickly and lightly a couple of times and drops of oil came out. They made a very distinctive clicking sound.

The “good old days”? Not necessarily. But they are “good old memories.” If you have any to add, please leave a comment on the blog so I can share it with others.



Cartoon #24: A man is talking to a tired-looking receptionist at a counter in a hospital beneath a sign that says “Admissions”. The caption: “ . . . and when I was ten I swiped a candy bar from Murray’s Mini Mart and when I was twelve…”

Cartoon #32: A man is bending over a coffin with a hammer in one hand, a piece of meat (a steak) in the other. His assistant is standing next to him saying, “I think we’ve misread the directions for killing Dracula, Professor Jordan.”


Problem #1: The number 4 goes in the empty circle. Each number indicates the number of lines radiating from that circle.

Problem #2: The square wall will always have one brick more than the other wall. For example, a square, 3 x 3 wall has 9 blocks; the second wall (one brick narrower, one brick higher) has 8 bricks: 4 x 6. Square 4 x 4 = 16, second wall 3 x 5 = 15.


8 Comments leave one →
  1. Bob Seidensticker permalink
    March 21, 2011 5:45 am

    That reminds me of an interesting category of words called “retronyms.” These are words that now need a qualifier. For example, an analog clock (the “analog” qualifier wasn’t necessary when *all* clocks were analog). Or a hardback book. And you know how lots of golf drivers have metal heads. What do you call the old kind? Why a “wood wood,” of course.

  2. Bob Seidensticker permalink
    March 21, 2011 5:48 am

    I’m pretty sure cod liver oil and castor oil are different things. Now, I take flaxseed oil and fish oil (more or less daily). I wonder if the health benefits are the same.

    • March 21, 2011 3:54 pm

      Taken in capsule form even cod live oil might be palatable, altho the subsequent burping would be unpleasant reminders. Were you ever subjected to it?

      • Bob Seidensticker permalink
        March 22, 2011 4:12 pm

        The stereotype of Mom pouring out a spoonful with Junior looking up with a wrinkled expression never played out when I was growing up, luckily.

  3. NRJ permalink
    March 22, 2011 4:53 am

    There are still occaisonal sky-writers up there, and inner tubes in truck and bike tires – but I think are pretty much gone on cars except for those collector antiques. I do remember that unpleasant cod liver oil in capsules and the big bad burps. Yuck! I used to have curb feelers on my car and I remember the foot dimmer too.

    Here’s to Leo Lassen and the old Rainiers and the radio broadcasts – remember hearing the games on radio and how much more action there seemed to be? We also had politicians who came around to our door to ask how things were going (and looking for votes). How many black and white movies are there now?

    How about typewriters and manual adding machines and comptomitors? And round screen TVs?

    One thing I can always beat Mr. Gardner at, and that is old age!

    Ned Fertz

  4. March 22, 2011 2:50 pm

    Leo Lassen and the Rainiers were just before my time here in Seattle so I never had the pleasure of listening to him call their games. We still get the occasional pol knock-knock-knocking at our door here in WS, tho not often. And to your list of mechanical devices I’d add ditto and mimeograph machines. Sigh. Nostalgia – ain’t it wonderful? I think.

    • Bob Seidensticker permalink
      March 22, 2011 4:14 pm

      There were lots of technologies for making short runs of duplicate copies in the days before copy machines, and as a student I remember one with purple ink. The ink had an oddly attractive smell to it as I recall.

  5. March 23, 2011 2:18 pm

    That was the ditto machine, with its highly toxic, and flammable, reactive liquid. If you spilled some, it evaporated so quickly you didn’t need to clean it up.

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