• Welcome to The Fedora Lounge!

Skills For "Living The Era"

Discussion in 'Skills and Smarts' started by LizzieMaine, Jan 5, 2013.

  1. St. Louis

    St. Louis Practically Family

    Lately I've been pondering what I've learned from using 1930s and 1940s household tools and appliances. This isn't necessarily criticism or praise; these are just some observations.

    I would be curious to hear others' thoughts.

    I've noticed that these older appliances & tools need more supervision and more focus. I can't wander away distractedly or get involved in some other "ooh shiny" activity, as is my wont. For example, I burned a hole into my ironing board cover because I forgot that I had plugged in my old GE iron with its steamer attachment. It doesn't stand up the way a regular iron does -- it has to be set face down. When I came back to it, I had a big old scorch mark on the cover. So then I looked for a metal rest for the iron. I also try to remember to stay there and watch while it heats up. The metal rest has springs, which is a great innovation. The iron, its steamer attachment, and the metal rest are all approximately from the early forties.

    I have another old so-called "travel iron" that probably weighs 20 lobs., but is small enough, I imagine, to fit into a suitcase or a trunk. It produces an intense amount of heat. One really wonderful quality is that its weight and heat-producing capabilities let me iron table cloths, handkerchiefs, and shirt collars to a beautiful finish and shine. I simply cannot get that precise, perfect finish with a newer iron. It's extremely important, of course, to remember to unplug the iron before walking away. There is no automatic shut-off. Also: it must be tested on scraps very carefully, and the fabrics must be dampened before ironing. These super hot irons will scorch fabrics, even cotton and linens.

    Similarly, I have a sandwich press (30s / 40s) that becomes astonishingly hot very quickly. Makes great hot sandwiches & is also useful as a griddle. I found with this, and with all heat-producing appliances from the era, that I have to stand there and watch. I found that the only way to regulate the heat with most of these things is to unplug the piece.

    I have a few old flip toasters; people send them to me for some reason. All of them work very well. I have to remember to stand there and watch the toast. I'm still not quite competent at judging when the toast needs to be turned. I guess that's a skill you learn over time. Main advantage: these toasters will take almost any size bread; particularly bread I bake myself. I'm not great at obtaining very thin and regular slices when I slice my own home-baked bread, and these toasters work well with irregular or thicker slices.

    I have a lot of old fans (30s/40s) -- I love them for their ability to create strong breezes. I do have to use a lot of paper weights on my desk, though. Also, I've come a little too close to them once in a while & had my fingers bitten. I found a 1930s (non-functinal) fan with fabric "blades" that was evidently invented to keep children's little fingers safe. I wish I could have it fixed so that I could get a sense of how well it works.

    One thing that seems evident to me now is that our modern appliances have taught me to be less focused on what I'm doing. As a very absent-minded and scattered person, I do have problems with appliances that don't turn themselves off or have other modern safety features. I also think that if I had small children around the house, I would probably be much more hesitant to use these things.

    I have more to say about sewing machines, typewriters, and the like, but this'll do for now.
  2. It was common in the Era to tie strips of ribbon or torn fabric to the cage of an electric fan to remind the user that it was on, and to keep fingers, hair, and pets' tails a safe distance away. That's still a good precaution for users today.

    Using a wringer washer requires 100 percent focus. You have to watch your fingers feeding the clothing into the rollers, and it's best to keep one hand close to the knockdown safety bar at the top of the wringer in case something gets stuck or you get pulled in. And you should always wear a head rag to keep loose hair out of the mechanism.

    Houses from the Era built or renovated after about 1925 or so usually have an electrical outlet at tabletop level in the kitchen -- you'd use the toaster or percolator right at the table instead of putting it on a work table or a counter. That way you were right there to pull the cord out when you were done using the appliance.

    Driving a vintage car is perhaps the biggest contrast between devices of the Era and those of today. When behind the wheel of a vehicle from the Era you are at all times acutely aware that you're controlling 2000 pounds of steel and iron, and that you cannot safely relax your attention for a moment. You keep your eyes on the road, your hands on the steering wheel and your feet at the pedals. There is no cruise control, no automatic transmission, no power steering, and no power brakes. And no cup holders, so if you can't go half an hour without shoving something into your face, you'd better stick to a Toyota.
  3. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain Call Me a Cab

    Those are good questions but I'm not so sure that modern appliances, especially major appliances, are any better. A toaster will burn your toast before it turns itself off or pops the toast up. Ours will, anyway. And the stovetop will never turn itself off. My wife has a bad habit of putting toast in the toaster or something on the stove, then going and sitting down in front of her computer. She burns things all the time. The only way I can avoid burning the toast (and setting off the smoke alarm) is to stand over it and stare at it. Works every time.

    I've never seen a sandwich press but we used to have an electric skillet. Never used one myself but I think I would miss the ability to immediately remove it from the heat.

    We used to have a fan when I was little that had rubber blades but I don't remember if we ever had any others. It got just as hot then as it does now, too.

    Overall, however, I'm not so sure that we've progressed that far since the first electric appliances were available. But just imagine what it was like when your cook stove was a wood burner. And of course, there are still gas stoves with an open flame.
  4. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain Call Me a Cab

    As to vintage cars (an incorrect term), they all become old and dated, some sooner than others. We had for the longest time (18 years) a Volvo 240. My son once observed that you could tell that it was old because it had no cup holders. It had power steering, I think, and probably power assisted brakes but it was a manual gearbox. I've had cars with cruise control but have never used them. Cup holders are handy for other things besides cups but then, I'm always using things for purposes they were not designed for. Take screwdrivers, for instance...
  5. My first couple of cars, '71 and '72 Corollas, of all things, were 'vintage' when they were built. I got them about 6 years after they were built. Both had manual everything - transmission, steering, brakes, windows, and even choke.

    I don't think I've ever had a fuel injected motorcycle. I like fiddling with a choke.
  6. I use my 1936 handcrank Singer sewing machine on a regular basis for small projects and for repairing clothes. I like it because it is very idiot-proof, and it's also quite tough. Since nothing is made of plastic, there's nothing to crack, break or warp.
  7. five6seven8

    five6seven8 New in Town

    I grew up watching my mother use a machine like that, and eventually bought my own for about £10 from someone whose mother-in-law had had it in her attic for decades - if memory serves mine was made in 1911. It has a beautiful art deco style wooden case that locks wth a key, and a dozen attachments with it that I've got no idea about how to use.
  8. [​IMG]
    Initial reason I bought this Singer was for looks. And was only $35 at the
    flea market. Not sure who the lady was that own it before, but it is in great

    I like the contrast of the shiny black with all that fine gold lettering & design.
    I was thinking of using this over-all look, to build a bicycle tank for a
    1900s bicycle.

    But with Mr. Shangas’s help and also a Singer booklet from that time period,
    I discovered I could sew patches on my jackets easily.

    I like the control of the hand crank which gives me the ability to sew
    at a comfortable speed.
    With the electric or the foot pedal machines, I usually wind
    up sewing my fingers to the pattern
    Just kidding.:D
    But I have gotten my fingers hurt with those sharp needles
    since I have trouble coordinating the pace sometimes.
    Bigger Don likes this.
  9. Hand-crank machines are best for people who are new to sewing, or who like more control, or who like me, have a disability (in my case, poor eyesight), which means they find it safer and easier to go slower.

    And it's a hell of a workout! And really fun :p
    Bigger Don likes this.
  10. five6seven8

    five6seven8 New in Town

    Oh that's in lovely condition isn't it! I have a modern electric machine too and I never use it at full speed. Took me months to get above the minimum setting. I'm never completely convinced that using a hand-crank machine regularly is good for my dodgy shoulder but sadly I don't have room for one of those beautiful table ones with the huge cast iron treadle :)
    Bigger Don likes this.
  11. ^^^^^^
    Actually the hand crank is very smooth
    and slightly bigger than the electric machines.
    I don’t use it for long periods or on a daily basis
    that would put stress on the shoulder.
  12. five6seven8

    five6seven8 New in Town

    Yes, they are very smooth, but my shoulder is extremely temperamental unfortunately - it'll take exception to the wrong kind of movement even if I only do it twice.
  13. Sorry about the shoulder.
    I've been having chest pain on
    right side lately.
    Thought I had some kind
    of cancer or tumor.
    (Sometimes I over think too

    Turns out it was a combination
    of the cooler weather and the constant serving when playing tennis.
    I average 3-4 hours daily.

    Hope you find a solution to the
  14. vitanola

    vitanola My Mail is Forwarded Here

    The older appliances do require that one know how to use them. They are not nearly as fool-proof or forgiving as many modern equivilents. The problem with you iron was, of course, the fact that you did not have the requisite rest stand for it. Now, the early "six pound" irons which are not fitted with a thermostatic control were generally not used while plugged in. One would plug the iron in until it was heated to the temperature indicated for the fabric being ironed, and THEN THE IRON WOULD BE UNPLUGGED AND USED AS IF IT WERE AN ORDINARY SAD IRON.

    The electrical goods manufactuers by 1920 were offering switched plugs for these irons (and for other appliances which used the standard fitting) These switched plugs are VERY convenient indeed. You should aim to get one or two.

    As for the electric fans, well Miss Maine's suggestion of ribbons is a very good one. I have installed a number of "Fan Hanger Outlets" in my house. These get the fans up on the wall, out of the way, in a place where they are far more effective at circulating air, but far less likely to do damage.

    When re-wiring a house I generally make certain that there is an un-switched "hot" lead in the connection box over the dinning table. When restoring the chandelier I have usually been able to contrive a way to conceal a light socket or receptacle in the fixture as a convenient place to connect a tabletop appliance. This feature was actually pretty common in the 1910-1920 period, and faded from use as homes became better wired with additional outlets.

    As for kitchen wiring, when the "schoolhouse" kitchen fixtures became popular in the late 'teens many were fitted with a pendant switch/outlet combination, in place of a pull cord. This placed an electrical outlet in a convenient location in the center of the kitchen, often directly over the table. s-l1600.jpg

    I certainly agree with you there, Miss Maine. I firmly believe that the necessary concentration makes one a better driver. IN fact, just the other day I was mentioning to my father that requiring oh, say, sixteen to twenty year-olds to drive Flivvers, with minimal accelleration and unreliable brakes would create a generation of prenaturally cautious drivers.
  15. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain Call Me a Cab

    I'm not so sure I agree. It doesn't matter if it has automatic transmission or not and especially not cruise control, given typical driving conditions. Highways are more crowded than ever and speeds are higher, too, at least when possible. Power steering only makes a difference at low speed or when parking and anyway, just like a heavy clutch, you get used to it and don't notice it. The critical thing is attention to the traffic as well as the road itself. Aggressive driving, meaning nothing more than tailgating, results in a lot of rear-end collisions where I live, nearly always in the left-hand lane where most everyone seems to drive. Paying attention to your smart phone instead of your driving doesn't help either. I just don't think people used to be more cautious fifty years ago when they were young drivers than young drives are now. But perhaps fifty years ago isn't long enough. It doesn't seem that long ago to me now.
  16. vitanola

    vitanola My Mail is Forwarded Here

    You have obviously never driven a Flivver. It is a different animal from an automobile. I drove one in daily service for nearly twenty years. The brakes are indifferent, and since they are actually in the transmission, it is possible for a key to shear or a thrust washer to fail and allow the driver to hear that spooky ratcheting noise when the brake is applied. 22 horsepower is not sufficient to allow for tailgating in most instances. Driving a Flivver, one learns to anticipate the actions of other drivers, and to pay strict attention to the road. That said, it is a lovely way to travel. Not quite like anything else in the world.
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2016
  17. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain Call Me a Cab

    Well, I guess I don't know what a Flivver is then. I had one vehicle on which you had to double-clutch going from 1st to 2nd. It topped out at about 55 but that was the highest speed limit on any road I ever drove, although it would go faster downhill.
  18. So I have young children and use some vintage appliances. I love the mindfulness you need to have to toast your bread, I love my "flip" toaster, it gets an English muffin or homemade bread just right (soft on the inside and crispy on the outside).

    I don't use vintage appliances near little hands. I'd never use a vintage fan near my kids, for example. (Maybe up high on a wall, but I can see myself stupidly putting my own darned hand in there.)

    But lots of modern appliances aren't all that much safer. My hot iron burns just as much as a vintage iron, I've seen modern toasters get as hot as our vintage one, etc. I taught my daughter, "the iron is always hot, you always think it is hot. You may NEVER touch it until you are old enough to sew by yourself."

    I think that we tend to over trust modern safeties to protect us, and we've gotten too lax. I find myself relying on the safety off on my iron, when I really shouldn't- the safety could fail.
  19. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain Call Me a Cab

    Frankly, I can't think of any modern safeties. The stovetop gets hot, the iron gets hot, the very hot, hot water is scalding hot (because my wife wanted it hotter), the kitchen knives are as sharp as ever, broken glass also as sharp as ever. Neither the iron nor the stovetop has any sort of safety feature, although such things seem to be relatively common on irons. What else is there?
  20. They have those induction cooktops that supposedly only get the pans hot. They seemed like the next big thing a few years ago, but I've never known anyone to own one.

    There's safeties on some modern showers. Fans have closer wire cages. Modern toasters don't have exposed coils and automatically pop up your toast, but then toast gets stuck down and you can imagine what happens next... there's polarization on plugs. And grounding.

    My mother used to say, "they'll only touch the wood stove once." Not a fan of that method, myself, having burnt myself cooking on one (one too many times).

    And you can drown in an inch of water, so there's that.

Share This Page