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Low tech solutions to big time problems

Item three in our low-tech collection is this fascinating pair of threshing glasses made from wire, rigged up with twine and, when not protecting the wearer's eyes from flying bits of grain and straw, is enconced in this neat tin box. Real County item! Donald McClure photo

With the growing television-inspired popularity these days of hunting out antique and pop art collectibles, it is always useful to review what might be out there simply to inspire your search and increase your chances of finding some (awesome) treasures.

With the Pawn Stars in Las Vegas scarcely able to handle the influx of all manner of items from antique automobiles to forgotten jewelry and a ton of other items, the market interest is certainly there. The recession era has prompted this trend for sure.

Your chances of making a gain on your finds is supportable and the actual fun of hunting out items of interest and value always (well sometimes) has a tinge of excitement coated in mystery.

We do know that the inventiveness of the Victorian era set the stage for many unique and innovative designs which would allow people to improve their quality of life or their efficiency in making a living.  It would also help set the stage for the massive explosion of technology which surrounds us today.

But for a moment lets go back to a simpler, less sophisticated time when it was possible for a person to fuss around on a workbench in the barn and come up with something–that while it might not alter the progress of mankind–at least it could cause a person today to admire the idea and the action that inspired it.

First item in our innovative low tech devices was this mystery object presented to us by friends from Scarborough. Unlike anything we have ever seen we are somewhat dubious that it was a soldered tin hearing aid -- but it comes closest to anything we can think of. Donald McClure photo

Take for instance the item that friends from Scarborough presented to us last weekend.  It was a strange piece of tinware looking like the cross between a flattened oil can or a bed pan for a black squirrel.  They believed it was in reality a device for improving one’s hearing. Stick the small looping end into the ear and tilt the half enclosed sounding board towards the source of the sound itself.

It’s a plausible theory perhaps, but because the device is missing a soft tip, the idea of inserting a rough piece of tin into the ear is daunting. In any event our halting test trials did produce a noticeable larger volume of sound so we figured it actually might help improve a person’s hearing.  So for now it remains a hearing aid until one of our enlightened readers changes our minds.

Next display in our low-tech inventions is this heavy block of 8" x 10" soapstone which was said to be heated in an oven and wrapped in a blanket to be laid on the floor of a horse drawn sleigh to keep the occupant's feet cosy in winter. Donald McClure photo

Or take the small but heavy rectangular slab of soapstone that I bought from a York region dealer years ago.  He claimed that the old farmer that brought it in said  it was a family foot warmer — first heated in a stove oven, then wrapped in a blanket and taken out and installed as a foot warmer to keep driver and/ or passengers comfortable on winter sleigh rides.   Heck of an idea!

Another piece I love was purchased in the County from a dealer in Milford a few years ago.  Ensconced in a little tin box it looked for all the world like spectacles made out of fly screen — which it kinda was.   Linked together with string the pieces were placed over the eyes and tied behind the head as a protection from flying debris at threshing time.  Looked like it would protect the eyes, but exclude the vision.

The final invention was a heavy cast iron device with a lock built into it which defies analysis.  No one I had ever showed it to has ever come close to guessing what it was for.

Last but by no means least is this low-tech security device which if opened and snapped onto the wheel of super inventor Thos. Edison's Model T Ford it would have made it impossibe to drive away. Donald McClure photo

Here is a clue.  When the key unlocked the legs of the device it opened enough to be able to get around the skinny tires of a 1917 Model T Ford   Got any idea yet.  No?  Well it was a clever and effective anti-theft device.    With the ring of iron wrapped around the wheel and locked there is no way anyone was going to move an old tin lizzie out of the driveway.  Pretty effective low-tech protection for a world without electronic wizardry.

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About the Author: He can tickle your funny bone or tug at your heart strings. County people may know him as a chronicler of everything that happens (or should happen) in the garden, but his interests stretch across the natural world. His unique sense of observation takes in a wide expanse of living and may even point out some truths about our own condition as managers of the world around us. With Loyalist antecedents in his family tree his roots go deep into the Ontario countryside.

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  1. Donald says:

    You make a good point Dawn. Often it is possible to guage our progress as a civilization, by reviewing the technological advances we have made along the way. Not everything can be classed as a success — but at least someone was thinking about the problem and offering a solution. Appreciate your comments, Donald

  2. Dawn says:

    Love the spectacles Donald! A very interesting and informative piece on the history of inventions from our not so distant past – amazing when we compare the not so long ago with now! Dawn

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