A Hot trail Ends At The Flea Market

21 May 2018

Some Saturday mornings are better than others. The population density is a bit thin in my area but spring brings a start to a robust garage sale season and with a diligent effort, I manage to find a few small treasures. In the past I’ve bagged vintage typewriters, drafting instruments, new old stock beer taps, assorted books on topics close to my heart and interesting old postcards and ephemera. one such Saturday morning was better than most. After sampling a few Garage sales billing themselves as “estate” sales although everybody looked lively and not in mourning.

The estate sale netted me an actual Tuco jigsaw puzzle with the usual quarter inch thick pieces. It’s the first one I have seen since moving to Port Angeles in 2002. I used to sell them on eBay all the time. If you can find the military/patriotic ones or the artistic pin-ups they are worth real money. There is one with a girl in tight ski pants and a well-packed sweater that was a 1950’s fantasy item. I think I got a hundred fifty bucks for that beauty. This one is not so noteworthy but it was nice to see it and for a dollar, I’m not complaining.

I finished the morning at the quaintly named Pumpkin Patch flea market. The venue is in the grass parking lot of a local seasonal tourist attraction that features a corn maze at Halloween. From the highway, You can see the large orange top of a pumpkin elevated two stories off the ground which serves as an observation tower. It doesn’t exactly scream “get your antiques and collectibles here” but I take them where I can get them nowadays.

On this morning The Pumpkin Patch was populated by 25 dealers which is about average. As I cruised the grounds I found a novel my wife would like and passed on some overpriced temptations. Approaching a particular dealers space my eyes wandered across a blue tarp spread on the ground beside his table. This guy always spreads out and takes up as much space as he can. I think it’s a power move to makes him look like Walmart amid the mom and pop shops. I saw mostly tools. There were Some axes and peaveys. Robust iron tools are a big item in these parts because everybody’s grandfather was a mighty slayer of the ubiquitous cedar and Douglas Fir. In one corner was a spread of books that looked like automotive shop manuals. On closer inspection, I could see that the assortment included some motorcycle material that looked to have signs of age. New stuff is not worth a glance but vintage cycle stuff always murmurs of money like the low rumble of a British twin.

I’m not much of a gear head when it comes to cars. I can hold my own in a conversation among serious mechanoids but two-wheeled vehicles are where I hang my wrench. I barely made it to high school graduation because of the poor grades I got as a result daydreaming about motorcycles. I’ve always liked street bikes and have owned several. So when I saw “BSA” and “Velocette” I knew I needed to look closer.

Included in the group where two owner’s manuals for Velocette motorcycles dated in the 1950’s. there was also a service manual and parts list book, owners manual for the 350 cc Ducati scrambler, “Driver’s Handbook And List Of Spare and Replacement Parts for The Famous James No. 98 Series 1.F. Lightweight Motorcycle,” and a 1952 edition of a maintenance manual for two-stroke motorcycles Published by Floyd Clymer. The dealer was asking three dollars apiece but as a group, we arrived at fifteen for the lot.

I’ve done well with this kind of material in the past and I will in the fullness of time offer these up on eBay. It’s a pleasure to have these and enjoy their contents until then. Guys like me are a sucker for the old photos and diagrams on tensioning chains or adjusting breaker points. In the age of fuel injection and computerized ignition systems books like these have all the charm of instructions to maintain your horse-drawn “surrey with the fringe on top.”

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The James Cycle Company Ltd was established in 1897. They didn’t attach engines to their two-wheeled vehicles until 1902. The company continued in the business until 1966.  I had acquired is a driver’s manual that runs down operations for the 98 cc model. The book bears no dates but a little research lets me know that it is from about 1949. Most of the book illustrates every part of the motorcycle with exploded drawings and lists of parts. A quaint feature of the diagram showing the handlebar controls is what is labeled as a “dipper switch.” Apparently, this is a Britishism for a headlight dimmer switch as explained in the text. You can add that to “lift” for elevator and “bonnet” for car hood to wow everyone at your next party.

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The Velocette is a fine old British marque that competed with the likes of Vincent, Triumph, B.S.A. and Royal Enfield. My group of four Velocette items includes an owner’s handbook for the Valiant model, the MAC model, a service manual for Viper, Venom, Mss, Clubman, and Scrambler.

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Ducati is a premier Italian brand that still exists. The 50cc engine was a junior version of the single cylinder four stroke engines that were their stock in trade when I was a teenager buzzing around on Yamahas. The Desmodromic valve system was a trademark technical feature. Singles, often called “thumpers” dominated the Ducati line-up from 1950 to 1974. I had a friend who had a 450 that demanded a firm positive starter kick with good follow through. Any half-assed effort would deliver a kickback that could be felt from the sole of your foot through the top of your head. Once running it had a great sound and plenty of torque.

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This useful item is a Floyd Clymer publication, Two-Stroke  Motorcycles. It covers the maintenance and repair of small two-stroke engines. There are two pages with photos of typical bikes of the era. The book has lots of detailed information and illustrations that show tools in action. It’s all meat and potatoes for those of us raised on the beefy mosquito buzz of engines too impatient to burn fuel than wait until the fourth stroke to do it. this book also predates oil injection when operators were obliged to mix the two-stroke oil into the gasoline before putting it into the tank. Besides the screaming wail of the exhaust, it was one more thing in common with chainsaws.

Books like these are decidedly non-fiction. But when they have the look and feel of a bygone and they give off a faint whiff of grease and dust they excite the imagination. You can read and absorb the detailed illustrations and find within the pages your own story. The road may call you and along the way there will be more trails to follow and treasures to be had.

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The Apple As An Artifact of Autumn

21 October 2017

Not every antique is a thing you can hold in your hand. Some are conceptual such as a recipe which has been around for decades. In the Pennsylvania Dutch country, where I come from, certain foods have a long tradition. Scrapple, Lebanon Bologna, snitz pie, fastnachts, a hundred different variations on sausage and much more are as deeply woven into the culture as hand-stitched quilts and six board blanket chests decorated with distelfinks. My favorite among these is the humble apple dumpling.

They are a shining jewel in my childhood memory. I associate them strongly with another favorite thing: Autumn. Being an exile these days in the Pacific Northwest I am besieged by evergreens everywhere I look diluting the seasonal scenery and causing me to gaze wistfully at airline prices. I ameliorate the angst that inhabits my emotions by clinging to a personal tradition. I make apple dumplings. I make more than I can and distribute them freely to friends and relatives. It makes me feel more or less sane and keeps me in touch with my roots as nothing else can.

Dumpling construction as I choose to practice it is a nostalgic meditation. I keep it apart from the new-fangled gadgetry that inhabits our kitchens today: no microwave, no food processor. The only artifacts of the present are apples picked from my favorite tree that grows tall and expansive beside the driveway. It wears a jacket of moss on its trunk and lower limbs. Healthy colonies of lichens populate the upper branches and a small red squirrel has claimed it as his territory lately. I don’t mind as long as he pays the apple rent faithfully.

Apple is my favorite choice in pies generally but there is something extra special about a single apple clad in baked dough. The best part of a slice of pie is at the end. After you have worked your way up the triangle to the remaining strip of apple and crimped crust the ratio of fruit to dough favors more crust and is a grand way to culminate the experience. Thus, the dumpling is like a dessert made up entirely of the delicious edge of a pie. That’s the way I thought of it as a child and I have yet to grow up and alter my opinion.

There are still old-fashioned hand crank gizmos that will peel, core, and slice an apple in jig time. Which is an older sort of time that is a little harder to come by now that Deepak Chopra has discovered that Quantum physics explains how he can sell more books. It’s an antique concept with many functional reproductions available today. I float the denuded apples in water to keep them from turning brown. It occurs to me that they are going into an oven that will completely alter their nature so it seems a waste of time. But my mother did it this way and that makes it as much a connection to the past as a good idea.

Mom’s memory is all over this process as evidenced by the tools involved. The dough is rolled out on a wooden board with lots of flour. The rolling pin is solid maple, a replica of a kitchen tool from long ago. I turned it on the lathe myself about 35 years ago. It was a Christmas present for her back in the day when we gave people actual things instead of money or gift cards which are really just more money. Mom is no longer with us but I still have our rolling pin.

A solid pin has a nice feel in the hands. The shape includes handles at each end but there are no roller bearings clicking like a bicycle needing a trip to the mechanics. It will not fall apart and refuse to keep its handles on the axle. Many years of butter, shortening, and flour has kept it running smoothly in the web between thumbs and forefingers. Its weight is substantial and it pushes a wave of dough in any direction I choose. Like a sharp chisel slicing cleanly through even-grained wood, it puts the “Z” in zen.

I must have watched my mother roll out the dough on several hundred pies and dumplings. She taught all the kids to do it. When I think of her in the kitchen in full baking mode I remember a day when I stopped in to visit as an adult. She was babysitting one of my nephews. He was standing on a chair rolling out dough on the counter top. Her joy was as evident as his concentration. I don’t know who was having a better time. Maybe it was me glimpsing the love that infused my own childhood.

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Since writing this article I have had requests for my recipe. I didn’t really have one, except in my head, so I have written it down without carving it in stone. If you care to try it alter it in any way that fits your own taste. Give some to friends, treat a child, get up in the middle of the night and indulge yourself. The flavors of the past never grow old.

Apples: about 6 per batch of dough, Granny Smith or any tart, crisp apple.
1 two crust pie dough recipe.
Suggest: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2016/06/old-fashioned-flaky-pie-dough-recipe.html
1 cup sugar with 2 tsp. Cinnamon thoroughly mixed together.
1 cup brown sugar
Blackberry jam
Pecan chips
butter
2 eggs, separated

Dry Riesling, chilled

Make up your pie dough. I find the recommended recipe to provide the elasticity and integrity to be helpful in folding and handling the dough. Also, it has a dairy load of butter in it and you can’t go wrong with that. The recipe gives temperature specifications which sound pretentious and overly picky but I found them to be useful in light of all that buttery goodness which should not get all melty before it’s proper time. Put it in the fridge while you do the other steps, answer the phone and pour a glass of Riesling.

Peel and core apples. A little hand-cranked nineteenth-century technology makes this faster, easier and you can feel more off the grid about the whole thing. Place naked apples in a communal bath of cold water. Give a little swirl and let them enjoy themselves.

Divide your dough into ten chunks. Spread flour on the chosen rolling surface and roll a chunk of dough to a square, circle or free-form shape that looks closer to a map of, say, Australia than one of Finland. It doesn’t matter much as long as the dough will hold together while you fold it up over the apple, but we’ll get to that in a minute. I tend to use a lot of flour to keep things from sticking to the board. It’s always easy to tell that I’ve been baking.

Some recipes give an instruction like, “roll pastry dough to a 21×14-in. rectangle; cut into six squares.” That sounds faster and more efficient but I’m not good at making that big rectangle/squarish thingy without a lot of ragged edges that don’t work and play well with others. If you happen to have that knack go for it.

Using a pastry brush lightly spread some egg goo/whites on the dough. I like the small china bristle chip brushes from the hardware store. Because you know I’m a manly man and if I could find a place to use a socket wrench in this business I sure as hell would. (insert macho grunt here). Sprinkle cinnamon sugar mixture on the square/circle/not Finland. Rescue an apple from the water bowl and pat it dryish or just shake it a bit and dribble water all over the kitchen. You’ll hear about that for awhile. Place the apple in the middle of the target zone and drop a tablespoon of brown sugar/pecan mixture in the core. Follow it with a dollop of blackberry jam or any other fruity delight that strikes your fancy. Throw in another spoon of brown sugar/pecan and cap it with a half teaspoon of butter. Fill center of each with 4 teaspoons sugar mixture and 1/2 teaspoon butter.

Bring an edge of the dough up over the apple. Repeat with the opposite side. The egg should hold the overlapped portion together. Fold the remaining flaps of dough up over the apple in similar fashion then place the dumpling lovingly in an ungreased 13×9-in. baking dish. I prefer Pyrex but metal stuff will do. Polk some vent holes in the top of each dumpling. When all passengers have been secured in their places slide them into an oven which has been preheated to 350 degrees. Bake them for about 50 minutes or until the version of golden brown you prefer has been reached. There should have been a lot of bubbling going on in the meantime. Some people brush the outside with an egg wash or a sugar syrup concoction. I like to keep it simple. Eat at least one of these while it’s still quite warm. That’s Pennsylvania Dutch heaven.

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WWII, the Home Front Tells a New Story

26 May 2010

I got into the antiques and collectibles business to do more than just sell stuff.  I’m not even a very good salesman.  I like the cash to flow but I’m also very interested in the things I sell.  If nothing deeper mattered and I was a good closer I would sell insurance.  There’s more money in it.  The historian in me analyzes my trade goods as artifacts.  Sometimes I get a priceless glimpse into the past.

Last Saturday I bought a book at a local antique shop and put it on eBay.  Click here to see. While scanning the photographic pages I detected a distinct slant to the presentation.  It’s a WWII era photographic booklet, We Keep e’m Flying.  It shows life for the men and women at the Naval Air Technical Training Center, Memphis, Tennessee. The 44 pages are replete with black and white images of the camp and it’s happy, smiling personnel.  Besides showing training scenes with guns and airplanes there is a heavy emphasis on recreational activities  and social life. You would hardly know there was a war going on.

I’ve handled a number of the yearbooks published for various military aviation training bases.  They tell a story of a generation of Americans who took loyalty to their country seriously.  The patriotism is openly expressed.  The subtext is often more telling.  In case you doubt that society has changed since the 1940’s look at  books, magazines and films the government published for consumption on the home front.  Some call it propaganda some call it public relations but that flavor is present as a matter of intent.

Equality blossoms in the war effort.

We all know about Rosie the Riveter.  She began as wartime propaganda and letter became a feminist folk hero.  In this book there are a surprising number of women shown  working along side of men, handling mechanics duties and training in the same ways.  One wonders if the emphasis was overstated compared to the reality.  The summer camp flavor of the piece stands out in contrast to the realities of life in a combat zone.

I recently sold a yearbook for a pilot training base in Kansas.  The ranks of photos of eager young cadets showed only Caucasian faces except for one training squadron that was all black.  We Keep ’em Flying presents a parade of fresh white faces except for the photo of the base laundry.  Here young black women wield irons as they press uniforms.  A solitary black male sweeps the floor.  It seems a sad note in the cheery picture.  It probably went unnoticed in 1945.  Now it leaps out and grabs our attention.

I do not mean to be too critical of the people of the time, context matters.  After all, out of the same crucible of war and societal upheaval came the Tuskegee Airmen.  No reasonable person questions the value of their contribution or denies their sacrifice.  Valor has no color or gender.

We all live in the context of our times.  What we do today may be judged differently tomorrow.  More than ever our lives are recorded for the future to see.  When our children look at us smiling back in artificial images will they only see the movie and not get the message?

The contrast shows behind the scenes

A collector is motivated by appreciation of  his acquisitions to value them for meaning as well as worth.  As dealers we tend to think of the bottom line.  The artifacts we engage with contribute to our worldview as we examine their place in our culture.  To paraphrase a  navy recruiting slogan: It’s more than a job, it’s a  classroom.

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