Going downhill fast.

My previous post captured my grandfather in a bit of a chewed-up mood, so I think I’ll go in another direction this week … back to the days of his youth.

I can’t guarantee he was in a good mood when he made these undated sketches in his personal journal, but I imagine they brought back good memories. And of course, he always liked to roll up his sleeves and get into a little technical detail, so these sketches would have entertained that side of his personality.

First, we have him brain-dumping info on how to make every fourth-grader’s dream ride:


(Maybe some sailor out there can let me know what kind of knot “C.P.” is, as featured at top left.)

I’m not an engineer … but I have trouble seeing how the “steering bar” would work, given no apparent mechanism to actually change the direction of the wheels. Maybe it was less a steering bar and more a hang-on-and-shut-up bar.

No matter. I imagine this sort of scooter — requiring minimal and fairly common materials — was all the rage among the boys of Springfield, Massachusetts, during the Harding administration.

I’m sure if you told those kids they’d have to wear a polyurethane helmet for safety while they rode their scooters, they would have looked at you like you had three heads.

If you’d told them that a design of their scooters would show up on a worldwide computer network in the 21st century … well, I dunno how they would have responded to that, but it would have been fun to see.

(Sometimes I suspect that the technology for time machines really exists, but the people who have it are holding it back b/c they’re trying to save the people of 1870 from a steady stream of 21st-century visitors saying, “Look at my iPhone!” It was bad enough people in the Sepia Age had to deal with cholera and dysentery; they shouldn’t also have to deal with time-tripping jerks with selfie sticks. They didn’t get paid enough for that.)

“All well and good,” you say, “but summer is over. It’s the season when scooters get stowed in the back of the garage. Whaddya got for me for the coming cold winter?”

Ask and you shall receive, Bunky.


Unlike the scooter above, the Jumper appears to have been a commercial product, requiring things like braces and a steel runner — not the sorts of parts a kid was likely to have knocking around in the basement.

I also note the cost associated with the Jumper’s different height options. $3 to $5 in 1925 dollars is $41 to $68 in today’s money, if the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ online inflation calculator is to be believed.

That’s maybe not out of a parent’s reach, pre-Depression, but not an impulse buy either; one imagines plenty of western Massachusetts kids delivering the local paper in hopes of raising money for a Jumper.

Apparently Jumpers were fairly common then. A Google search for “the jumper” and “adams mass” turns up a news story from January 1930 in the North Adams Transcript newspaper. In the story, a man suffers a broken left arm and injury to an already crippled leg when he is hit by a kid riding a Jumper. The vehicle is mentioned with no apparent explanation, which suggests that anyone reading the story should have known what one was.

(Modern newspapers are famous for overexplaining stuff on the assumption that some reader, somewhere, lacks a relevant bit of background. That was perhaps not the case in 1930.)

Anyway, if you want to make a Jumper of your own, my grandfather has laid out all the relevant parts. Not sure what nostalgia-trip inspired him to take up his pencil, but he did.

I don’t see a steering mechanism here either, and a Jumper has enough solid wood in it to hurt anyone it runs into at speed. So if you build one of your own, be a good chap and don’t hit anybody, eh what?

Winter 1969: Ode.

Last week’s arcane journey into the world of instrumental intonation might have been the least-read thing I’ve ever written in this space.

I dunno … I thought it was interesting, but I guess I disappeared into the notes and staves a little too far.

So, for this installment, we’ll take things back to my grandpa and his interactions with the world around him.

The fodder for this post might be the most personal note of my grandpa’s I’ve ever posted. I found it in his previously mentioned journal of work and personal information. It’s possible no one besides my grandpa had ever seen it; I doubt he showed it to anybody.

Depending on how you interpret it, it shows a side of him Hope Street has never shown — bitter, disappointed, and maybe a little vulgar.

Hard-working man that he was, it was his job that set him off.


One of my grandpa’s two surviving journals includes a poem, torn from some sort of printed publication, called “Ode to a Draftsman.”

The poem, in rhyming doggerel, expresses the frustration of fixing all the company’s problems — only to have the solutions credited to people higher up on the totem pole. (No copy of the poem seems to exist on the Internet.)

At some point, my grandpa sat down and wrote his own ode to a draftsman’s weary, underappreciated lot … except that his dispensed entirely with rhyme and went straight for cynicism.

The “shoot in de pentz” ending could be some sort of lighthearted dialect joke — more on that in a second — but it doesn’t strike me that way.

I’m not sure if a “shoot in the pants” is a kick in the arse, a grab-the-belt-and-toss bum’s-rush, or something altogether coarser.

But to me, that detail is the key that sets the tone. Our narrator isn’t getting shown the door, or being put out to pasture, or some more genteel euphemism. He’s getting a raw deal, not at all in line with his years of contributions to the company.

I find it interesting that my grandpa wrote this in the sort of ethno-American dialect he might have heard as a child going to vaudeville shows. (It’s either overdone mock-Brooklynese, or five-years-off-the-boat German-American.)

Perhaps he intended that to be his alibi if anyone else ever read it: Oh, just a little doggerel. I was only being silly. Only joking.

Except I don’t think he was.

For one thing, he initialed it, as if to emphasize his authorship and approval. He didn’t have to; no one else ever wrote in that journal. But the initials at the end imply: This is my story.

I’m not sure when he wrote it, or who inspired it. It seems most likely to me that it dates to one of the following periods:

  • Sometime between mid-October 1969 — when longtime employer Time Inc. probably told him he was losing his job — and mid-January 1970, when he lost it. (I consider this the most likely time period, which is why I dated this post “winter 1969.”)
  • Sometime in September 1970, when his final employer, John C. McAdams and Sons, let him go. (I consider this less likely because he was only there for five months or so, and probably didn’t have a deep emotional connection to the place.)
  • Sometime in late 1970 or early 1971, when he was still seeking another job but couldn’t find one. (I’m not sure the tone of the poem quite supports this, but it’s a possibility, however distant.)

To me, the punning sketches up top also betray a concern about work. The journal has several pages with punny drawings — maybe we’ll get back to them in a future installment — but I think the idea of an “unemployed” clothesline came to him when unemployment was on his mind (even if he wasn’t quite there yet).

From a 21st-century point of view, it’s easy to interpret this as an ode not just to draftsmen, but to all skilled, higher-cost workers of about 55 or older who are starting to hear hints that it’s time to go put their feet up.

That will probably be me in about a dozen years. The thought of an impending future shoot in the pants has occurred to me before. And I expect it will cross my mind again on other Monday mornings, when I sit down at the desk to give wid mine head ideahs.

March 1963: Gimme an A.

We return to my grandpa’s journal of job-related facts and random trivia for another nugget.

I always enjoy finding some topic or trivia fact of my grandfather’s that interests me too.

The factoid about stacked Life magazines from my last post wasn’t really one of those; I don’t have a personal relationship with Life magazine.

I do have a personal relationship with music. I play it sometimes. I listen to it a lot. I like learning about the technical details of making it, and about the lightning flashes of creativity that also make it happen.

My grandpa was in the same place. So I imagine the tidbit at the heart of this post grabbed his brain in much the same way it grabbed mine, and inspired some of the same thoughts and questions:


Non-musical readers might wonder what the big deal is about the A note above middle C (as in, the middle of the piano keyboard). To them, it might seem like just one among the 88 notes on a standard piano.

That particular note has a special importance to musicians and those who build and tune instruments.

A at the frequency of 440 hertz has been endorsed (though not universally adopted — more on that later) as an international pitch standard for the tuning of instruments. It’s such a significant note, in fact, that it has its own Wikipedia entry.

Hundreds of years ago, there was no single tuning pitch, and the intonation of instruments could significantly vary even within the same city. The use of tuning forks did not help, as they were not all standardized at first.

There was also pressure over time to shift pitch upward. This favors stringed instruments (they sound “brighter” and more appealing at higher pitch) but challenges vocalists, who have to push to hit the notes.

Finally, movements arose in the 19th and 20th centuries to set a single consistent tuning pitch, known as “concert pitch.”

(The three preceding paragraphs are condensed from another Wiki entry on concert pitch, which fascinated me, and I think would have fascinated my grandfather if he’d had the chance to read it.)

# # # # #

This all might seem arcane; and indeed, it is possible to enjoy music without thinking much about concert pitch.

Rock bands, especially those without keyboard players, have long been known to tune to non-standard pitches, principally for the comfort of their singers.

My dad, the saxophonist-slash-engineer, points out that variations in concert pitch are more serious business to people who play wind instruments. A clarinetist in an orchestra that changes from 440 Hz to 442 might have to have his or her instrument altered, and a larger change might require the purchase of a new clarinet.

My dad adds: “Somehow a “sharper” sound is preferred by some folks.  If you get used to a sharper tuning, old tunings (like the baroque tunings which I suspect almost anyone can detect as significantly “flatter”) sound somehow more lugubrious and ponderous.”

So variation in concert pitch might be most noticeable to classical musicians who need to adjust to differing standards … and to classical fans who buy two recordings of their favorite piece by different orchestras, play them back-to-back, and notice a curious difference in pace and intonation.

To some classical listeners, concert pitch is more than a trivial interest: It can be a yardstick of whether a reissued recording is faithful to the original performance.

Check out this Stereophile magazine review from earlier this year, in which the reviewer retracts his earlier endorsement of a Cleveland Orchestra recording because the reissue is mastered to 445 Hz instead of 440 — rendering the recording faster and sharper than the real-life performance.

# # # # #

If you’re still reading, you’re probably wondering whether you can hear any difference in standard pitches. Let’s find out, shall we?

Here’s an A above middle C at 440 Hz …

… at 432 Hz …

… at 442 Hz …

… and at 415 Hz.

If you have trouble hearing the difference — or just want to have some fun — try running two of the pitches at the same time. You should hear audible “beats” between the two pitches.

# # # # #

I’m not sure my grandpa knew the full, convoluted history of concert pitch.

If he had, he might not have been so struck by the Metropolitan Opera’s adoption of 442 Hz as a “new standard,” because he would have known that 440 Hz was by no means universal.

Although 440 Hz was endorsed as a U.S. standard in the late ’30s and an international standard in 1955, some major orchestras here and abroad continued to use concert pitches as high as 443 Hz — and still do.

Other sources argue for the use of 432 Hz, claiming it is more soothing and attuned to the spheres. (This post is long enough already so I’m not going any deeper into that, but you can Google it if you want.)

And those who play period instruments have adopted different concert pitches for different uses, which go as low as 415 Hz and as high as 470. (The low end of this range is the “baroque” tuning mentioned by my dad a couple hundred words ago.)

In August 1971, Time magazine — my grandpa’s former employer, and one of his favorite news sources — reported on the disagreement in an article titled “The Pitch Game.” I can’t read the whole thing without subscribing, but I’m sure it fascinated him, and I’m sure it reminded him of the nugget he’d written down in his notebook eight years earlier.

My dad suggests my grandpa took notice of the whole subject not because it affected his listening habits, but for other reasons:

I think he was generally interested in what he considered significant changes to standards in the world.  I think a pitch change might have been in the same ballpark as leaving the gold standard, replacing the voting machine, changing the size or makeup of a baseball, making a penny out of steel instead of copper (1943), these sorts of things.

# # # # #

 I found this subject interesting as well, 980 words ago.

But now I feel like cleaning out my brain with a little 4′ 33″. That doesn’t require adherence to any particular concert pitch.

Wonder if my grandpa ever heard of John Cage?

Time fades away.

No deep truths about my grandpa this week; just an errand that I think he would have enjoyed, even if it made him shake his head in disbelief.

Time Inc. will probably show up with some frequency in the remaining installments of Hope Street.

As mentioned last week, one of the new documents my folks unearthed is a journal in which my grandpa jotted down technical and scientific tidbits — mostly related to his job with Henry Luce’s magazine colossus.

This week we focus on a nugget that was almost certainly fed him by the company PR department. I do not think he figured it out himself — not because he wasn’t capable, but because he didn’t show his work, and he was a thorough sort.


America’s weekly photo magazine was either on its way up when my grandpa wrote this undated entry, or on its way down.

The former is more likely. If Wiki is to be believed, Life’s circulation at one point soared as high as 13.5 million copies per week, and it was still printing 8.5 million copies a week as late as 1971 — the year before the classic version of the magazine ended its print run.

Measuring this week’s print run of Life, of course, is no more possible than measuring this week’s Nielsen rating for The Ed Sullivan Show. After being rebooted as a monthly magazine and a newspaper insert, the once-omnipresent rectangular red nameplate is no more.

(The Life name might still be used for those cheesy commemorative/”collectible” issues you see at grocery checkout counters. I don’t look closely at those so I don’t know for sure.)

Anyway, I decided to adapt this note to the year 2015, using a surviving stallion from the Time Inc. stable, and solve the kind of riddle my grandpa would have enjoyed turning his pencil to:

If all the issues of this week’s printing of Time magazine were piled one on top of another, how high would the pile reach?

Various sources, including Wiki, put Time’s 2014 paid circulation at roughly 3.29 million. I’ll round that up to a nice neat 3.3 million to make the math easier. (Time is, Wiki says, the nation’s second-most widely circulated weekly magazine, trailing only People.)

I will also assume “paid circulation” is acceptably equal to one week’s print run. Scholars of the print biz — and I know there is at least one in the crowd — can correct me if that is wrong, and I’ll redo the math.

The difficult part of the equation is measuring the height of a typical issue of Time: Like a $2 chicken dinner, it doesn’t stack up like it used to. My father suggested a micrometer might be needed to do the trick.

He stopped subscribing a few years ago. But in the name of science, he brought a ruler to his local library on my behalf and — while using his quiet voice, I’m sure — measured the height of the July 27 issue:

One-sixteenth of an inch.

So, then. 3.3 million copies multiplied by .0625 (that’s one-sixteenth) would make a stack 206,250 inches tall.

Divide that by 63,360 (the number of inches in a mile), and we find that one week’s stack of Times would measure slightly less than 3.26 miles high.

Not quite so impressive, is it? Hell, I can jog three-and-a-quarter miles. (Maybe not straight up.)

If you want to compare today’s Time with yesterday’s Life, that 22-mile stack of Lifes equaled 1,393,920 inches. If 7 million stacked issues of Life stretched 1,393,920 inches tall, then each issue stood roughly two-tenths of an inch high, back in the day.

(If your gut response to all this is to point out that an actual stack of millions of magazines would be shorter, because the weight and compression exerted on the issues would lead to measurable reduction in many of their heights, I will mail you a quarter, along with directions to the sense-of-humor shop.)

Unlike the Life days — when that 22-mile stack represented the magazine’s entire reach — today’s Time has an online presence as well. I’m sure there are well-paid industry consultants who can magic up a “formula” for how improbably high my Time-stack would be if I took online readers into account.

No matter. My grandpa would not be impressed by the state of today’s publishing industry. A stack three-and-a-quarter miles high might not even have impressed him enough to jot down in his notebook.

That’s life.

Mystery train.

As you might have guessed from my previous posts, I have a thing for New England.

Both of my parents and three of my four grandparents were born there. I went to college there; lived there for almost seven years afterward; and have gnashed my teeth a thousand times about my decision to move among the pierogi- and polka-loving people of Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley.

There is plenty in the Lehigh Valley to like, and more arrives each year. But we all define ourselves to ourselves in our own ways … and in my heart of hearts, I am a New Englander. Preferably a Masshole, but other states would do.

(It’s true that both sides of my family settled on just about the southwesternmost crag of New England, firmly in the shadows of New York City. But our roots in the region run deeper than that, deep enough to support my personal mythmaking.)

A fat man at the Quabbin Reservoir, winter 1998.

A fat man at the Quabbin Reservoir, winter 1998. Only true New Englanders visit the Quabbin Reservoir. I miss those sideburns.

My folks recently found some interesting journals kept by my grandpa — the same dude who kept the calendars. (These journals will provide much of the fodder for future installations of Hope Street, and I’ll describe them more as we go.)

The entry I’ll look at this week raised a question that shook me to my imaginary granite foundations:

What if, instead of New England, my grandparents had settled in the Lehigh Valley … and instead of building memories at 1107 Hope St., I’d spent my childhood vacations going to Forks Township or Catasauqua Borough or someplace?

Heck, what if I’d lived here all my life, and New England meant nothing more to me than some dusty branches on the family tree?

The mind reels.

Click to see larger.

Click to see larger.

I found this entry in a scientific and technical journal kept by my grandpa. He used it to record information useful to his job as a draftsman, as well as random scientific tidbits he found interesting.

It’s undated — and the entries seem to hop around in time, so there’s no clear way to identify when this was written.

But it seems that my grandpa came to the Lehigh Valley decades before I did, taking the Lehigh Valley Railroad to visit a company in the city of Easton, on the New Jersey border.

I don’t know much about his destination. Sheridan Machine Company is one of those companies whose name only shows up in obituaries, and not always recent ones.

A post on a railroad forum mentions a Sheridan Machine in Easton, but says it was “gone by the ’70s,” and the nearest train line is now a paved bike path. It’s possible I’ve been on that path without knowing it.

All I know for sure about this train ride is that it happened after my grandpa moved to Stamford from Springfield, Mass. (roughly around 1941), but before the Lehigh Valley road ended passenger operations (roughly 1961, if Wikipedia is correct). I’d bet pretty strongly on the early end of that spectrum.

Of course, I wonder whether he went to the Lehigh Valley for a job interview, which would have changed family history.

My grandpa didn’t settle at Time Inc. in Stamford, his largest and longest-lasting employer, until 1946. Before that, he worked for a company in Bridgeport that he must not have liked that much, because he only stayed there four years.

It’s possible — maybe remotely possible, but possible — that this trip came during a time in his life when he was checking out his options.

If he’d gotten a job here, my parents, who grew up and met in Stamford, might never have crossed paths. And whatever version of me ended up getting born might have grown up coming to the Lehigh Valley for my vacations, instead of Connecticut, and thinking of Easton as my home away from home.

(Heck, I might even have grown up here. My folks didn’t settle in their shared hometown of Stamford after marrying because it was an expensive place to live. That would not have been an issue for a young couple with roots in Allentown, Bethlehem or Easton.)

It’s also possible that the train trip was solely for business purposes. Perhaps my grandpa’s employer at the time was considering doing business with the company in Easton, and my grandpa was part of a traveling party going to check out their facilities and capabilities.

That doesn’t necessarily make sense either, though.

If he’d traveled on the company’s behalf, the company would probably have made his arrangements, and he wouldn’t have taken such precise note of the details. (Don’t I wish I could ride the train from Easton to Stamford for $8 today? Or the train from Easton to anywhere?)

Also, my grandpa was never a boss, as far as I know. I’m not sure he would have been in a position to be an “insider” on any kind of business deal. People higher up would have made those decisions.

So, I’ll never know what brought my grandfather to Easton.

All I know for sure is it was a round trip … and that, perhaps, I owe part of who I am to that ticket home.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go eat a Hoodsie cup.