Monday, February 29, 2016

A picture in need of a humourous caption

Feel free to leave your submission in the comments section below!

Vanished tool makers: A.E. Shearer & Co., Sheffield, England

Above, a pair of tweezers made by this British firm. Although predecessor firms under the Shearer name operated in Sheffield from the 1860's, A.E. Shearer itself did business from the 1920's through the 1950's out of a location on Broomhall Street.  It's principle product was sheep shearing equipment but it also made auger bits (a very competitive area of the market back in those days) and scissors. The tweezers may have been an attempt to diversify as demand for their primary product declined.

Interesting that a firm named Shearer made, well, shearers.  Coincidence?

Below, from ebay:

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The steamer Grand Republic

John Maass; The Gingerbread Age, Bramhall House 1957

Gingerbread run amuck. This is the Grand Salon of the Mississippi steamboat Grand Republic. We don't build like this any more.

Fleet Aircraft

Ron Page and William Cumming, Fleet, The Flying Years. Boston Mills Press, 1990
Fleet aircraft on display at the Cleveland Air Show, September 1929. 
Major Reuben Fleet started the Consolidated Aircraft Company in 1923. Five years later a wholly owned subsidiary, the Fleet Aircraft Co. was formed to manufacture a trainer that the company had been developing. In order to to avoid US export regulations the plan was to build airplanes in Canada. Although Fleet Aircraft of Canada had been organized, at this point the construction of the factory had not even been started.

Giant Bridge toy, 1974

Better Homes and Gardens 1974.  Christmas Ideas.
I would have loved this as a kid!  Think of what you could do with toy soldiers and tanks!

Aikenhead Hardware Limited, Toronto, Ontario

Canadian Machinery, 1909

Joseph Ridout started his hardware store in Toronto in 1830.  Born in County Kilkenny, Ireland, James Aikenhead joined the firm as a junior clerk in 1847. When he and Alexander Crombie became partners in 1866, their names were added to the corporate masthead:

Aikenhead's son bought out his father's partners in 1893, and his name alone remained on the storefront.  (James Aikenhead died in 1903 at the age of 87.) The company prospered and expanded, opening a subsidary company known as Hobbs Hardware Limited in London, Ontario.  By 1960, the firm had 22 Ontario outlets and annual sales of $22 million.  In 1965 Aikenheads's purchased the hardware chain of the Russell Hardware Company Limited.  

The main Toronto store had to move several times to accommodate its growing customer base, finally ending up at 17 Temperance Street in 1905.  (They also occupied the former factory of the Comet Bicycle Company on Adelaide Street).  The Temperance Street store eventually offered six floors of merchandising, ranging from tacks to tractors. You could buy a single screw if you wanted.  The location remained the company's head office until 1963.

Canadian Machinery, 1913
In 1971, the family sold the business to the Molson Brewery concern, which went on to acquire the Beaver Lumber chain one year later.  Apparently, the beer barons thought they could operate a big hardware chain.  By 1992, Molson's had pared the Aikenhead's chain down to a single store in downtown Toronto and launched Aikenhead's Improvement Warehouse Inc. with outlets in Ontario, Alberta & BC.  Molson's eventually got out of the biz, selling 75 percent interest in the company to Home Depot in 1994, and the remainder of the equity in 2000. This was the end of the road for Aikenhead's. As an article in the New York Times put it, Home Depot "will convert all the Aikenhead's stores to Home Depots, replacing their turquoise signs with the bright orange colors of Home Depot."

Molson's exited this market entirely in 1999, when it sold Beaver Lumber to Home Hardware.  Of course, Molson's is now Molson-Coors.  Let's raise a glass to them.  Not. 

Sidecar Sunday

Egli Comet?

Seen at the Paris Vintage meet in 2014. Looks like a Vincent Comet engine, Egli-type frame and a  Norton front end.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Mr. Chips

Canadian Workshop, March 1979

Above, a Black & Decker ad promoting the Mr. Chips program on CBC TV.

According to, Mr. Chips was produced at CFCF-TV in Montreal.  From 1973 to 1978, Mr. Chips was portrayed by Bill Brown.  (There's a short youtube video of him.)  When he retired, he was replaced by Jon Eakes who claims he got the position because " there were not too many English speaking cabinet makers without German accents in Montreal." (Sorry, Arnold.)  Jon continued as Mr. Chips, staying on after it was renamed You Can Do It in 1980.  From 1986 on, he hosted Renovation Zone, then from 1996 the House Hot Line on the Life Network, as well as Just Ask Jon Eakes on HGTV Canada and the DIY Network in the US from 1997 to 2005.  As a result, he claims to be "the longest, still-standing, TV Home Improvement guy in North America!"  Author of Fine Tuning Your Radial Arm Saw, he now has his own website:  Ask Jon Eakes. It's a very useful source of info and videos about woodworking tools and techniques.

"Mr. Fix-It": Peter Whittall

(The photographer for the book, Geoffrey Frazer, was an interesting character in his own right.  I can't find any information on "Hollett.")

With "Miss Formica", 1960's
Whittall at his home in Richmond Hill, Ontario.

Peter Whittall was born in Toronto in 1907, but moved to rural Manitoba with his family.  There, he got a job with the CBC writing a daily soap opera and reporting on farm issues.  In 1950, he was transferred to Toronto, where he continued to be assigned the farm beat.  His hobby of fixing things got him noticed by one of the producers of Living, which aired on CBLT, the new CBC TV station on Channel 9.  On that program, he demonstrated crafts and simple home repairs. When Living was rolled up, Whittall was offered his own 15-minute time slot as "Mr. Fix-It" alongside Rex Loring as the show's host. (Loring went on to spend two decades as the co-host of CBC's early morning radio program, World Report.) Whittall broke the mold of TV personality dress by wearing plaid shirts and dungarees. Given the short length of each episode, Whittall was restricted to demonstrating basic home construction and repair tasks that could be accomplished with simple tools.  The show first aired in October 1955 and ran until June 1965.  For the first five seasons, it was broadcast on Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. (Eastern) but then the episodes were moved to Wednesdays at 7:45 p.m.  This was the age of TV makes like Silvertone, Sparton, Phillips, Electrohome, Marconi, RCA, Admiral, GE, Philco, Emerson and Zenith and the show ran alongside such others as Razzle Dazzle, Chez Helene, Red Skelton, Front Page Challenge, Peter Gunn, 77 Sunset Strip, Perry Mason, Country Hoedown, Sea Hunt, Juliette, Ed Sullivan, Don Messer and Bonanza.  In addition to his first Handyman's Manual which he self-published in 1958.  He was a big fan of the radial arm saw, and I've uploaded his 4-page chapter on this power tool: The Radial Arm Power Workshop.  He added two additional Handyman Manuals in 1959 and 1960. He also had a radio show, "Whittall's Workshop."  Peter Whittall passed away in 1974 at the relatively young age of 67.

The only video I can find of Mr. Whittall is from CBC Archives from 1962.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Airship California Arrow, 1905

A year after the Wright brothers made their first flight, T S Baldwin engaged Glenn Curtiss to design and build a lightweight engine for his dirigible. He used the combination to beat a Pope Toledo (the fastest car on the west coast at the time) in a race from Chutes Park, Los Angeles to Pasadena. 
He later sold the California Arrow to the US Government, this being their first aircraft purchase.

Universal Motor-Rad

Universal was a Swiss motorcycle company in business from 1928 till 1964, whose products sold under the Helvetia name.I can't find much else on the company but i like the poster!

Calculating a cord of wood

The Canadian Educator for Home and School Use.  Toronto:  The Iroquois Press, 1932.
J.L. Nichols,  A.M.  The Business Guide; ...or...Safe Methods of Business.  Standard Edition.  Naperville, Illinois:  J.L. Nichols & Company, 1906.  First copyright 1886.
J.L. Nichols,  A.M.  The Business Guide; ...or...Safe Methods of Business.  Standard Edition.  Naperville, Illinois:  J.L. Nichols & Company, 1906.  First copyright 1886.

As my primary heat source is firewood, this information is actually still handy!  Well, maybe not the rate per cord.

It's interesting that, in the second example above, stove wood was calculated differently than fire wood. I don't know where the "divide by 32" rule comes from. Seems like a rip-off to me.  Also, notice the "cord foot" in the top illustration.  It measured 4' X 1' X 4', equivalent to 1/8 of a full cord, or 16 cubic feet.  I haven't seen this unit used in my neck of the woods. In contrast, folks around here do sell "face cords" which measure 4' X 8' X 16", equivalent to 1/3 of a full cord or 42.6 cubic feet.

The search for a better adjustable wrench

Over the years, inventors have attempted to improve the adjustable wrench.  In particular, there has been an effort to devise a wrench that puts pressure on more than just 2 flats of the bolt head or nut.

Above, a Craftsman 43380 "pocket socket" adjustable wrench.  It is clearly designed to apply force to 4 flats, and also to be applicable in tighter spaces than would permit the use of a conventional Cresent-type adjustable wrench.  It was patented by Richard Cone of Dayton, Ohio in 1990, who assigned the patent to the Midwest Tool and Cutlery Company (today, Midwest Snips).  This firm apparently made it for Sears, which offered it in four sizes (6, 8, 10 and 12 inches) from 1997 to 2001.  It's not a particularly useful design, and I expect it wasn't a big seller.  It also has a very poor finish.  I hung mine on a pegboard in a shed where I store firewood, and discovered the wrench a few months later totally frosted with rust.  Cleaning it off on the wire wheel completely removed the label.  As the saying goes, expect less from Sears.

Below, a Crescent RapidRench, which boasts a "7/8-inch adjustable jaw opening to accommodate 38 different bolt/nut sizes."  How they came up with 38 sizes is beyond me.  Anyway, it's still available, now with serrated jaws.  I've never had an occasion to use mine.

Finally, my most recent thrift-store find, a Chinese-made CHL wrench.  It was patented in the U.S. in 1995 by Chung-Hshing Chang of the Taiwan Province of China.  I think it's a brilliant design, well thought-out, even to the arrow marks which relate the movement of knurled nut to the advancement of the screw acting as a jaw.  It puts pressure on 3 sides of the fastener head, applying the force in a very positive fashion.  I have been unable to find any reference to this tool on the web.  Curious.