July 2012

It is always intriguing to scan through old pamphlets from yesteryear that offer household hints and work savers to help consumers beat the high cost of living. They vividly reveal how life has changed over the years. One publication from 1957 gives helpful advice for operating an automobile. I have paraphrased the comments for brevity:

Make sure your car is in good shape before taking a trip. For outings of less than 100 miles, take the car in for an oil change, get it lubricated and have the tires, battery and radiator checked. For an extended journey, also check the brakes, steering wheel, lights, horn, windshield wipers, mirrors, exhaust system, ignition system, wiring and fuel system.

The temperature gauge should read between 170 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Since fuel burns at 4000 degrees, if the cooling system isn’t working properly, extreme heat could damage the pistons, cylinder walls and other engine parts. 

The radiator necessitates being flushed twice each year – when replacing antifreeze in the spring and when adding to it in the fall. The fan belt needs to be checked to ensure it is not loose. If it is, it should be tightened; if frayed, it must be replaced. A belt that does not work properly wastes gasoline, causing cylinders to score and leave the traveler with an undercharged battery.

Look under the hood for any worn or frayed wiring. Since lacquer protects car wiring, apply a coat or two of clear liquid to exposed wiring, particularly near the engine. This will prolong the life of the wiring by protecting it from acids and moisture.

Examine the heater hose to ensure that it is not rubbing anything. Hoses as well as wiring should be located as far from hot engine parts as possible. Brakes need checking anytime the car pulls to the right or left. Both front brakes should be inspected, regardless in which direction it is pulling.

Lubricate the car every 1000 miles. This can save money in terms of added power, better gasoline mileage, longer bearing life and many other less tangible results. Another special tip is to keep the gasoline tank full to prevent condensation from forming and contaminating the fuel. (Imagine doing that today.)

Excessive oil consumption can often be traced to an over-zealous gas-station attendant who fills the crankcase above the recommended level. It is important that the oil level be kept between the “add” and “full” marks, not above or below them.

Never race a cold engine because this burns gasoline and increases motor wear. During the first 10 minutes of travel, operate it slowly, shifting from low to second at 10 mph and from second to high at 25 mph. If you have an automatic transmission, let the motor run a while before driving the car.

Use the choke sparingly if your car is equipped with one. Since too much choking can consume up to four times as much gas as the engine needs, never leave the choke knob out farther or longer than is necessary to get the engine running evenly.

Make it a point to always start, drive and stop smoothly. Fast acceleration wastes gas as does pumping the accelerator when waiting at a traffic light or stop sign. Hard braking does the same thing. It causes you to waste fuel by needlessly accelerating too fast for conditions under which you are driving.

Finally, a weak spark plug may prevent complete combustion of the fuel. To prevent this, have spark plugs, distributor points, battery ignition coil, wiring and connections checked regularly.

The helpful hints suggested in the 1957 booklet should make us thankful for the improvements our cars have undergone over the years. Automotive maintenance has certainly come a long way in the last 55 years.

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Wednesday, November 19, 1924 was a long-awaited day for Johnson Citians because the Great Houdini, known as “the greatest living ‘mystifier’ on earth,” was performing that evening on the stage of the DeLuxe (later renamed Tennessee) Theatre.

The Deluxe, located at 148 W. Main Street at Boone Street, was a beautiful relatively new complex with a massive 30-foot stage, 12 dressing rooms, an elaborately decorated balcony, 8 guest boxes, and 1250 plush seats. The highly functional building initially hosted vaudeville acts but later featured movies and live stage shows.

One of those live performances was 50-year-old Harry Houdini. He became celebrated for such antics as releasing his body from iron chains, handcuffs, triple locked police cells, bank vaults with the time locks set and padlocked tanks of water. He seemed to defy death with each performance.

A full-page advertisement from the Johnson City Chronicle stated: “Can the dead speak to the living?” Houdini will answer privately or publicly any rational question on the subject. Bring your family and let them find out how spirits are brought back to earth. Marvelous. Wonderful. Mystifying. You Cannot Afford to Miss It.”

Tickets, which sold for $.50, $.75, $1.00 and $1.50, were available from Crouch’s Book Store (217 E. Main Street, later site of Betty Gay, ladies’ department store), Savoy Drug Co. (207 E. Main, future site of Parks-Belk, department store) and by members of the Professional and Business Women’s Clubs. The show was sponsored by the latter group as well as U.C.T. (United Commercial Travelers, an insurance company). When the big stage curtain was opened, a sizable crowd was on hand to greet the famed magician.

Houdini’s act consisted of lecture, audience interaction and an escape routine. He became a champion of exposing trickery employed by fake spiritualistic mediums. By using simple paraphernalia, he showed his audience how the so-called “spiritualistic phenomenon” was nothing more than clever tricks and sleight of hand movements.

During Houdini’s lecture, “Can the Dead Speak to the Living?” he talked about a lady known as Margery (Mina Crandon), a well-known medium from Boston who became obsessed by séances. She was under consideration for a $2500 prize from Scientific American magazine for her work to demonstrate “telekinetic ability under scientific controls.” Several famous people attended her meetings and supported her for the honor, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini. The latter, however, later proclaimed her as a fraud and made her a favorite target of his lectures.

Houdini then opened the floor for questions and was propounded with subjects such as hypnotism, supernatural acts reported by scientific men, astrology and kindred topics. The noted speaker readily answered the issues by offering facts and figures that showed the mechanical, as opposed to paranormal, means by which results were accomplished. He conducted a séance with certain participants and explained how it was done using deception. 

Before the show came to a finale, Houdini gave his patrons what they anticipated – a chance to escape from a straight jacket. He appropriately called two Johnson City police officers, Chief M.C. Brown and Officer E.K. Jensen, to the stage to tightly fasten the jacket about his body. The audience watched intently as the famed performer methodically accomplished his liberation.

Houdini died two years later in 1926. Ironically, his followers held an annual séance every year for ten years on the anniversary of his death atop the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood, California, but the departed Harry communicated not a word to them. In 1936, his wife, Bess, halted the fruitless tradition.

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Glenn Stroup asked me if I would write a column about Warren Weddle, Science Hill High School’s former colorful band director. Since I was not in the band, Glenn became my primary source of information.

According to the former band member, Warren once played in a dance band in Chicago as a professional drummer, which explains why he was so successful in teaching percussion to local musicians such as George Buda, Gene Young, Jerry Doyle, Bob Byrd, Bobby Joe Tipton and others. Over the years, he retained his dexterity and coordination to the extent that he could play four different rhythms at the same time with his hands and feet.

Glenn remembered that Mr. Weddle was somewhat absent-minded, probably because he was usually thinking about the next thing he had to do. He taught Junior High School students in the morning and then cruised down the street to Science Hill High School in the afternoon. Since band instruments were so expensive, especially the more exotic ones like the oboe or bassoon, it became necessary for students to use school-owned instruments at both schools. Warren would routinely cram them into his car and transport them from one site to the other.

On one occasion, the bandleader left his car parked at Junior High and walked down Roan Street to “The Hill.” He usually asked several of the first boys to show up for band practice to carry in the instruments for him. His tendency to forget where he parked his car led to practical jokes by some of the male pranksters. They would drive his car around to the front of the school, leave it there and then fib to him that they couldn't find it. Obviously that was good for only a few times before the band director caught on to their revelry. He was subject to numerous other practical jokes primarily because he was such a good sport. His students loved him.

The Weddles never had children; perhaps Warren figured that his students were his kids. He was a good listener and became a friend as well as a mentor to his students. The Weddles owned a small dog that went everywhere with them. The animal rode in the front passenger seat, while Mrs. Weddle sat in the back. Her reason was that she didn't want to get dog hairs on her clothes.

The director always had a “show” band” versus a “drill band,” meaning that the band’s halftime performance had a theme and was new every week. He often used current popular tunes of that day, which required loads of work orchestrating the music. He wrote the music for all instruments and distributed it to his students at the beginning of the week. To make copies for them, he used the infamous “Ditto” machine (a “spirit duplicator) that many of us still recall. It used an odorous gel purple substance (not ink) with purple color.

Mr. Weddle also had a penchant for wooden batons (the type with a cork handle or similar substance). He had a less-than-desirable habit of chewing on them if things were not going well. One day someone dipped the tip of the baton in the Ditto colorant and by end of the class, Warren’s lips had turned lavender.

“I had tremendous respect and admiration for Mr. Weddle,” said Stroup, “and I still fondly remember him after 60 years since graduation. I respected him as a person, not just for the tremendous knowledge and skill he possessed as a teacher and musician.”

Let me conclude with my vivid memory of the bandleader. I rarely missed a downtown Johnson City parade. Warren had the curious habit of walking briskly on the sidewalk keeping up with his SHHS band and, at the same time, maneuvering carefully through the spectators without knocking anyone down. I suppose he saw this as a valuable opportunity to evaluate the marching and playing skills of his musicians.

Glenn is delighted that his memories of his favorite band director are appearing in the newspaper. I am sure others have fond recollections of Mr. Weddle.

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Today’s column is a collection of blurbs taken from the Johnson City Chronicle in mid August 1927. The city’s population that year was 25,000, with a trading population estimated at 200,000.   

The city limits enclosed 7.2 square miles with 45 miles of asphalt-paved streets, 80 miles of graded macadam and 68 miles of cement sidewalks. The State Normal School had 35 teachers for 1,550 students; Milligan College operated with 14 faculty members and 250 undergraduates.

Free Service Tire Company (phone number 5158) had an interesting advertisement entry using a 4 by 6 inch block interestingly titled, “The Blowout, Vol. 1, No. 29.” The ad was published every Thursday in the interest of Johnson City motorists by the Free Service Tire Company, Dan Wexler, Editor:

“In time of famine, the Eskimos have been known to eat leather, bones and almost anything except Eskimo Pie.

“Speaking of cooling subjects – the Walker Coal and Ice Company, who run their vehicles winter and summer, use Goodyear tires on their trucks.

“The ladies who dress in the latest style don’t have any trouble keeping cool this summer.

“Mrs. Doc. Lamb (wife of Dr. John Lamb, a dentist), who not only knows style but also the disadvantage of changing tires in this hot weather, just purchased four Goodyear Tires for her Dodge Sedan.

“Motorist: ‘I’m sorry I ran over your hen. Will a dollar make it right?’ Farmer: ‘Better make it two. One of my roosters was mighty fond of that hen and the shock might kill him.’

“A real good time can’t be bought or planned; it just happens.

“The fellow who buys cheap tires may be figuring on having a good time, but he will no doubt have a hot one.

“Don’t spend more than you take in. Then you’ll not have to worry about higher accountancy.

“Charlie Hunter (cashier, Unaka and City National Bank) who knows a little about accountancy also knows a lot about buying tires. He uses Kelly Heavy Duty Tires.

“’The old gray hair ain’t what she used to be,’ said the dear old lady as she finished dying her hair.”

Another item from that edition noted that Harry Range of Range Motor Company said that the greatest problem of automotive engineers was to design motors that would achieve greater fuel economy. The latest claim by the Dodge Brothers Company was that its new 4-cylindar cars, driven at 25-miles-per-hour, were capable of running 25 miles on a gallon of gas. Several unique features of the car’s design were credited for the exceptional fuel economy.  

An additional note says about 75 “newsies” (carriers of the Johnson City Chronicle and Staff-News) were complimentary guests of the John Robinson Circus at the big tent show on Keystone Field that Thursday night. The circus held a clever contest offering complimentary tickets if newspaper readers would cut out a piece of a puzzle in subsequent editions of the paper that week, put them together to form a whole picture, identify it and then submit it to the newspaper.

 The H & C Grocery Company, owned by H. C. Hows, located at the corner of 301 W. Walnut Street at Buffalo (phone 686) had a rather large ad: “What do you need today in the grocery line? We have a complete stock of all the finest brands of fruits, vegetables, staples and canned goods. … The delicious flavors of our meats call for a second helping. We take pride in offering the very highest quality obtainable.”

Finally, the police blotter contained the notice of an individual living with his uncle in Cash Hollow. He was arrested by Sheriff Dan France and Deputy Thomas Howell on a charge of stealing and was taken to Blountville for detention. The robbery occurred at the Tom Childress Store on Horse Creek.

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