Category Archives: Historic Technology

Progress on the MH&D Railroad

It looks like we’ll be laying track on the McGuire-Henkel-and-Dunbar railroad next spring. For a railroad staffed by a sort-of retired guy, I think it is on schedule. Shown here is the current progress. The landscape blocks shown form the embankment for an elevated fill. With the elevation, we can work on the construction of miniature gardening features from a comfortable height, and protect it all from other activities in the yard.

At this point, I have placed 162 retaining wall blocks. At 61 pounds each, I’ve handled 9,900 pounds of blocks. That’s just a brag, but I’m enjoying the work. It’s nice to be able. In the excavation above you can see the beginning of a curve to close in the area. It will remain open until the majority of the fill is done. Wheelbarrowing the 20-plus cubic yards of fill does not appeal to me, so I anticipate renting a skid steer loader for a day. I think I have a source for free fill. The fill currently in the west end is from a “small” excavation at our neighbors place, where they created a level area for an above-ground pool. They delivered it to the backyard one wheelbarrow at a time, and I appreciate it!

The conduit shown above is pre-planning for low voltage electrical and water supplies. Most of that riser will be covered with fill dirt.

For the east end of the area, we are planning for a bridge to complete the basic oval. The bridge will span about 4 feet. That’s 90 scale feet for the G-scale layout. At the bridge I anticipate a waterfall, creek, and pond. The picture here shows something similar – without the waterfall!

That’s a bit more ambitious, than our layout area, but the bridge does inspire.

To be continued…

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Just Like Downtown

Dad was someone who was known as a practical man.   He could get things done, and was always looking for the better way to do whatever needed to be done.   That better way generally involved Yankee ingenuity, and machines.

1960s: Harvey McGuire (Dad) in the meter shop at Pacific County PUD ( Public Utility District)

This morning I was particularly missing Dad, as he would have enjoyed my project of the morning.   I’m not much of a machinist, but my capabilities have been growing, since I acquired and rehabilitated a 1950’s Atlas metal lathe.   I bought it out of interest, and also because it could occasionally be useful in piano rebuilding.   But why an old Atlas lathe that needed some fix up instead of something  new?   Because that’s what Dad would have done.   As a matter of fact, he once acquired a small fixer-upper Atlas lathe.  Unfortunately that fix-up never happened.  He just  didn’t get around to it.   So when I bought the lathe it was for the both of us!

I’m becoming more familiar with the lathe, and this morning I enjoyed a new project making adjustable pedal rods for the 1918 Knabe grand piano I’m working on.   The commercial versions weren’t quite right, and … well … I had the lathe!

A custom, adjustable pedal rod. Top post and nut are fabricated from 1/2″ hexagonal stock. 5/16″ brass rod.

If Dad had been here, it would have been fun, and I know exactly what he would have said.   He’d gently turn that rod in his massive hands, nod his head and say, “Well, that’s just like downtown.”

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A first metal lathe project

I work in wood.  But for years I’ve wanted to get into the machinist’s world too.   A few months ago I “ran across” a 1950s  Craftsman/Atlas lathe that I couldn’t resist.   Until last week it sat in the shop waiting for me.  Now after cleaning the lathe, doing minor repairs, watching hours of Youtube instructionals,  poring over old manuals, and buying doo-dads, I’ve completed my first project.  I’m pretty darned pleased.

It’s a tool gizmo, recognizable to piano technicians.

Piano wire coil winder

Piano wire coil winder

Piano wire coil winder

Piano wire coil winder

Craftsman/Atlas 12 inch lathe (1950s)

Craftsman/Atlas 12 inch lathe (1950s)

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Thoughts on Smoke Stacks

Sometimes I think I was born 70 years too late.  70 years too late to participate first hand in the excitement of the industrial age.  Every day, though,  I touch work that was created decades ago, and have the opportunity to behold the  craftsmanship and industrial techniques of piano manufacturing. The work that I do today, rebuilding old instruments, is the same work that was done by original craftsmen decades ago.

As I work, I frequently run across lithographs of piano manufacturing facilities – sometimes stenciled inside a piano lid, and sometimes in historical marketing materials and ephemera. Always, I find these industrial lithographs to be ironic when viewed against today’s  environmental strictures.  All of the representations of factories show very active smokestacks. It would seem that the smoke, which could have been edited out, was prominent because the smoke implied industrious productivity!


Sometimes I think I was born 70 years too late!  But I did come along at the back end of the industrial age. From Riverdale elementary school in Raymond, Washington when I attended from 1958 to 1962, the expansive south-facing windows provided a fine view of the Weyerhauser mill across the river. I could freely daydream from my hard wooden desk watching the smoke patterns against the occasionally blue sky.


Later, when I was in high school, I washed the sidewalks of soot and sawdust in front of The Dennis Company every Saturday morning. One of the old timers in town came by one day and asked if I knew what I was cleaning up! “Sure,” I said, “dirt”.

“No,” he said, “that’s Pay Dirt!”. I learned something about industrial era economics and attitudes from the old guy. He knew, even though I did not, that all that soot and sawdust meant paychecks for everyone in town.

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New Tech meets Old Tech

I’m a technologist.  And sometimes I have more fun with old technology than new technology.  For seven or eight years we’ve been without a landline phone, and that works pretty well — until the owner of the phone is upstairs and the phone is downstairs.  In an effort to expand our phone availability, I went looking for new technology, and found the bluetooth gateways for cell phones can be pretty cool!  The device shown below, connects to the wired phone lines in the house, and when one or both of our smart phones are nearby with bluetooth on,  all the phones in the house ring.

That worked out well, and I wired some more phone jacks in the house. We now have three wired phones. But when I built the shop, I didn’t wire it for phone. Well it’s wired now, and enter old technology:

The shop has a phone! I value the old power equipment that I have and operate in the shop, and I thought it fitting to have a phone of the same vintage. This particular phone is the Western Electric “space saver” model, from the 1940s. And today it is working again and ringing when I’m home and you call my cell phone! I found this one on eBay, and it was the exact model I sought, because it is the same model that hung on the wall of the kitchen in Raymond when I was a tot. It was replaced with a white plastic wall phone that had a dialer! Our phone number was 278R. When you picked up the phone to call first you checked to see if the party line was free, then the operator would say, “Number, please”. So at this point the shop phone is incoming only. It has a dial tone, but no dialer. Ryan has suggested that the ultimate marriage of old tech and new tech would be to hook it up to a PBX server which would say “Number, please”, and then using voice recognition, would — well dial the number!

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Pullman Coach 645 – Seattle 1976

While remembering the days with Metro Transit in Seattle, I went looking for a photo of me! The photo below shows me getting ready for a summer morning run with Pullman Coach 645. The coach was most likely manufactured in 1940.

Trackless trolley #645 was a Pullman. The fleet had fewer Pullmans than Twins in the 70’s. There were perhaps 10 or 12 of them. They were a heavier, longer coach … a full 40′ I believe. An interesting aspect of the driver’s console was that the steering wheel was 11 inches closer to the center of the bus. That took some getting used to! The regenerative braking on the Pullmans was not as effective as that on the Twins. As a result, the Pullmans were not scheduled for the Queen Anne route with it’s extreme 17% grade. The paint job on this Pullman was very new at the time. It is sporting Metro colors, which match the driver uniform of the era.

Thank you Terri, for finding this photo! There are some obvious aspects of the driver’s appearance which require no comment by me! But I caught a couple of details here:

  • In my right hand is a stack of transfers. Clearly I was getting ready for a run.
  • On my left wrist is a wrist watch! An important piece of driver equipment, but novel, since I haven’t worn a wrist watch since I started carrying a pager in 1994 (and of course, subsequently a cell phone).


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Trackless Trolley Coach 643

I somehow got nostalgic this week for my days as a Metro Transit bus driver in Seattle.   Those days were a good experience, but it is also true that I enjoyed it more the first year than the following three.  There’s a good amount of tedium in the job!  But the one thing I appreciate most of all was the opportunity to operate the vintage trackless trolleys built in the 40’s.  This equipment was finally retired in 1979.  Metro then rebuilt and expanded the overhead and opened service with new equipment a year later.  A few coaches have been restored by an association of retired employees.  Hoo-rah!   While in my nostalgic mood, I found the following photo of Coach 643.  It was taken in 2009, while the coach was out for an annual trolley tour!

Old Seattle City Buses

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Timber Frame Workshop

In September, I posted here observations about a barn in Menlo, and the thoughts it spurred in me. Mostly it reminded me that my woodworking and construction projects of a lifetime have been on a small scale and it got me to thinking that I need to jump out and do some larger projects. As the thought progressed, somehow I moved into thinking about timber frame construction as a mode for the the project. Timber frame construction is traditional post and beam construction in which all joints are crafted of wood and joined with hardwood pegs. As the thought progressed, I realized that the project would follow this path:

  1. Buy a portable saw mill
  2. Buy some logs
  3. Make some lumber
  4. Build the frame
  5. Erect the building
Wind River Shop

The Wind River Timberframes Shop

Quite non-traditional and very exciting.

Yesterday I attended the Log and Timber Framing Expo in Sandy, UT. I came away with some valuable contacts and information. Represented at the show were two small firms from the region:

Chuck Brainerd and Dale Covington (Barn Owl) and Alan Bernholtz (Wind River) generously shared their thoughts and enthusiasms for the art of the timberframe. Chuck has built an impressive home for himself in Utah from a barn he salvaged in the midwest. Alan has completed many masterful homes, and his new workshop is a beauty in itself. I can’t expect to build anything of that scale, but it is an inspiration.

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There’s a story here

The roadside is full of delights. But when you are four years old the delights are larger than life. The roadside of my four-year-old life was US 12 between Raymond and Centralia, Washington. It was the road travelled to Grandma’s house for weekend visits and Sunday chicken dinners. That’s chickens that had not long been without feathers! But back to the road …

At Frances Washington, in 1914, the AC&C club built this improvement to a spring. Who was the AC&C? In the ghost of a town, who maintains this roadside delight today? I can remember stopping here frequently in the 50’s and I don’t remember any counsel of “don’t drink the water”. I could tell you that the water was sweet. But in fact I don’t remember the drinks I took here. But when I write the story, I will of course report that the water was sweet. Do I not remember the water because it was commonplace to have a drink in a spring alongside the road? Or do I not remember the water because in fact I had a Coke in the car? Certainly not the latter! Soda pop was experienced on the 4th of July. Not on a trip to Centralia.

Each year, Terri uses the story, Tuck Everlasting, in her fifth grade class. It is a delightful mythical tale of a family who does not age. Ultimately it is learned that their aging has ceased, because they once made the decision to drink the water from a very special spring. I told Terri that my image of this Frances spring is the image I draw from the story of Tuck Everlasting. It is good sweet water, and a good sweet story.

Also at Frances is a once proud building, with a purpose which I cannot descern. So here is another set of questions and an untold story. Each year as I drive by the west side of the building sinks a bit further into the rain-soaked hillside. And the east side of the building retains much of its dignity upon its concrete foundation. Frances was both a mill town and an agricultural town. I’m aware of creameries and cheese factories down the road in Menlo, but their architecture is much different from this building. I note with interest the two rows of small windows on the west side of the building. Between the two rows, is a row of vents. What was this building?

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