Friday, June 01, 2012
Now Is Der Time On Schprockets When Ve Dahnce
"Mechanical Principles," from 1930, by Ralph Steiner.
It's another world. A mechanical world. A machinist's world. Newtonian. Euclidian.
A few years ago I took my father to see a B-24J Liberator bomber like the one he flew in. It wasn't an elegant machine. There was a B-25 and a B-17 at the airfield, too, and they both looked kinda sleek compared to the B-24. Dad's plane was a sort-of flying dump truck.
We went inside the thing, and I found it jarring that I understood everything I was looking at, just by looking at it. There were wires and cables and tubes running hither and yon and they were all about as complicated as a hammer and nail. The ammo boxes were wood, and the machine guns just shot out of a open window on the side, like a well-armed barn would have.
Lots of things seem complicated to the modern eye because they're unfamiliar, not because they're sophisticated; just the opposite, mostly. Simplicity stuns people now. I can walk into a 150 year-old house and nothing in it surprises me. Most of it is simple, if not barbaric, compared to a lot of stuff in a brand new house. The old stuff is vastly superior in many ways, too. Sprockets go round and round when you turn the crank if the power goes out, unlike a 486.
It's not just mechanisms that amaze many if they're too simple to recognize nowadays. My wife sits next to my son, before a window and a calendar and a little flag, and slides sheets of work under his nose, one after another, as he sits at an antique school desk that cost five dollars at a flea market. People ask her, "Yes, but how do you educate him?"