Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What a Doorknob!

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

I will bet that, from the title, you think I’m going to tell you a story about something stupid that Irwin, the most wonderful GPS in the world, Joann, or I have done in our travels. If so, you’d be wrong.

I’m not sure when it happened, but sometime after Joann switched from film to digital, she became obsessed with doorknobs. Obsessed to the point that in 2013 we planned a route in Ohio to be sure and get a photo of a doorknob on a church. Not necessarily the church (I didn’t even know what the church itself looked like), just the doorknob!

It was my fault actually, for showing Joann how cool the doorknob was. Once she saw it, she wanted to visit the church… badly. It was a very ornate doorknob with a double keyhole. Even I have to admit, it was very unusual, so I didn’t mind trying to include it on our trip.

We didn’t get to the church until later in the trip, and by then, Joann had asked several times if we might get there. Luckily, I had other things marked near the church, and we found even more interesting things along the route.

And there have been doorknobs on outhouses. In Iowa, she was gone from the car at a church and cemetery for so long that I was beginning to wonder. Finally she came back all excited and said, “Wait until you see what I found!” I figured it was something in the cemetery, but no, it was a doorknob on the outhouse.

Then there have been doorknobs on old houses. As we travel around, we try to hit as many historic areas as possible. We’ve travelled portions of the National Road, which we can highly recommend. In one town, we found a treasure trove of old buildings, and some doorknobs on the old doors.

There are also doorknobs on various other buildings; lumber buildings, farm outbuildings, old schools, mills, creameries, feed stores, and even several sauna buildings in the Finnish area of Minnesota.

Just for fun, I typed “history of American Doorknobs” into Google, and came up with an interesting read! It turns out that, in the beginning of our country, colonists were discouraged from manufacturing finished goods. They were supposed to order their doorknobs from the mother country. As late as 1838, ninety-five percent of hardware used in America was imported from Europe.

By the 1830’s, the Northeast had many small builders’ hardware companies. They were small companies owned by entrepreneurs in major cities, and the doorknobs were handcrafted.

As more industrial machines were patented in America, production moved to factories. With this, there was increased production and products became more standardized. This resulted in more profits on the mass-produced doorknobs than on the former “hand-made” ones.

Through the Victorian era in America (1860’s to early 20th century), doorknobs were very ornate, and were considered decorative art. There is even a group called the Antique Doorknob Collectors of America, and several museums feature entire exhibits of doorknobs from our history.

I guess that’s something we can do when we’re too feeble to drive the backroads. For now, we’ll be hitting the backroads and finding our own doorknobs to photograph.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sid Barnett’s Machine Shop

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Sometimes I stumble on things that seem too far out of the way for us to visit before something happens to them. They fall naturally, a storm passes through and destroys them, or someone buys the land and tears the building down. One of those places was in the mountains of North Carolina.

Our plan for that trip in 2010 was to drop into North Carolina, visit the old Mast store and then head straight to the Piedmont area, photographing a few more historic places as we went. I had been to the mountains before, and I knew that there were no shoulders on many of the mountain roads, so it would be hard to photograph there.

But as we got close to North Carolina, we decided that we had to spend an extra day in the mountains. At the motel, I tried to figure out the first stop for the next morning. It didn’t take me long to notice that we weren’t too far from a rusty old tin clad machine shop.

I calculated the distance from our motel and told Joann it was close to an hour to get there. I found a picture of the shop to remind her what it looked like, and she was in!

We set our alarm for o’dark thirty and went to sleep. In the morning, we loaded up the car and took off towards the machine shop (with me silently praying that I had my directions right, and the time calculated correctly).

When we arrived in front of the shop, it was still too dark to photograph. Better early than late, but it was pitch dark. Joann got her equipment ready, and then we waited until there was enough light to start photographing.

Joann was standing at the side of the road, camera lined up for the first shot, which she took the second her camera would function.

She worked her way around the building, taking various angles and sections of the building highlighting windows and doors. We knew it wasn’t likely that we would get a second opportunity, so we wanted to get all the pictures we could.

The machine shop sits right at the edge of the road, so it was lucky that we were there at first light. Since there was no traffic at that hour, Joann could pull her normal trick of standing in the middle of the road to get the best angles.

The side of the building still had the old oil tanks, as if they were waiting for the building to open and work to begin. There is little chance of that since a more current view of the building from Google Maps shows the roof beginning to cave in.

Sad to see, but at least this was one building we were able to visit before it was too late. As usual, staying in the mountains an extra day was to our advantage.

Enjoy the old relics that you see along the roadside in your travels. You never know when it will be the last time.

Happy Shunpiking!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Bells Across the Land: A Nation Remembers Appomattox

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

For the past four years, organizations across the United States have been holding events to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, which began on April 12, 1861 and ended roughly four years later.

On April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House in Virginia, Confederate General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant and the United States Army. Although the final battle took place on May 13, 1865 at Palmito Ranch, Texas, the surrender at Appomattox Court House is considered the symbolic end of the Civil War.

To commemorate this historic event, the bells of Appomattox Court House will ring at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 9 to coincide with the moment the historic meeting between Grant and Lee ended. The National Park Service and its partners invite churches, schools, public buildings, historic sites, and others to ring their bells at 3:15 p.m. (Eastern Time) for four minutes (symbolic of the four years of the Civil War).

I will be sharing more information about the Civil War in upcoming blogs. Until then….

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Plug or Pay

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

In 2009, Ruth and I visited Bethel, Ohio, in an attempt to capture some photos of an old-fashioned Five and Dime store. Even though this town has a population of less than 3,000, it was nearly impossible to capture the store due to its location at the intersection of two state highways. The traffic was always backed up at the intersection and, after spending a considerable amount of time waiting for even the smallest break in traffic, I gave up and photographed it from the sidewalk near the front of the store.

When I returned to the car, I made sure to capture an old-fashioned parking meter, which Ruth had plugged with change several times to avoid an expired meter and possibly a parking ticket.

It would be another four years before we had the opportunity to again photograph antique parking meters and it was on a return visit to Ohio. This time we hit the jackpot in the city of Pomeroy.

We arrived in town in the early evening and drove down by the Ohio River to locate a rare Battle Ax Plug Tobacco sign on the side of an old brick building.

The street running along the river was full of old parking meters.

In 1913, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society, it was estimated that Oklahoma had 3,000 cars. By 1930, the number of cars in Oklahoma had increased to about 500,000, with the majority registered in Oklahoma County and Oklahoma City, the state capital. In 1935, in an effort to solve a parking shortage for the ever-increasing number of automobiles in downtown Oklahoma City, Carl C. Magee, a newspaperman and chair of the Traffic Committee, came up with the idea of a mechanical parking timer.

With the help of the Oklahoma State University Engineering Department, the parking meter was designed and prototyped. Once manufactured, the world’s first parking meter, known as Park-o-Meter No. 1, was installed on the corner of First Street and Robinson Avenue on July 16, 1935.

The City of Oklahoma installed 175 meters that day along fourteen blocks. When this concept proved successful, meters were placed along the streets of the entire downtown. The cost to park for an hour was a nickel.

Many of the citizens of Oklahoma City considered it un-American to have to pay to park their automobiles, but the retailers were encouraged by the movement of cars and the prospect of more business.

The installation of the parking meters not only solved the parking problems of Oklahoma City, but it also generated a good revenue stream from the parking fees (five cents an hour) and the parking fines ($20 for each violation). By the 1940s, there were more than 140,000 parking meters operating across the country, with yearly revenues totaling around $10 million.

By 1951, there were roughly a million parking meters in the U.S. To make it easier for people to pay their parking fines, the Duncan Parking Meter Corporation developed a payment box called the Fine-o-Meter.

Fine-o-Meters were first put into use on May 21, 1954. The description of this invention that was submitted to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office stated that it was for “envelopes for the reception of fines for overparking in a parking metered zone.” These boxes were installed on the poles of parking meters in a few choice locations around town to make it convenient for parking violators to pay their fines.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this nostalgic look at the evolution of automobile parking in this country. If you’re ever in Oklahoma City, pay a visit to the Oklahoma History Center where you will find the original Park-o-Meter No. 1.

Happy Easter and Happy Shunpiking!