Tuesday, February 22, 2011

There's newer, and then there's better.

Via Adaptive Curmudgeon, I've just found 365 Days of A - a gentleman who is driving a 1930 Model A Ford as his daily commuter for a year. Quite fun!

Adaptive Curmudgeon has a series himself on working with older technology - specifically, heating his house with wood for a year between the old furnace's death and getting it replaced. Parts: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven.

I have a little knowledge in the same vein, having restored my pre-WWII airplane and having my heart set on 1930's-1950's rag and tube aircraft.

The older machines and ways we keep running are not terrible things that should be abandoned at the first sign of progress - and they can be downright fun! For the negatives, they involve more work, from stacking firewood to soldering a gas tank leak to cutting open every filter at an oil change to inspect the engine health. They involve more care, from making sure the fire is banked each night to inspecting the machine before and after every use. They take more time, and greater knowledge of the thing that you are using.

On the other hand, they teach you a lot more, and by slowing you down, and let you appreciate what you have as you think about what you get for how you work. They also can handle things surprisingly well compared to modern machines, with greater redundancy. When something goes wrong on a system I know well, I can diagnose the problem, take corrective action, or fix it - if my modern computer-controlled econo-car decided to have things go wrong, there are very few fixes I can diagnose, much less do. And then there's the unquantifiable, but very real grin that comes of flying something with the windows open, or doors off, low enough to hear the sound of the creek burbling over the rocks and the laughter of children, smelling the camp smoke and the freshly grilled fish, and waving the wings back at the children as they squeal with glee and wave with both arms as they see you overhead. You can't get that at 35,000 feet and 240 knots. The feeling of work well done, of sitting in a warm house that you split the wood to heat, of flying a plane you restored, of driving a car you just changed the oil and fixed the bumper on, or eating a dish with vegetables you grew, or chowder made with milk you got out of the goat that morning... This is something a credit card cannot buy.

I would rather fly in my plane 1500 miles than drive - I know how to care for my plane, but if my car doesn't turn over, I'm stuck. Which is better?


  1. I'm sorry that my blog is in hiatus right now - I'd link over to an old article at tjic.com about the romance of old tools.

    I'm only talking about handtools, but I still love using a 100 year old vise, an undated anvil, and my grandfather's hammer every time I lay my hands on them.

    It's nice having a connection with the past.

  2. One of the most painful episodes in my recent past was having to abandon a number of century-old hand tools when relocating to Alaska. There simply wasn't room to pack them, nor money to ship them.

    I understand exactly what you mean, though - even something as simple as topping off the gas tank can impart a (small) sense of satisfaction. Changing the oil, rotating the tires, replacing shocks ... oh, yes.

  3. That's one of the reasons I miss my old truck. It was old enough that the engine compartment was big enough to crawl into, parts were dirt cheap, and I could fix about 85% of any issues it came up with given the will, the time, and the money to do it.

    Sadly, it died a horrible death by thrown rod and cooked motor one sunny afternoon on the way home from camping. Sigh

  4. Old is good... :-) It was a simpler time, and you COULD fix it with bubble gum and bailing wire!

  5. The use of old vehicles, I know that story. Georgia to Pennsylvania and back, two times, in a 1972 Military truck based on 1960s technology, that tops out at 60mph. 1600 miles