"A Copse. Evening"

"A Copse. Evening"
A. Y. Jackson, 1918
"I don't make hell for nobody. I'm only the instrument of a laughing providence. Sometimes I don't like it myself, but I couldn't help it if I was born smart."

1st Sgt. Milton Anthony Warden.
"From here to Eternity"

Paul Valery

"You are in love with intelligence, until it frightens you. For your ideas are terrifying and your hearts are faint. Your acts of pity and cruelty are absurd, committed with no calm, as if they were irresistible. Finally, you fear blood more and more. Blood and time."

The Wisdom of the Ages

"When a young man, I read somewhere the following: God the Almighty said, 'All that is too complex is unnecessary, and it is simple that is needed',"

Mikhail Kalashnikov
"Here lies the bravest soldier I've seen since my mirror got grease on it."

Zapp Brannigan

Monday, January 01, 2007

"Progress!" "Perdition!"


The title for this post comes from my favorite post-apocylptic, science fiction novel, "A Canticle for Liebowitz". I'm going to use this occasion, the first post of the year, Anno Domini 2007, to bitch about the state of American manufacturing and modernity in general. I began chewing on this subject after stumbling across many threads on self-defense forums (lurking to gain insights on my buying public - all in aid of satisfied customers) wherein the efficacy of black powder firearms is questioned in the matter of killin' folks. That is, as opposed to the modern gun, usually a Glock. The present assumption, that the world sprung forth from the void at the moment of our birth and that nothing of note occurred prior, is a common one. I suspect the result of a driven, though complacent citizenry. On the black powder question, Wild Bill Hickock, "the prince of pistoleers" managed to smoke all his bad guys with a 36 caliber Colt Navy, cap and ball at that.
But I digress: The adjustable open end wrench, hereafter referred to as the "Crescent wrench" was invented in 1907 by Karl Peterson. It is also referred to as "the all-64ths" and "the (disparaging ethnic group of your choice. To be PC we'll go with me:) half-mad, anarchist redneck socket set". It replaced the venerable monkey wrench and no one complained. By way of trivia, Crescent is a brand name but we'll get to that. It is one of the brand names that have gone into general usage, such as Kleenex, Xerox, Skilsaw, Heroin (Yes, owned by the Bayer Co. originally marketed as a cure for morphine addiction).
Now, back in '76 I bought a 12" Truecraft (made in Japan) wrench. It served admirably for twenty five years until the little screw that holds in the adjustment wheel went south on me. I still had an old Crescent brand one that I inherited from my Granddad but I needed another as they're what I use to replace bits in my router. The original chuck wrenches were lost by well-meaning teenagers and I'll be damned if I'll pay "replacement part" prices for a pair of stamped steel open ends.
Well, suffering as I do from occasional bouts of nationalism, I thought to "be American - buy American" and that I would purchase for the antique Crescent, a modern companion. Now the picture starts at the top with the much-lamented Truecraft, resurrected as a knife, followed by the old (I'd guess '20's or '30's) Crescent brand. Now it may not be obvious, but the old girl has held up exceptionally well, but no one's abused her. We jump down to the chrome plated one second from the bottom and, as you've no doubt guessed, this is the one I bought. Yes, that's a weld you see. It was home for all of a week when it cracked right there. I could have taken it back and gotten a replacement - the same piece of crap - so I welded it so I could keep it around to complain about. Compared to it's predecessor it is roughly finished, clunky in the hand and, obviously, shoddily constructed.
We'll now jump up a wrench to the "Diamond Caulk and Horseshoe Co." one. This baby is old, probably dating from very soon after the Crescent patent expired. It's beat to shit, hammer marks up and down the handle and too sprung-jawed to be useful, but it's not broken, anywhere. If it had been babied, even a little, it would still would be in service.
I've since retired the old warhorse and it hangs on the wall of my office along with the 4"er at the bottom. That is also a nice tool but not nearly so old. I bought it in about 1971 to use as a camp/industrial/chic roach clip. It served, more often as a wrench on my key ring for fifteen years or so. At one point, as I recall, I had to remove a fill plug on the hub of an ancient front-end-loader my insane employer owned. Being the only wrench I had with me, the roach clip was put on the plug and I jumped on it. Clearly abusive treatment for a wrench so small, but although my keys splashed all over the place, the plug was loose and the wrench survived.
My point: These American tools (the tiny one is an Armstrong), and the Japanese one, from back in the day took all the use and/or abuse a psycho like myself is capable of and still serve. The new one, it's clearly in the second string. Shame on you Cooper Group.

Ah but, the monkey wrench, named depending on who you believe, for the English blacksmith, Charles Monck or the Baltimore machinist, "Monkee" White. I've got a serious soft spot for these incredibly archaic, primitive tools. The symbol I stamp on my knives is a pair of them, crossed (really - it just doesn't always look that way). So, in aid of that, and to give me a grace note to close on, here's two more of my museum pieces. The first is the ubiquitous L. Coe and Co. patent 1880 Every junk sale has at least one of these for sale. Old Coe must have really cleaned up.
The other is my favorite. Made by Bemis and Call Co. of Springfield Mass. As an aside, that's the company the aforementioned Baltimore machinist worked for in the 1840's. It's a combination monkey wrench and pipe wrench. It's usability as a pipe wrench is questionable but at least they were in there pitching. The background is a Bemis and Call poster from 1880. The other from an English catalog of the same period.
Did I say "grace note". That's not my style. Go here to see the latest "gotta have it" invention. Who wouldn't jump at the chance to own a fifty-dollar Crescent wrench that takes batteries.

2 comments:

Somerled_1 said...

Greetings from Tasmania! (WTF is Tasmania? you ask!)
I reckon your posts are priceless and thanks for the notes on theatre knives. I really empathise with your point about how they don't make basic tools like they used to! Here in Australia, it's the same. I buy wrenches, pliers and clamps etc. from an old guy at the local markets, who sells good old school tools at decent prices. He says he'll give a lifetime guarantee, but since he's in his 80's, I wonder if that's his lifetime or mine!
I long ago gave up buying new Sidchrome and similar brands that cost an arm and a leg, but don't bear up under pressure. (After all, who hasn't tried loosening wheel nuts by standing on the tyre lever/ socket wrench thing that comes with the car!)
Could talk till the cows came home (if I had any), but will leave it at that!
Cheers mate!
Bryan.

S.Schulz said...

Picky details.. The brothers COES (Loring & Aury G.) held forth in Worcester, Mass for a long haul. The earliest documented occurrence of "monkey wrench" in print is in a British tool maker's catalog from about 1830 & referred to a small adjustable wrench -- they had powder monkeys on ships so why not "monkey wrench" for a small adjustable?
As to quality of manufacture -- the peak was probably 1950s (that's the vintage of the Diamond Calk / Diamalloy wrenches from Duluth). Regards, Stan Schulz (editor, Missouri Valley Wrench Club Newsletter )

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