Adventures in Speerology #4

Patricia Rogers has found a robot in with the rest of the old electronics in Jack Speer’s attic. Adventures in Speerology continues, behind the cut.

Adventures in Speerology #4
By Patricia Rogers

Could you feel a wave of excitement ripple through the force around 8 p.m. Wednesday (July 30th) night? While covered in dust and fearing every moment my large beam was going to fall though the smaller attic beams, I spotted a box half-hidden under debris in Jack Speer’s attic. All I could see was the word “Robot.” Now, I LOVE tin Robots. My back room is decorated in “Early Robot and Rocketship Prime.” I audibly gasped when I saw that tantalizing word, while trying to keep my balance and keep hold of a small flashlight – its beam now shining on the object of my desire. I shakily slid along the rafters, inching closer, and started to clear away the strata covering the box. Reaching in, I gently pulled the cardboard treasure up from its niche between ceiling boards and read “Sensor Robot 20.” Hoping for the Gort/Robbie of my dreams I opened the box. Life is full of surprises and even though this was not the robot I was envisioning, it was still pretty cool. Here was a flat sensor board with a picture of a robot in the center and all around it was studded with lights and dials. They are labeled “Magnet Sensor,” “Light Sensor,” “Touch Sensor” and “Voice Sensor.” He has red light-up eyes and a large blue dial at his robot’s heart. Plus, a master control dial and reset switch on the base. On the back is a colorful circuit board – which our guy Jack has already wired up for us.

The box says that our “Sensor Robot 20” can:
– Perform 20 different experiments
– Responds to light, sound, magnetism, and moisture
– No previous electronic knowledge required
– Large display board complete with all parts
– Requires one 9V battery

OK – insert “caffeinated drink” for “9V battery” and I resemble that description on a good day. My new “sensitive” well-wired pal and I had lots in common.

Oh yeah. I am still balanced on a small board in a warm dark attic and have other tasks at hand – but let’s go back to the beginning of the evening.

On my way over to the Speer’s I stopped at Whole Foods and picked up a little supper for Ruth and I. Noodle salad with cucumber & sesame oil and roasted turkey. Ruth and I sat on the couch in the den and chatted for a while about politics, news, family matters and events, then we got out some plates and headed for the dining room table. Being with Ruth is like being with my mother or my next-door neighbor (Mary Noel) while growing up. These women were ladies in every sense of the word. All my proper childhood manners bubble their way back up to the surface. Dinner is in the dining room at a table with mahogany chairs. There is no TV, DVD, CD, computer screen, iPod, Nintendo Wii, cell phone, or stereo to distract us. Just two people talking in a pleasant quiet room. I sit up straight, no elbows on the table, put my napkin in my lap and try to act like the lady my mother hoped I would be. And you know what? – It is nice. We look at each other and really listen to what the other person has to say. Time stands still in an oasis of gentility.

While we were talking Ruth mentioned an SF painting with two moons that her son Ed remembers Jack owning but Ruth does not recall. On the wall behind us is another very nice SF painting of intrepid astronauts exploring a mysterious world. (This is the only hint of Science Fiction in the living room.) Ruth also mentioned her daughter is looking for a Victorian painting of a cat peering over a chair. This painting had been in her room as a child but it had frightened her and was taken down. Now, like so many things that scare us (in a good way), she wanted it back. I mentioned the box of art I had seen in the attic and that maybe – just maybe – those two pieces of art were up there. So we picked up our plates to deposit them in the kitchen and headed out to the garage.

Last week while I was away at Comic-Con, Ruth had been diligently organizing the Pulps. Three large boxes of them! They are now in date order and seem to be complete runs of magazines such as Amazing Stories from the beginning through the 1930’s. Many of them multiple copies!

On an aside – I just want y’all to know how much I must want to bring these adventures to you because right now, In My Living Room, are all three of these boxes of pulps and I am dying to look though them. I sit here typing away at the computer and I can hear their mysterious stories and riveting art calling me from the other room. Loudly Calling! I am going to bag, rate for condition, and help Ruth to sell them, but for a little while at least I can enjoy their company.

After Ruth showed me all her work on the pulps I loaded them into my car along with some beat-up water-damaged old books (nothing special here – really) which I will take for recycling. We figured if on every trip I take some trash it will help to clean out the garage.

Now – up to the attic. Ruth found me a flashlight and with a playful grin wished me luck and said not to fall because she couldn’t catch me. I tried plugging in a host of wires and managed to get one of the lights to work. The other was a bulb in a wire cage and after much struggling with the cage I was able to extract the old bulb and put in another – still no go. Guess the flashlight would have to be my main source of light.

The attic fan was blowing a helpful breeze though the opening, which alleviated some of the stuffy heat. I stood there on the ladder trying to figure out how to place small cross boards on the beams to be able to crawl over to my goal. After moving some boards around and vaguely thinking, “Well – maybe this will hold me… Maybe…” I crawled up. I swung the flashlight into corners I had not seen the last time I was up there. Hub caps – lots of hub caps and suitcases everywhere. Say – Way over there under the rafters – Isn’t that the suitcase George Bailey got as a going-away gift in It’s a Wonderful Life? I moved slowly towards the box of frames and papers.

The first thing I pulled out was a framed cardboard print of poppies, then a rolled photo of the well-suited gentlemen of the Oklahoma Supreme Court circa 1948. Next up was a small rectangular mirror from around 1910 in an oak frame painted forest green; the patterns of dust on the mirror’s surface made it look like it had been inscribed with hieroglyphs. Next to this was a watercolor from the same era, of an idyllic mountain scene with sheep grazing on a hillside, a mountain and waterfall behind them. Could any painting be more appropriate for a bedroom to lull you into a restful sleep? That was it for the art but I did rather like a large poster I found in the same box that said “Nuts” and the one under it that said, “Pecans – Toasted and Cracked to Perfection.” Our Jack was a good southern boy, wasn’t he! Sadly, no cat or moons paintings here.

I gathered up the mirror, poppies, and sheep and set them closer to the opening so I could take them down to show Ruth. Then I started to look around again with my flashlight.

So – this is where old electronics go to die! A reel-to-reel tape deck from around 1960 stared blankly at me and I thought what a good costume Robot head it would make. It was wedged between an early video camera (1975) and a single slide projector (1945). In a box nearby was a cast iron pedal-type “White” sewing machine and on the other side a broken Koo-Koo-Clock with little Black Forest men holding up its sides. I looked more closely at the wire wheels I had seen from a distance the last time. There were also wheel hubs here, and even long deflated inner tubes. On the other side of the attic I could see a box of old chemical bottles and glass acid bottles with glass stoppers, maybe from when Jack was developing his own photos. I then spotted my sensitive robot pal. I put his box over on top of my pile of frames and had one last look around in which I saw what I think was a turn-of-the-century white enamel chamber pot buried deep in the rafters.

Time to head back down. When telling Ruth of what I had seen in Dead Electronic Land like the tape deck, camera and projector, she punctuated each item as I named it with the word, “Broken.” And she smiled. (Maybe you didn’t know this already – Jack never threw anything away.)

We took our artifacts into the kitchen and dusted them off. The mirror was lovely and once polished seemed to reflect better than the mirrors of today. Maybe some kind of old silvering process. The Sheep painting was a Lyday Photogravure – I need to look that up.

While cleaning things up we looked at a few comics Ruth had pulled out of the stacks of pulps. “Barnaby Quarterly – The Comic with a High IQ” (1945); Barnaby seems to be a plump fellow with wings. Also in the stack were several “Felix the Cat” Popular Comics (1945). And, lastly a 1960’s reprint of a 1930’s Walt Disney coloring book. As Ruth and I looked through them we could not help but laugh as we noticed that Jack had made notations in shorthand even in these! On the cover of one of the Popular Comics was a drawing of a suave character named “Smilin’ Jack.” The thought that instantly sprang to mind when I saw this drawing was: I just know our Jack was “Smilin'” at us as we laughed.

2 thoughts on “Adventures in Speerology #4

  1. I really enjoy reading about how you find treasures in the trash, especially when the treasures represent parts of my own dimly remembered past. The stoppered bottles are overflow from a complete chemistry set you should find nearby in a green tin cabinet-type box. I used to make gunpowder but was disappointed at how slowly it burned. Barnaby was a little boy who probably had a strong influence on the later Peanuts strip. The fat guy with wings is his fairy godfather who manifests himself only to Barnaby, much as Hobbes appears only for Calvin. As for the painting with two moons: maybe it doesn’t really exist, and my six-year-old mind was combining the book title “Out of the Silent Planet” with the cover illustration of Classics Illustrated’s “Off On a Comet.” Wait till you find the automatic envelope-sealing machine that gave its last gasp when Jack was running for the state Constitutional Convention. Oh – and I hope you noticed the on-off switch below the wire cage of the portable light. Maybe you need a headlamp. Keep having fun.

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