It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. I guess that might be true but it is also true that using ingenuity and things at hand to make something out of nothing — or very little — is fun and satisfying. Over the years I’ve ‘made do’ many times. One thing that comes to mind is our rural mailbox. One early winter morning I heard the snowplow from a ways back. He was really moving. I stood at the window munching my toast watching as he went thundering by in a cloud of snow. I stopped in mid-chew as I heard a loud smash. He had met a car right in front of our mailbox and couldn’t swerve out and the box and post took the full brunt of the avalanche of hard snow. I watched as my mailbox sailed through the air like a football followed by the post reduced to a pile of splinters. My mood did not improve any when I got into my truck to go to work and discovered it had snowed more in the night than I thought. There was a big drift behind my truck so I put it in reverse and rammed back. I didn’t get far. I went forward and burned down to summertime gravel. No point in shovelling if I didn’t have to! Suddenly the truck broke free and I went flying out of the snowbank, slipped off the lane and ran over a small tree we had just planted that Fall. I quickly looked to see if Ruth Anne was watching. Nope. I wonder if she would believe it had been struck by lightning? Probably not, I’d just have to take my lumps. When I finally got onto the road I picked up all the bent pieces of my ex-mailbox and took them into the Township Office where I dumped them onto the counter. One comedian asked if I was planning to build a rocket. When I informed him that’s what was left of my mailbox he just kinda chuckled. Occupational hazzard. I could see I wasn’t going to get far here so the ball was back in my park. I put the old brain in gear and came up with a plan. I searched out the old mailbox I had scavenged from the dump. At the shop I found a fairly strong spring you couldn’t even bend. I figured it had about a 300 hundred pound stretch. I fastened a thin piece of plate steel onto a board and put it on the bottom of the box. I welded one end of the spring onto it. The other end I welded onto a two inch piece of angle iron with holes bored into it. I spiked the box, spring and angle iron contraption onto what was left of the 4×4 post in the ground. It stood as straight as a statue so I gave it a hard pull and let it go. The whole box rocked back and forth like a punching bag. Try wrecking that, I thought! After the next big snow I heard the plow coming and ran to the window to watch. As the heavy snow broke into missiles and slammed against the mailbox it just swung like a bobble head and stayed intact. Eureka! That invention lasted for a lot of years.
The summer our first baby was born was a real scorcher. Some days you could nearly cook a gourmet dinner on the dash of the truck on your way to work. When the workday ended you had to pry your fingers off whatever you were running and hoped the skin you left on the lever grew back overnight! I mean it was HOT. For someone who hates the heat it was a real trial, especially when that person is nine months pregnant. At that time we lived in an old farmhouse that was hot in the summer and cold in the winter. During the day the house wasn’t too bad when a breeze would blow and the trees shaded it. But by bedtime the place was like an oven and the very pregnant, irritable,
uncomfortable lady of the house was as cantankerous as a mother bear. If we were both
going to survive this heatwave I knew I had to come up with a plan. The furnace had a summer fan that we would turn on at bedtime but the problem was that by about three or four in the morning it had cooled us down too much and I would have to get up and turn it off. This really interrupted our sleep and now both of us were getting grouchy. Then I had a brainwave. We had an old windup alarm clock that sat on a wide base at the bottom. I anchored that down with two bricks so it wouldn’t fall over and placed it on the floor by the furnace. Then I tied a string several times around the winding key of the clock and wound the other end of the string several times around the shut off lever on the furnace and tied a sturdy knot on top. I set the clock for four am and went to bed with the furnace blowing refreshing cool air. When the alarm went off at four and the key began to wind down, the string to the shut off lever became very taut and pulled the lever down turning the air off. This invention got us through the summer and we were able to welcome our beautiful new daughter on August 20, with both parents still sane and functioning.
Once we had a car that was a real old beater. I planned to replace it ‘someday’ but before that happened, the reverse gear went out of it. You would think a mechanic like myself would fix that in a jiffy. But for several reasons it didn’t get done for a while. We still needed a vehicle so we just always tried to park it where you could just drive straight out. That was a bit of a problem at home though because the lane ended right at the house. Fortunately the house sat on a gentle grade so we could drive right up to it, bump into the wall and the momentum would push the car back enough that you could face it outward again. This required a certain amount of skill and practice to save both the house and the car from serious hurt. As it was, by the time this crazy episode was over the row of bricks that the bumper hit on the house every time had been pushed in an inch or so!
One year my dear old Uncle Jack talked me into helping him make dandelion wine. He had this secret recipe that was just the cat’s meow for ‘medicinal’ wine. He had borrowed a 25 gallon crock but the recipe was for a 45 gallon barrel. We adjusted the recipe accordingly (we thought) and started picking dandelion tops. Baskets and baskets of the stinky, staining things. Into the crock
they went, well packed down. On top of this were cut up oranges, lemons, grapefruit and raisins. Slices of bread on top of that was to hold the tablespoons of yeast needed to make it ‘work’. And work it did. The bread turned to mush and turned upside down. Within days the brew began to sizzle and bubble like a teakettle. When it started to smell pretty ripe Ruth Anne put her foot down and ordered the crock from out of our basement to a little shed outside. I was beginning to doubt the ‘secret’ recipe when weeks later we had a look at our brew. It looked the same but smelled worse. After a long discussion with Uncle we decided it was a lost cause. We dumped the mess out onto the grass. It oozed and burped and vibrated like a living thing. And then it died. So did the grass until the next Spring where it was the thickest, brightest patch on the lawn.
One place we lived at had a really big yard. It took a lot of time and effort to cut all that grass. This was before the days when everybody had a rider lawnmower. So I decided to invent something better. I got two gas powered lawn mowers and took the front inside wheels off each one. Then I welded them both together with a long piece if iron running across the front and added a bicycle wheel in the middle. I had to fashion a handle that was positioned in the middle of both mowers for balance and manoeuvrability. Now I was ready to mow the lawn. Well, it worked – kinda. It was tricky getting both engines running at the same time and in sync. Especially as they were both old machines and burned oil so bad they created a cloud of smoke you nearly needed a map to find your way out of. You wanted to have a hanky handy to wipe the smog tears from your eyes. It did make twice the swathe size and the job got done twice as fast. It didn’t do tight corners well at all and was a beggar to push. It was definitely a ‘man-mower’. You nearly needed cleats on your boots to get enough grip to push the thing. But it got us through the season and then it ended up in my ever growing ‘tried that’ pile. I guess another saying – “nothing ventured, nothing gained” sort of played out here too.