2012.01.25 Sounds of the past remembered

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

A few weeks ago I wrote about the sound of the bell that used to ring every time a car drove into a gas station. The bell alerted a gas station worker that a customer had arrived and was ready to be served.

Definitely “old days” talk, like the sound of a dial telephone. Dialing an old-style telephone is one of the sounds that an article on the website Mental Floss called “11 sounds that your kids have probably never heard.”

My kids might have heard that sound because of the dial phone we still use at the Observer. I brought it out of storage during a power outage a few years ago and left it in place. It’s only a problem when you have to choose an option and “push three for customer support.”

It’s a great sound—the swooosh as a finger rotates the dial, followed by whirring as the dial “unwinds.”

The manual typewriter is second on the list. That’s a machine with a lot of good sounds, from loading the paper to pulling it out. There’s a loud clack when you push a key and it strikes the paper and a clunk when you push the shift key to lift the carriage. A bell warns when the end of the line is approaching and probably the best of all is the zipping sound when the carriage is returned to the start of the line.

The article also mentions the “bloop-hiss” of the old coffee percolators, the “chunk-chunka” of old cash registers, and the “tick, tick, tick” sound of film in the school movie projector.

In the 1960s, the Kodak Instamatic camera presented a revolutionary invention: the rapid fire flash bulb. You could take four photographs, one after the other, without adding a new flash bulb. Amazing, and there was a distinctive sound as the flash cubes popped.

TV sets used to have a circular dial to change channels and finding something to watch came with a sound. You “clunked” to a new station and heard either a program or a hiss of static, then “clunked” to another station.

There was no such thing as all-night television. When stations went off the air some time after midnight, you would hear some details about the station, the National Anthem, then a constant hiss of static—some good white noise for falling asleep to on the sofa.

I watched a YouTube video last week of a teenager’s first look at a phonograph record. Very funny. Her only frame of reference was a CD and she thought it was a very strange disc.

She will probably never know the sound of a 45 rpm record dropping onto a turntable followed by the stylus arm moving over and dropping onto the edge of the record. A little static and then the music began. 

If the record was scratched, the same few seconds might play over and over again. Sometime that day your mother would say, “You sound like a broken record.”

The author of the story, Kara Kovalchik, was interviewed on an NPR call-in show and several more dead sounds were suggested by listeners.

A steam locomotive letting out its steam at the end of the day. Film advancing in a camera. The real, authentic sounds of a pinball machine rather than the digital sounds heard now.

The hiss in the background of a cassette tape. The brief drop in sound when a kinked portion of a tape passes through the sound head. The tape got kinked when the cassette player ate it and it had to be rewound. The sound of an eight-track cassette as it’s taken in by the player.

The “whirring” sound of a VCR tape rewinding. The clicking sound of a carousel projector when the next slide is moved into place.

A golf ball meeting a persimmon wood club (much different than a ball against steel). The sound of a leather baseball meeting a hickory bat.

Metal roller skates traveling across rough sidewalk. An old-fashioned slot machine with its collection of wheels, springs and gears.

Most of these sounds are from decades past—at least a couple of decades—but someone suggested the modern but nearly defunct sound of a modem connecting via a dial-up internet system.

It’s amazing to think about how many sounds can no longer be heard. Maybe I should charge admission and let you listen to the Linotype in the back of the Observer. Dial me up for a reservation.

  • Front.train
    WRECKAGE—Morenci Fire Department member Taylor Schisler walks past the smoking wreckage of a semi-truck tractor on the north side of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks on Ranger Highway. The truck trailer was on the south side of the tracks
  • Front.sculpta
    SCULPTORS—Morenci third grade students Emersyn Thompson (left) and Marissa Lawrence turn spaghetti sticks into mini sculptures Friday during a class visit to Stair District Library. All Morenci Elementary School classes recently visited the library to experience the creative construction toys purchased through the “Sculptamania!” project, funded by a Disney Curiosity Creates grant. The grant is administered by the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association.
  • Funcolor
    LEONIE LEAHY was one of three local hair stylists who volunteered time Friday at the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Her customer, Aubrey Sandusky, looks up at her mother while her hair takes on a perfect match to her outfit. Leahy said she had a great time at the event—nothing but happy clients.
  • Shadow.salon
    LEARNING THE ROPES—Kristy Castillo (left), co-owner of Mane Street Salon, works with Kendal Kuhn as Sierra Orner takes a phone call. The two Morenci Area High School juniors spent Friday at the salon as part of a job shadowing experience.
  • KayseInField
    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.
  • Front.winner
    REFEREE Camden Miller raises the hand of Morenci Jr. Dawgs wrestler Ryder Ryan as his opponent leaves the mat in disappointment. Morenci’s youth wrestling program served as host for a tournament Saturday morning to raise money for the club. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.bank.2
    SHERWOOD STATE Bank opened its Fayette office at a grand opening Friday morning, drawing a large crowd to view the renovated building. Above, Burt Blue talks to teller Cindy Funk, while his wife, Jackie, looks around the new office. The Blues missed the opening and took a quick tour on Tuesday. Few traces remain of the former grocery store and theater, however, part of the original brick wall still shows in the hallway leading to the back of the building. The drive-through window should be ready for customers later in the month.
  • Front.make.three
    FROM THE LEFT, Landon Wilkins, Ryan White and Logan Blaker try out their artistic skills Saturday afternoon at the Morenci PTO’s first Date to Create event. More than 50 people showed up to create decorated planks of wood to hang from rope. The event served as a fund-raiser for miscellaneous PTO projects. Additional photos are on the back of this week’s Observer.

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