October 21, 2008

One Day at Rittenhouse, c. 1956

My house holds little artifacts that give me pause each time I discover one. Once we were stripping a bathroom down to the studs when we found a pocketknife that had rested on a cross-brace since 1956, when the walls went up.

Likely, some construction worker named Bert or Jake laid it down for a moment, then got distracted by lunch or his boss or a radio message from President Eisenhower, and before he remembered what he was doing, a sheet of drywall entombed his tool for 50 years.

It amuses me to picture him, later that day, going through his coveralls for that pocketknife, never imagining it would be found by the fourth or fifth owner of the house, long after the Communist Bloc had shattered and automatic transmissions had become "standard."

Just the other day I found this in the attic:

survived 50 summers in the attic

"Send this label with name and address" would be the 1956 equivalent of "Check out redcedarshinglebureau.com." (Which gets you nothing, not even a GoDaddy-is-sitting-on-this notice.)

I do wonder what it is about cedar shingles that would fill a 100-page handbook. Without the now-customary 40 pages of introductory lawsuit language ("WARNING: DO NOT drive nails with forehead.") I'm guessing someone had to run far afield ("A slice of meat loaf between toasted cedar shingles will have your man's lunch pail singing a tune!") just to flesh it out. However, if a paying customer's gone to the trouble of peeling a label off a pack of construction material, addressing an envelope, and mailing it across the country, 100 pages seems like a fair reward.

Note the pre-ZIP code: "Seattle 1, Wash." When I see things like that, I picture the warm glow of vacuum tubes.

cedar shingles are now recognized as a fire hazard. I was a teen in Houston when the garden-style Woodway Square apartment complex went up like flash paper, as strips of cedar roofing ignited and leapt from building to building.

When we moved into this place, my insurance agent quizzed me about my roof composition; only a layer of asphalt shingles over the wood saved me from getting dropped. Supposedly, once they've baked in the sun a while, an errant bottle rocket can light them off.

In '56, probably the biggest risk was calling them "red."

Posted by: Michael Rittenhouse at 08:30 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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