Sunday, February 27, 2011

52 Weeks of Genealogy, Week 8: Technology, It's In The Genes

Thank you to Amy Coffin of the  We Tree for the series 52 Weeks of Personal History & Genealogy. Although I am a bit late, I so liked this topic, I am just now posting the selection for Week 8, Technology.  Even though,  I rarely follow directions to closely, I really liked what Amy's prompt brought forth from me.

Technology: It's In The Genes

One hundred years old, that's how old my dad would have been this month. That infernal internal combustion machine, called the automobile, chugged and clamored through his childhood. In 1918 his older brother, Ralph, gave his summer earnings to their folks to buy their first car. My dad at seven years old, and his eight year old brother Clive, took to the automobile like ducks to water. Tinkering with the car provided much more excitement and interest than feeding the horses and cows, or cutting ice or wood. Watching their older brother Ralph, remove the radiator in the below zero weather and place it behind the kitchen wood stove so it wouldn't freeze made tinkering with cars and their parts an okay sort of activity and even a necessary one.

By the time the family made their first trip out to California from Minnesota, the two young brothers were only 10 and 11 years old. Even though they were just little boys, whenever Ralph had to work on the car, Harold and Clive were eager helpers. With just a few tools, screw driver, knife, couple of wrenches, and hammer, the three would dismantle and put the car back together. By the time, the family arrived in Calipatria, the boys were on their way to being good mechanics.

They just wanted to know how this new-fangled machine worked and no one was around to tell them that they were too young, didn't have the right tools, didn't know how it worked. They just figured it out. Even though dad had less than an eighth grade education, he spent the rest of his rather short life looking at things, figuring out how they worked, and then doing it. Never asked anyone if he could design and build his own equipment, take apart airplanes and then rebuild and fly the planes, or take a dream and make it real -- he just did it.

My dad would have liked to have known my son. He would have understood his grandson who looked at computers, and asked, “How does that work?” My dad would have nodded approvingly, as my son, barely out of his teens,  blithely chatted away as I watched in dismay, while he disassembled my first computer (a 1981 Osborne) at the kitchen bar. He would have understood that young man's desire to not only understand the “nuts and bolts” of its hardware, but delve into the abstraction of software to design complex possibilities which in turn become a reality – from designing and programming “fuzz-busters” for combat aircraft to machines that assure food quality and safety.

I wonder just how this desire to delve into the new cutting edge technology will play out in future generations – I do believe it's in the genes.


  1. Your dad sounds like he was a very interesting fellow!

  2. Dorene, Indeed he was -- as were my uncles Ralph and Clive --- and so is my son. Yes, indeed, interesting guys.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. I have always been surprised when I look at old photos of my parents' families to see automobiles in the pictures, since both families were quite poor. But as I read of your grandfather's love of machinery and cars, I can get a picture of the men in these families - same attraction to tinkering, etc. - and I guess they just had to get their hands on some kind of car, even if it didn't work very well (which it usually didn't). It's an amazing ability and I believe you are right - it's in the genes!