Being the son of an engineer can result in a slightly different childhood than that of, for example, the child of a grocer or English teacher.
I had Erector Sets as soon as I had the coordination to assemble small nuts and bolts. I made literally hundreds of projects. I expect the eventual demise of the 1930s erector set was due to the possibility that someone could swallow the small parts, resulting in lawsuits.. Today’s construction toys mostly snap together, eliminating the small parts. Safer and faster, but unrealistic.
Visiting my father’s construction sites, I was fascinated by steam shovels and dragline buckets. Dad then built me a dragline bucket, complete with a mast and boom for maneuvering it, and crank and cable arrangement for scooping up sand and dumping it. He fashioned a creditable steel bucket for this rig, and I spent hours moving sand around.
Another of his projects was a toy steam engine, but I suspect it was as much for him as for me. It had perhaps a ½ inch bore and one inch stroke. He put a lot of effort into getting the valving just right. We were both disappointed when it wouldn’t run – the candle-powered tin can boiler was evidently not powerful enough.
When I was about age 7 or 8, we moved back to Chilmark, on Martha’s Vineyard. My brother, myself and several neighbor kids were pretty much on our own for activities. We did have some sloping ground good for sledding, but we didn’t often have snow. On one occasion when about 6 or 8 inches of fluffy stuff fell, our sleds wouldn’t slide well on it, but we trampled the snow to compact it in a two or three foot wide path, to make a sledding run, and that worked very well.
After the others had gone home, I stayed and trampled snow to widen the path. I thought the others would be pleased, but instead they scolded me. Their idea was to maintain the sled path by pushing new snow onto it as needed, and the wider path was harder to maintain. I guess I didn’t get the memo.
During the summer, we tried another tactic. Mr. Flanders’ back yard was the final resting place of several pre-1930 autos, which would now be called antiques. From this private junkyard we obtained a couple of tires. Taking these to the top of our sled run, we would coil ourselves up inside the tire, and roll down the hill. We did take the precaution to have someone to help stop the tire or prevent it from going badly off course.
In recent years I was looking at a tire and marveling that I was ever small enough to curl up inside that opening. Then it hit me: the tires we curled into were for about 30 inch diameter rims, while today’s auto tires are for 15 to 17 inch rims. Our sport was the victim of advancing technology.
In the summer of 1936, several of us were playing out in a field, doing what I don’t remember, but we saw this great silvery shape flying over. It was the Hindenburg on its way to Lakehurst, NJ. Most people don’t remember that the Hindenburg made several successful trips in 1936, before the fatal flight in the spring of 1937. I was only nine, but I felt very sad when I learned that it had burned.
In the summer we would spend a couple of weeks at my grandparents’ cottage in the (former) fishing village of Lobsterville, a part of the town now called Aquinnah. This is where my parents had met. It was now reduced to four or five buildings., and those would be destroyed by the hurricane of 1938.
Among our activities was sailing in Menemsha Bight in a skiff rigged as a two-masted schooner. This gave me a sense of identity with my seafaring ancestors, who spent years at sea on whaling vessels..
We had a neighbor for a few days, a Dr. Savage, who had rented one of the other houses. Dr. Savage taught my brother Albert and I to make a figure-four trap. The trap, an inverted box, was held up at one end by an arrangement of three sticks notched together in the form of a 4, with the tail of the horizontal member baited and protruding into the area under the box.
We didn’t catch anything immediately, but later I used my figure 4 to support a slab of concrete. The result was a large rat smashed flat. Dad was impressed, but didn’t want me to repeat the effort. He was afraid I, or some part of me, or a neighbor’s pet would be smashed flat. I don’t believe the term “collateral damage” had been invented yet.