I was searching for some costume accessories we’d squirreled away last year. This would be for a masquerade ball we were to attend recently. Don’t ask. Okay, it was a fundraiser event for an education association raising money for, well, education. Which is not to say I’m generous in that respect, but I do sometimes want to help out. Plus the meal was great and the musical entertainment was fabulous.
The stuff I found was not noteworthy, but along the way I found other things when the search took me to a dresser in the spare room. There were old cameras, including a rare Kodak 828 I picked up at least 50 years ago. (That box of film expired in 1982.) Also an even older Argus Argoflex dual lens camera that probably belonged to my parents, if not my grandparents. A couple other cameras, including a panoramic camera that still has film in it. Oops, I think I ruined the film making that discovery. (I think I sold my first camera, a Kodak Starbright, at a garage sale a few years ago.) The odd folding rule and string levels were my grandfather’s. I’m still using his whetstone for sharpening the kitchen knives. And speaking of sharpening knives, I’d been wondering where my old Boy Scout Camp King jack knife had gone.
The big find for me was the Lloyd’s tape recorder. This came to me on a Christmas day when I was… I have no idea how old I was. Possibly 10 or so. There were also four tapes sitting there in the drawer, and I got to wondering what might be on them. I do remember that when I got the tape recorder, I made my grandfather play Santa Clause and say “Merry Christmas from the North Pole” into the microphone. Beyond that? I had no idea.
Their was a lot of rust and corrosion in the battery compartment. Not good. This is a battery-only unit: one 9-volt for audio (I assumed) and two “UM-2” batteries to run the motor. I did a quick search on eBay and found an identical unit in non-working condition listed for $60. Um, no thanks. I also found that UM-2s are more commonly known as “C” cells.
Yesterday I retreated to the basement, turned up the lights, unscrewed all the little screws, and pulled the unit open. Hmm, it didn’t look as bad as I might have expected. I cleaned up the rust and corrosion with a knife, some contact cleaner, and a little emery cloth. I worked the mechanisms, lubed the platters and spun them around until they turned freely. I had found a a 9-volt battery, but had to put out a call for a couple C-cells. I popped the 9-volt in. I got sound out of the speaker! A crackling hiss, but sound is sound, right? Then! I found some C-cells in another drawer and plugged them in. The platter turned. I had forward– play– but no rewind. I can work with that.
So I carefully loaded two reels on the platters, the empty take-up reel and the shorter of the four full reels.. I switched the knob to PLAY. The reels turned, and sound came out, hesitantly at first, then a little louder and stronger as it gained confidence. Here are a few seconds of what can only be a 50-year-old recording of me strumming my old six string, likely the arch top which was my first guitar. The quality is a bad as it gets, but the playing was worse.
I didn’t know anything about music then. I still don’t. Can’t read it, can’t write it, it’s all Greek to me, and not just Greek language, but a combination of algebra, calculus, trigonometry and Rubik’s Cube. I can’t even clap in time to a disco beat. But I think I recorded this rhythm tape so I could “write” a lead guitar riff to play over it. After a few painful minutes of this it switched to a recording of some other recording that’s indecipherable.
But there’s more on this tape, and three more tapes that are at least twice as long. I’m going to need some free time, some strong energy drinks, and, I’m sure, a whole lot more batteries. I’ll report back if I hear my grandfather’s voice. That would make it all worthwhile.