One of my favorite YouTube channels is Techmoan, which I’ve supported on Patreon since 2016. The creator is Mat Taylor, a Scot who mainly posts videos about obscure audiovisual technologies. One of his most interesting posts was in 2015 about the Tefifon, a tape cartridge player that didn’t use magnetic tape, but instead had a loop of plastic tape with grooves that were played with a stylus in what was a bizarre combination of phonograph and tape technology.
The Tefifon was inherently interesting, but a catchy song Mat played from it in the background during part of the video would become a staple of his channel, with him using it as background music for various puppet segments he used to include in his videos.
Mat used that recording of Cuba Baion because he doubted it would trigger a copyright content match. He later learned that it was safe to use since it was copyrighted in Germany and was by now public domain. If it had been copyrighted in the United States, it might not be safe to use until 2066!
Funly enough, internet nerds have given the song new life.
Here’s Mat’s original video:
The video caused such a commotion that Mat made a follow-up, which included the full song:
Here’s the isolated recording of Cuba Baion from Mat’s Tefifon:
Here’s the song from a long-playing record, with a slower speed and deeper tone:
Here’s a fellow who figured out how much the Tefifon playback was off, and applied some playback curves:
Here’s a MIDI version that Anders Enger Jensen created:
And topping these off is a version played on a Fata Morgana Dutch Street Organ for residents of the Gagelbosch care center in Eindhoven, The Netherlands:
That is delightful! There is now even sheet music for Cuba Baion prepared by Kaden Dayog, who was also inspired by Techmoan’s videos.
Kurt Drabek was a German accordionist and bandleader. He was born in 1912 and passed away in Berlin in 1995. More than 1,100 compositions are attributed to him.
There was a Putnam, and eventually there was a city, but there never was a Putnam City.
I attended Putnam City schools from first through twelfth grades. But I never lived in Putnam City, because it never officially existed.
Israel Mercer Putnam
Israel Putnam arrived in Oklahoma City on July 4, 1901, a dozen years after 5,000 people settled it overnight in a land run. He was 27 years old, out of law school in Georgia.
He expanded his law business into real estate, developing residential additions. A common scheme at the time was to construct interurban streetcar lines out to undeveloped land, build amusement parks at the end of the lines to drive weekend traffic, and sell lots.
Putnam Park was one such operation for his Putnam Heights addition. It included a boating lake, gazebo, and picnic area. In 1928, it became Memorial Park, with a fountain replacing the lake, and is one of the city’s oldest parks at 36th and Classen Blvd.
Putnam was also instrumental in other Oklahoma City institutions. He and fellow land developer Anton Classen brought Epworth University to town, which would evolve to become Oklahoma City University. In 1905, he donated 40 acres at modern-day 63rd & Pennsylvania Ave. to a Baptist group known as the Indian Territory-Oklahoma Territory Orphan’s Home. The Baptist Orphans Home was sold in 1981 and the site is now the Waterford Hotel, office complex, and condominiums.
In 1907, when Oklahoma became a state, Putnam was elected to the legislature. In 1910, voters approved moving the state capital from Guthrie to Oklahoma City. Putnam purchased 2,000 acres northwest of the city, just west of some of his earlier additions and along the interurban streetcar line being constructed that ran west to El Reno along what is now NW 39th Expressway/Route 66. He initially called it “Oklacadia”.
Putnam later called his land “Model City” and began to make improvements. Partnering with John Shartel, he created a layout for “Putnam City’ and then offered “Putnam City Grove” within that layout to the state as a site for the new capitol building.
The Grove’s northwest corner was at what is now the intersection of Grove Avenue and 39th Expressway, and it extended south to 34th Street and east to what is now Ann Arbor Avenue. The Putnam City Central schools campus would later develop directly to the north of that between 39th and 40th streets. Today various businesses along Route 66, homes, and the Woodbrier Apartments occupy what was labeled Putnam City Grove and intended for the capitol building. Putnam’s land is now partially in the south end of the City of Warr Acres and partially in greater Oklahoma City. Putnam and Shartel planned to recoup their investment by selling lots around the new capitol building.
Governor Haskell and a State Capitol Commission agreed to the proposal, and Putnam began development. North of the future capitol along the interurban route, he built a block of brick-front stores and a hotel that was to house out-of-town legislators. But then the state Supreme Court ruled that legislative approval was needed to select a site for the capitol.
The state House of Representatives accepted Putnam and Shartel’s land deal, but the Senate objected. Other Oklahoma City business leaders argued the site was too far from downtown and the central business district. William F. Harn and John J. Culbertson offered 40 acres at NE 23rd Street and Lincoln Boulevard northeast of downtown, and a Senate commission stunned Putnam by choosing that site for the new capitol building.
Putnam’s reputation suffered, a bank he was associated with failed, and the bottom fell out of his stock as he was branded a “land shark”. In 1914, he donated 40 acres of the unplatted land and his Putnam building to the leaders of four one-room schools so they could consolidate under a new state law, asking only that the new school district be named for him and the city that never existed.
Putnam went on to land development schemes in Ardmore and Miami, OK and later moved to San Antonio, TX where he developed a resort, a hotel, and Pan American College. He died there in 1961.
Using the land donated by Putnam in Oklahoma City, Consolidated School District No. 1 was formed in 1914. They initially held classes in the Putnam building, but after building a brick school at present-day 40th and Grove, they sold the sprawling Putnam building to the eccentric Eugene Arnett, who became the Putnam City prophet.
The Putnam City Prophet
Arnett had become a millionaire as an insurance broker in Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas. He began steadily rambling on about health ideas and philosophy at morning staff conferences in the former Putnam building, confounding his employees. A reporter infiltrated his organization and reported on his interest in developing a “super-race” which he planned to dress in ancient Grecian costumes, including short tunics in order to give the body more exposure to sunlight.
At age 42, he suddenly retired, proclaiming himself the Prophet of the Purebred People. He had a stone sign placed around the building saying, “Place of the Poor Prophet” and in later years dubbed it “Arnett Athenoreium”. He had a glass room atop the east wing where he would work in the sunlight and reportedly sunbathe in the nude. About 40 to 50 employees lived and worked on the grounds, with mandatory daily exercises, eating foods that he insisted not be fried or contain caffeine. He disapproved of smoking, drinking, and girdles.
Arnett had peculiar racist and anti-Semitic ideas that white people living in the “Old South” maintained traits of the “Purebred People” and urged Americans to not wear clothing made of fabrics woven in foreign countries. He said Americans should wear cotton clothing to support southern farmers and put the “Jewish textile merchants in the east” out of business.
Arnett became a recluse, with rumors swirling about his activities after divorcing his first wife and marrying his secretary. In 1930, A.W. Whitten of Birmingham, Alabama sued Arnett for libel, demanding $100,000 because Arnett had written a letter stating Whitten was “the greatest egoist the Lord has ever allowed to live.” In 1933 he divorced the secretary, claiming she was mentally unbalanced and had tried to shoot him while riding in an automobile, while she charged him with “a form of asceticism probably unknown in the modern world.” He then remarried his first wife.
Arnett had employees build a brick-lined tunnel southward under the interurban tracks (present-day 39th Expressway/Route 66) with plans to transfer coal and cement from the interurban to his mansion using his own underground cars. The tunnel was reportedly never used, however, and was allowed to fill with water. It had hatches inside the Arnett building and in what was later the back lot of a car dealership on the south side of Route 66. A Warr Acres fireman claimed it also extended north past 42nd St.
The Arnett Building/East Annex
Arnett died in 1938, and the building was found to include a library with more than 60,000 volumes and pamphlets. His widow, Mabel Arnett, continued to live in the rambling 56-room mansion, which became dilapidated. She sold it back to the Putnam City school district in 1950, but the west wing was lost to fire on December 27, 1951.
The remaining east wing had housed construction equipment at the time of the fire, in support of the new junior high being built across State Street, which later became Central Intermediate. The remaining portion of the Arnett building was heavily remodeled to become the district’s maintenance building with wood and metal shops.
In my childhood, the Arnett building was an imposing oddity just across State Street from the playground of Central Intermediate, where I attended grades 4-6. A beige painted exterior hid its original brick, and by then it had huge metal louvers over the windows. I never saw inside the “east annex” but was told that the junior high shop classes were held in there. In sixth grade, I walked by it each week on my way to and from the west end of campus where I was a crossing guard for kindergarten kids headed to after-school care across 40th street.
In addition to Arnett’s abandoned tunnel under 39th Expressway, there was a tunnel leading westward from the Arnett building underneath the practice field; it was exposed when the Arnett building was demolished in 2017. I presume it was for steam pipes and other utilities, since there used to be a central plant along 40th.
There were likely additional utility tunnels underneath the various other buildings across the campus.
My memories of the PC Central buildings
In 1971-72, I lived with my parents in the Western Village addition near Hefner & Western, over six miles northeast of PC Central. I walked a half-mile along 104th Terrace to and from kindergarten at the neighborhood school in the Oklahoma City school district. But then court-ordered busing was going to bus me miles across town, and my parents moved to Bethany. The Bethany school district, however, was only about a square mile and smaller than the town’s borders, and I ended up going to Putnam City Central for grades 1-6.
For my first day at the new school, my mother put me on the bus. My recollection is that she was the homeroom mother and was heading to the school early to help my teacher set up. I’d never ridden a school bus, but Mom told me which building to head for when I got to school, where to find the classroom, etc. The problem was that the campus extended for 2100 feet along 39th Expressway and was so large that there were three bus stops, and my mother didn’t know that.
The first bus stop was on the east end for grades 4-6 at Central Intermediate, originally built as a junior high in 1952. It had a separate fourth grade building in the center, surrounded on three sides by a building for grades five and six, with asphalt playgrounds on the south along 39th Expressway. There were old wooden barracks-style buildings east of the playground which were the district offices. While I was in fourth grade, they built a new gym on the east end of the playground.
The second bus stop was for Central Junior High. Parts of it reportedly dated back to 1914, but 1961 and 1971 additions made it look much newer than the rest of the campus. It became James L. Capps Middle School years later. There was a practice field to the east, and the old Arnett building was between it and Central Intermediate.
The final stop was for Central Elementary, which had its own newer cafeteria building on the east side, which also housed the district police. There was a polygonal brick building, dating back to 1931, for second and third grades. First grade was in a separate building to the west built in 1948.
On my first day of school, I unknowingly got off at Intermediate, not realizing I needed to wait two more stops. My mother had told me to go to the building on the left. I marched up the steps into the leftmost building, went down the hall as instructed to what should be my first grade classroom, and peered in. I was shocked to see a classroom of sixth graders with no mommy in sight.
I remember how a sweet sixth grade boy noticed me, realized what had happened, and took me by the hand. He led me on what seemed like an endless walk west along 39th Expressway across a street and past the Arnett building, the practice field, and the junior high, across another street and past the elementary cafeteria, past the grades 2-3 building, and finally into the first grade building at the opposite end of the huge campus and marched me up to my mother. What a way to start! But at least I knew this was a campus with people willing to help! Little did I know that I would be repeating that walk regularly myself when I became a sixth grader headed to and from crossing guard duty at the kindergarten, learning to hide my Junior Policeman sash as I walked by the junior high to avoid being taunted.
The 1931-1948 buildings still had old steam radiators, bathrooms with long porcelain urinal troughs, and long trough drinking fountains, including some outside that were supported only by their pipes. The playgrounds were asphalt with no protection under the jungle gyms, so a fall meant plenty of scrapes and cuts or worse. And the decrepit boys bathrooms in the second and third grade building made that entire building stink.
I was aghast, since I was used to a school in Oklahoma City that had been built in 1963. What was this old backward place we had moved to? Our house in Bethany was old too, but made interesting by an oversized lot and newer additions…hmmm…sounds a lot like PC Central!
Some of the classrooms in the old elementary buildings had full-width coatrooms at one end where we could hang up our coats and line up our galoshes. Nowadays, those would be completely filled with teaching supplies and junk that resource-poor teachers are unwilling to throw out.
At that time, Putnam City’s patrons passed a bond issue like clockwork year after year. So, in addition to building more schools across the growing district, they started renovating one grade at a time at old Central Elementary. But they did each renovation the year after I exited that grade level. So I saw that facility at its worst. We did get lucky one year, with air conditioning being added. But it was an immense window unit that was so loud that our teacher could only turn it on during guided practice when no one was talking. So we still sweated our way through many lessons.
When I graduated to 4th grade, I began getting on and off the bus at Intermediate. A new gymnasium was constructed on part of the playground while I was there, which was nice. And they eventually added rubber mats below the playground equipment, but that didn’t save me from my worst injury there.
There were long steel single-pipe handrails along the sides of the playgrounds, and in fifth grade I was walking alongside the handrail during recess when a fellow student was running and slammed into me. He was probably playing a ball game and not paying enough attention. That flipped me a full 360 degrees around the handrail to land face-first on the asphalt. Nowadays handrails usually have an extra lower rail to prevent such rotations.
I had just gotten braces and glasses that year. My glasses had durable and flexible black plastic frames, but my braces cut up my mouth, and I was a bloody mess. My mother was called to retrieve me and she took me to the dentist to have my teeth checked. The braces cut me up, but they did prevent me from losing any teeth. My mother placed a high value on education, so she took me back to school, and I was deposited in my empty classroom while my classmates were in the gym for physical education. I remember them coming up the alleyway and seeing me looking down out of the classroom. They ran in to gawk at my facial cuts and swollen mouth. Several told me that they thought I had died!
The Intermediate building was newer than the Elementary ones, but it had tiles coming loose in the bathrooms. My fifth grade teacher designated me to make sure my classmates didn’t keep pulling tiles off the walls of the boys bathroom when we went for a break. Despite always being a short and thin lad of no athletic ability, I was bossy and confident enough to protect our restroom from further vandalism.
Sixth grade at Central Intermediate was interesting since we had separate teachers specializing in English, Math, Science, and Social Studies, and were assigned to one of them for homeroom. The teachers banded together to give themselves some grading and planning time by marching the entire grade to room 201 each Friday after lunch for films. It was extra large and had a small stage.
We would watch 16mm educational films all afternoon with one teacher at a time taking her turn to monitor while the rest worked in their rooms. We watched a lot of Encyclopedia Brittanica travelogues, leading us to think most countries were filled with people who dressed in native costumes and danced. And there was a slew of hokey mental hygiene films from Coronet and Centron.
I only remember the stage in Room 201 being used once. My classmate Carter Steph had been watching the 1976 BBC Television production of I, Claudius on the local PBS channel; we only had NBC 4, ABC 5, CBS 9, and PBS 13 back then. He convinced several of us to play roles in an adaptation of it he wrote, which we performed for the sixth grade. I remember the climax being Claudius eating a poisoned mushroom given to him by his wife, Agrippina, and having a protracted death. As bright and energetic as he was, I’m not surprised that Carter went into law and made good money in real estate.
My mother was homeroom mother so much, handling parties and crafts, that one year at Central Intermediate, I asked if she could not be homeroom mother, just for a change. She laughed and acquiesced, but still volunteered here and there. We moved from Bethany to the Windsor Hills neighborhood after sixth grade. Even though we then lived closer to Central than before, district boundaries meant I was then destined for Leo C. Mayfield Junior High and Putnam City West High School, while all of my Central friends advanced to Central Junior High and then to Putnam City High School. But my sixth grade teachers at Central liked my mother so much that they asked her to still come do crafts with the kids, and she did that for years after I had left Central behind.
Our move out of Bethany meant that I never experienced Central Junior High except when they marched us to its auditorium for a special program, usually to hear an orchestra perform. It seemed absolutely enormous to us, and I remember watching the 1974 movie Where the Red Fern Grows in there. I was a nerd, so I was fascinated that they showed it in widescreen and with reel changes I could see two halves of the image on the screen being realigned. We had passed the projection booth on our way in, and I snuck back up to it to see how they had synchronized two 16mm projectors to pull it off. Is it any surprise that I would go on to run projectors and other audiovisual equipment in junior high?
Gone, all gone
Time marches on, and 45 years after leaving it, everything I knew at Central is now gone.
Central Elementary was demolished in 2007, and a new building opened on the former playground and cafeteria plot in 2009. One of my father’s friends saved some bricks from the old building, and Dad gave me one. Despite writing this post and my gratitude to the many good teachers I had at Central, I had no fond feelings for the run-down old buildings. So I’ll confess that I’m using that brick to conserve water…it sits in one of the toilet tanks at Meador Manor.
Central Intermediate became Arbor Grove Elementary by 2009 when the new Central Elementary opened, and then was razed in 2015 after a new Arbor Grove Elementary opened at 5430 NW 40th.
The Arnett building, the former home of the Prophet of the Purebred People, was razed in 2017.
Central Junior High became Central Middle School in the early 1990s and finally Dr. James L. Capps Middle School in 2006. It was razed in 2021, with a new Capps Middle School built at 5300 NW 50th St.
So there is now almost nothing left of Putnam City, the city that never existed.
It took me two years and eight months to finally contract COVID-19. But I did finally succumb, so I will share my story and the lessons I take from it.
Be Careful, Man
As a leader in our school district’s pandemic response, I was quite careful for the first two years of the pandemic. I routinely wore KF-94 masks, avoided crowds and indoor dining at restaurants, and had air purifiers at home and at work. Until we could get fully vaccinated, Wendy and I curtailed our in-person social activities to only a few outdoor gatherings and did not visit my parents. During the first winter wave before we had vaccines, I even shaved my beard for a better seal with my KF-94 masks. I was able to regrow it once Wendy and I received our primary doses of Pfizer vaccine in February and March 2021. We both had a Pfizer booster in October 2021, I was able to get the Moderna booster for those 50 years and older in April 2022, and we both received Moderna boosters in October 2022.
Those precautions worked. My 97-year-old father was a victim of the Omicron wave last winter and died while on oxygen in hospice about a month later, despite being vaccinated and boosted. The lower immune response of the elderly meant that his vaccinations helped but could not fully protect him. Thankfully, my mother, Wendy, and I were able to visit Dad in a crowded emergency room overwhelmed by Omicron and in understaffed hospital wards, with our KF-94 masks and basic handwashing hygiene preventing infection.
Riding the Waves
Wendy and I managed to avoid any known COVID-19 infection through its first five waves here. There was the initial wave in the spring of 2020, when outbreaks at multiple nursing homes in Bartlesville resulted in a high local mortality rate. Next was the winter wave of 2020-2021, then the Delta wave in the late summer of 2021, the tremendous Omicron spike in early 2022, and a wave this past summer. We know that over 70% of Americans had been infected with COVID-19 by autumn 2022, and that infection rate is no doubt even higher in Oklahoma, which ranked next to last among the states in its pandemic response. The IHME estimates that 95% of Oklahomans had been infected at least once as of mid-October 2022.
Pandemic fatigue and the lower mortality risk from Omicron, coupled with more treatment options, meant that most pandemic precautions ended by the summer of 2022. At work we have air purifiers running, with planned filter refreshes, and we still track and isolate reported positives. But there are no precautionary quarantines, and very few people choose to mask up. Wendy and I no longer shy away from indoor dining.
Letting My Guard Down
Last Thursday I attended a public event in a local auditorium. I considered masking up, but instead just sat up in a high section, several rows away from anyone else. I have no way of knowing for sure, but that may have been my undoing, as I had my first symptoms three days later. I knew it was a high-risk environment, but I am not immune from pandemic fatigue. I certainly wish I had worn my KF-94 mask!
I began to feel congested on Sunday evening, and when I awoke on Monday morning I checked, but I had no fever and got a negative result on a rapid COVID-19 test. I decided to go to work to do some budgetary analysis and play my part at a school board meeting.
But I began to cough that day, so I isolated myself in my office with the air purifier on high, and wore a KF-94 mask at the board meeting in order to protect others. When I got home that evening, I took sick leave on Tuesday.
On Tuesday morning, another COVID-19 rapid test was negative, and I still had no fever. But I was still coughing and began that lovely contradiction of nasal congestion and a runny nose. I took another day of sick leave on Wednesday, and consulted online symptom charts. Below is one devised to help parents regarding cold, flu, COVID-19, and RSV.
My symptoms matched up to cold, COVID-19, or RSV. I had no loss of taste or smell, but that is no longer a symptom associated with Omicron and some newer variants. Wednesday night I had chills, but still no fever. My cough subsided a bit on Thursday, and I finally got my first good night’s sleep since Saturday. So I felt much better on Friday morning, but I had already decided to play it safe and stay home for a fourth workday, which set off alarm bells for those who know me, as I’ve almost never missed that many consecutive days in my 34 years in the school district.
Back when I was teaching, I only missed work when I was running a fever, had laryngitis, or an uncontrollable cough. The pandemic has changed my approach; now I don’t hesitate to enjoy the privilege of sick leave, both to help myself heal and to avoid putting coworkers at risk.
Although I felt much better on Friday, I decided to go ahead and take a third COVID-19 rapid test since Wendy and I were planning to leave for a vacation in Arkansas on Sunday.
Boom! The T test bar was dark long before the 15 minutes were up. We have plenty of rapid tests at home, so I took one from another manufacturer. The T bar appeared almost as soon as the fluid reached that location on the test strip. I was truly infectious.
I notified Wendy, my coworkers, etc. and cancelled our vacation cabin rental, forfeiting the deposit. Wendy came home and took a rapid test, but she still showed as negative. We had avoided most direct contact since my symptoms began, slept in different rooms, and I had been running our air purifier on high. Thankfully Wendy is almost a decade younger than me and was able to get a Moderna booster last month. So she may well have been infected and fought it off, or somehow she has dodged intaking too many viral particles.
I had already taken vacation next week for Thanksgiving Break, so I won’t be back at work until 15 days after my symptoms began, by which time I should be fully recovered and non-infectious. But if I were still scheduled for work, I would continue to take sick leave or work virtually until I got a negative rapid test.
I will also wear an effective mask when around others for at least 10 days after symptoms began and will continue masking after that if I have not both tested negative and been symptom-free for 24 hours. Thanksgiving Break 2022 will be very much in the pandemic mode here at Meador Manor!
Here are the things I think I did right:
Keep your vaccinations up-to-date
Check your temperature daily if you have any symptoms
Take a rapid test at symptom onset and do another test later
If you have any symptoms, wear an effective mask when around others and isolate as much as feasible both at work and at home
If you have multiple symptoms or a cough, stay home even if you test negative
And here are things I wish I had done:
Wear a mask when in a high-risk environment, regardless of the CDC Community Risk Level
Go home as soon as a chronic cough develops (I isolated in my office and wore a mask when around others for the rest of the day, but I should have just immediately headed home)
Do an additional rapid test every 48 hours until you test positive or your symptoms go away
Regarding rapid testing, I tested on Monday and Tuesday, but when I stayed home on Wednesday and Thursday, I didn’t bother to test again, so I didn’t find out until Friday that I had COVID-19. I wish I had tested on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday instead, hoping it might have been positive on Wednesday allowing me to warn my coworkers sooner. And if I were high risk, Friday would have been too late to begin Paxlovid. Those with insurance can still obtain 8 free COVID rapid tests per month at pharmacies in their plans, so we should each have a stockpile of them on hand both to confirm an infection and then later to confirm when you are likely no longer infectious.
And that’s my story of how at age 56, 32 months after the pandemic began, I finally joined the 95% of Oklahomans who have been infected by COVID-19. Be careful out there.
I finally tested negative 17 days after my likely infection, 14 days after my symptoms began, and 8 days after first testing positive. Our precautions at home worked, with Wendy never testing positive.
I likely had Omicron BA.5 or BA.4, which were dominant in Oklahoma. The 2022 COVID-19 mortality rate in Oklahoma for my age range was 70 times higher than for young adults. So although the Moderna bivalent booster on Halloween was unable to prevent my infection, it likely spared me from severe symptoms or worse. Bivalent boosters could be located at https://www.vaccines.gov/search/
I lived through the transition from mechanical to digital calculators. Here’s a look back at the calculators I’ve used over the past 50 years.
Underwood Sundstrand Adding Machine
My first experience with a calculator was this 30-pound chunk of hardware that my father bought used and planted on the large partners desk in our den at home in the early 1970s. It could add, subtract, and repeat, so you could do some primitive multiplication. Everything printed out on a paper spool. The machine was loud.
Oscar and David Sundstrand first marketed adding machines around 1915. Their firm was acquired by Elliott Fisher Company in 1927, and that was merged later that year with Underwood Typewriter Company. So we had an Underwood Sundstrand machine by Elliott Fisher. The Sundstrands were the ones who introduced the ten-key layout that became ubiquitous and is still found on computer numeric keypads.
You can see how the machine worked in the video below by a youngster working to figure out one that he picked up from Goodwill.
Monroe Monromatic Calculator
In the 1950s and 1960s, when he worked in the Gas Measurement department of Cities Service Gas, my father’s fellow office workers had Monroe Monromatic Calculators. Those were far more sophisticated mechanical marvels that could add, subtract, multiply, and divide to many places. They cost about $275 each in 1955, which would be over $3,000 in 2022 when adjusted for inflation.
Operating such machines was non-intuitive compared to today’s electronic calculators:
My Mechanical Calculators
Needless to say, those devices were not suitable for calculations when you were out shopping at a grocery store or a five-and-dime. I had two handheld devices which my parents had picked up at garage sales.
The first was a Super Add-A-Matic. You could hold it in your hand and depress buttons for dollars, dimes, and cents to add up the cost of items as you placed them in your basket. That way you could ensure you didn’t exceed the cash you were carrying.
The device could only add, and it reset to zero when you passed $19.99. I used it a few times at the local T.G.&Y. back when my allowance was a few bucks a week. Inflation rendered these devices obsolete decades ago.
I also had one of those little stylus computators. You had to stick the stylus in the appropriate slot and drag it to add or subtract. I found its operation clunky and not very useful, eventually prying it apart and playing with its sliders before chucking it all in the trash.
Canon Canola L 163
The first digital calculator I encountered was the Canon Canola L 163 that my father had on his desk at work in the mid-1970s. I was fascinated by its silence and the weird display. It used 16 Nixie Tubes, which were made of glass and contained a wire mesh anode and multiple cathodes, with each of the latter shaped like different numbers. The appropriate cathode would glow when selected, and I could see the wires for the other numbers both in front of and behind the one that was glowing. I remember staring intently into the display to figure out why its numbers appeared at different depths.
That device originally cost $845 in 1971, or over $6,000 in 2022 dollars when adjusted for inflation.
As an elementary school student, I was oblivious to the handheld calculator wars of the early 1970s, unaware that the commoditization of integrated circuits and LED and LCD displays were making handheld calculators incredibly cheap compared to the desktop digital calculators of just a few years earlier. Texas Instruments released the first calculator priced under 10 dollars in 1974.
So I was surprised at age 11 to find a Casio personal-mini four-function calculator on sale for a few bucks at a neighborhood garage sale. I rode home on my bicycle to collect all of my savings, hurrying back to purchase it before someone else snatched it up.
That device sold for $13.50 in 1976, which would be over $70 in 2022 dollars when adjusted for inflation. I was thrilled to get it in 1977 for $4, which would be about $20 in 2022 dollars after inflation.
It had a six-digit vacuum fluorescent display, instead of the more typical eight, as a cost-savings measure. If a result had more than six significant figures, you pressed the arrow key to see the remaining digits. I was struck by how its zeroes were half-sized. It was so slow that you could see the digits changing on a calculation, somewhat like watching the dials on an even slower mechanical calculator. And if you divided by zero, it would go into an infinite loop; pressing the arrow showed a steadily increasing counter.
When I was in high school chemistry in 1982, our old-school teacher forced us to memorize, to four significant figures, the values of sine, cosine, and tangent for every 5 degrees. We were to interpolate values between them as needed. Our mathematics textbook also had tables for sine, cosine, and tangent for each degree value.
All that seemed crazy to me, knowing that there were now handheld calculators that could do the trigonometric functions. I had saved up my allowance to buy a new TI-30 from Texas Instruments for $25, which would be about $75 in 2022 when adjusted for inflation. I remember how my old-school teachers, relying on trig tables and sliderules, would provide answers that were actually less accurate than mine, rapidly calculated on my TI-30. My father had the sliderule he used in college in the 1940s, showing me a bit of how to use it. I thanked my stars that I dodged that era in handheld computation.
In 1986, I decided that I needed a more powerful scientific calculator to help me in my Electrical Science and other engineering courses at the University of Oklahoma. Some of my engineering and math friends had Hewlett-Packard calculators of various types, with many of them using Reverse Polish Notation. I found that input system baffling, preferring the Algebraic Operating System used by Texas Instruments, but I wanted to be able to program advanced calculations and formulas into my device.
Radio Shack introduced its PC-5 Pocket Computer that year, which was a rebranded Casio FX-780P. I spend $120 of my scholarship money on one, which would be about $330 in 2022 when inflation-adjusted.
I loved that device, which folded open to reveal the usual scientific calculator keys on the bottom, but had a membrane QWERTY keyboard on its upper half, with shortcuts for various BASIC words, and a 24-character LCD display.
It had searchable memos and a wonderful formula feature – you could save your own plain English formulas in memory and have it prompt you for the values and then it would calculate. For more complex work, I could write complete programs in BASIC.
That little machine took me through the rest of my undergraduate work and into my teaching career. I programmed it to work its way through student lab calculations to speed up my grading, and I did all of my grade calculations and associated statistics on it. It didn’t do graphs, but I prefer a big screen for that anyway.
The original PC-5 served me for a decade, with me paying for a few repairs at the local Radio Shack. When it finally wore out, I replaced it with the near-identical PC-6, which served me another 10 years.
Here is a guy looking at one of these nifty devices:
After 20 years of using a PC-5 and then a PC-6, I was chagrined when my PC-6 finally bit the dust. I still wanted a BASIC programmable calculator for lab calculations, with statistical functions to analyze test results. So I opted for a TI-86 graphing calculator. Those were introduced in 1996 and weren’t discontinued until 2006.
I almost never used the graphing capability, preferring to do my graphing on a personal computer with a large display. I never upgraded to a later model, since newer TI programmable calculators were not compatible with the TI-BASIC programs I had painstakingly rewritten into my TI-86 unit. I didn’t want to re-create all of that code a third time. So, whenever one would wear out, I’d replace it with another I purchased on eBay. That pattern continued until I retired from teaching in 2017.
End of an Era
My use of handheld calculators ended with my teaching career in May 2017. Now I lead the district’s technology and communications efforts, and I mostly use Google Sheets for calculations and analysis. If I need to crunch some simple numbers while at a Windows desktop computer, I just press the Calculator button on my multimedia keyboard, which opens the basic Windows calculator app. Or I could just type “calculator” in Google for it to display its own scientific calculator.
And when I’m out and about, my iPhone has its own calculator app, which is a basic four-function one in portrait mode, and a scientific one in landscape.
I lived through the years from mechanical calculators to digital desktop ones, on through handheld digital calculators, into this era where the smartphone has turned the calculator into just another app. I suppose some students are still stuck buying ridiculously overpriced TI graphing calculators for supervised testing, but otherwise such devices seem to be from another time and place.
For our return home, I planned to share with Wendy two places I had visited in 2012 before we began dating: Trinidad and Capulin Volcano. I had recalled them as favorite stops on the long journey from Green Country to the mountains of southwest Colorado.
I planned for our trip back home to take four days with overnights at Pagosa Springs, Trinidad, and Woodward so that we wouldn’t be on the road for more than five or six hours in a day. We had enjoyed multiple stays at the Pagosa Springs Inn & Suites in prior years, but I discovered it had been sold and was being redeveloped into micro-apartments. So we landed at the RiverWalk Inn by the San Juan River and enjoyed big slices of pizza at Rosie’s, which was DSP Pizza when we dined there back in 2013.
The next morning we drove the familiar Wolf Creek Pass across the Continental Divide to cross the cattlelands to the New La Veta Pass across the Sangre de Cristo mountains to little Walsenburg.
We had stayed in Walsenburg in 2019, and I looked forward to another lunch at La Plaza, which I will always remember for having a copy of the wild Urantia cult book on its shelves back in 2013. But La Plaza closed after winter storm damage in 2021 and has yet to re-open. We then found out that Tina’s Family Cafe was also closed, so we drove back across town to have lunch at the H&H Cafe, which was the Busy Bee back in 2019. The food was good and prepared us for the short hop south to Trinidad.
In 2012, I drove through Trinidad, admiring how it had maintained its downtown. Trinidad is situated on the banks of the Purgatoire River and the Fishers Peak mesa looms to the east.
The town still has many original buildings and brick paved roads. I hadn’t really considered what Wendy and I would see in Trinidad until I perused TripAdvisor at the RiverWalk Inn in Pagosa Springs and noticed there was a spacious A.R. Mitchell Museum of Western Art in an old storefront downtown.
We parked in a free lot off Convent Street and walked along Main Street to the museum. A.R. Mitchell was born near Trinidad and found success painting over 160 images for many western and weekly magazines during the 1920s through the 1940s.
After his death in 1977, his sister, Ethel Mitchell Erickson, nicknamed “Tot”, was trying to determine where to donate his paintings, western art, and historical memorabilia collection. The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in my hometown of Oklahoma City was interested, but Tot decided to keep the items in Trinidad. So in 1981 the A.R. Mitchell Museum was established in the former Jamieson Department Store building that has graced Main Street since 1906. The museum has some of the original fixtures of the store, used to showcase items, with a unique horseshoe shaped mezzanine and the typical pressed tin ceilings and wood floors.
I enjoyed the accessible work by A.R. Mitchell, which emphasized story. In a 1973 interview at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in OKC, he remarked, “My cover paintings had but a few inches of space and seconds to talk the potential reader into spending his nickels…a good cover, whether on a pulp or a slick, had to talk.”
I laughed so hard at his American Lullaby that I purchased a print of it at the museum and later had it framed and mounted over a bed at Meador Manor.
Happily exiting the museum, we dropped our prints off in the minivan and then walked along Main Street. I liked spotting Fishers Peak between the downtown buildings.
The heat was on, so we tried to get an ice cream and a cool drink at Tutti Scoops on Commercial Street, but they were locked up, so we ended up at I Love Sugar across the street to get our fix. We enjoyed our walk about the little arts district in Trinidad, laughing at a street sign thanking us for not smoking METH and a banner urging folks to re-elect Peach Vigil for county clerk, although she has had some troubles.
We retired to our Family Suite at the La Quinta on the old Santa Fe Trail. I wasn’t expecting much, so I was pleasantly surprised at our spacious, clean, and comfortable suite.
I had considered returning to Rino’s for dinner after enjoying a quiet lunch there in 2012, but dinner promised the possibility of singing waiters, and we weren’t up to that. Wendy picked out the Sunset Bar & Grille, situated in a Days Inn near our La Quinta on the old Santa Fe Trail. The setting and kitschy signage, which struck me as a timewarp to the 1970s, belied how chef Muthu Pandy offered up a fusion of American dishes with Thai and Indian food. We enjoyed fine food along with a panoramic view of the sunset above the Spanish Peaks.
On our penultimate vacation day, we drove to Capulin Volcano. The extinct cinder cone last erupted about 60,000 years ago, creating 16 square miles of lava flows, and is composed of cinders or lapilli with a diameter of 2-64 millimeters along with larger blocks or bombs.
Wendy was in the restroom at the visitor’s center while I browsed and discovered they had several coffee mugs that perfectly matched the chimenea-shape that Wendy said kept coffee hotter for longer than other mugs. She had been looking for the ones that were made in America, and the producer of the mugs had an interesting history. When I showed her my find, she eagerly selected several of them, which I purchased as her sixth wedding anniversary gift. We had converted a bunch of Nos along our trip into a resounding Yes!
We happily drove up to the rim of the crater. There we parked and hiked along the Crater Rim Trail.
I was struck by how distant clouds made it look like the tips of the branches of a dead tree were smoking.
Far below was the visitor center and the extensive Raton-Clayton volcanic field.
We climbed high enough, despite the heat, to see the crater.
The panorama from atop the volcano was striking.
We turned around, meeting an elderly couple on the trail. They asked how much farther the trail went, with the wife saying she was recovering from a heart attack. We urged them to just go around the next curve where there was a bench, reassuring them that was plenty high for them to see everything, rest, and then come back down.
We then traversed the full length of the Oklahoma Panhandle and drove to Woodward for the night. We had lunch in Clayton, New Mexico. We wound up at a Pizza Hut after other choices had provided the post-pandemic Nos we had grown accustomed to. The Pizza Hut actually had a large seating area with comfortable booths, unlike many of the franchises these days, which often have worn-out booths if they offer seating at all. So that, decent food, and excellent service from a young waitress were most welcome.
Wendy enjoyed driving in the deserted panhandle, so unlike the pressures of city driving. I had booked another La Quinta room, but this time we were less fortunate. The hotel clerk claimed they had tried calling us (there was no record of such attempts) to let us know that our suite was unavailable. The upper floors of the hotel were closed off “for renovations” so we made do with a regular room on the ground floor which was unclean and unwelcoming. We were glad to leave early the next morning to head home.
I noticed how the towns throughout the panhandle and northwest Oklahoma, all the way to Ponca City, were struggling. There were many abandoned service stations and shuttered downtowns. Nearly two-thirds of Oklahoma counties saw their populations decrease over the past decade as part of a migration from rural to urban and suburban communities. Nearly half of all Oklahoma residents now live in just four of its 77 counties: Canadian, Cleveland, Oklahoma, and Tulsa.
J. Tom Mueller, a research assistant professor with the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability, has noted that agriculture now is increasingly mechanized, requiring less labor, and the manufacturing boom that rural communities once benefited from began disappearing in the 1980s as companies shifted production outside the United States. Politics also is driving people away as folks seek out people who are more like them and flee areas where liars, grifters, and seditionists prey upon the vulnerable.
But our spirits lifted as we pulled up to the Ponca City airport to dine at Enrique’s. Our friends Carrie and Trish introduced me to that restaurant years ago, and I am very glad it is still serving up puffy chips and other yummy food. It was then just a drive across the Osage Nation to reach Bartlesville, completing our Double Loop.