Thursday, August 08, 2013

Sepia Saturday 189: A Smoking Contraption



The Sepia Saturday photo this week is entitled:  "What An Amazing Contraption". 

I have no contraption photos in my family photos even though my French Canadian grandfather had a reputation as a tinkerer. Living on the farm, he was by necessity a self-made engineer. There were contraptions around his barn, mysterious heaps of wheels and pulleys but I never learned much about them. He had a small motor he used to move around from job to job; I saw it employed twice: for the butter churn and the dumbwaiter, both of which he had rigged up to work with the motor.

There was a rift in the family between Grandpa and his brother regarding invention. They both laid claim to having invented the paperless cigarette; they ended up estranged over it.  I asked my mother every time the subject came up, of what use would a paperless cigarette be? How would it be an improvement on the conventional cigarette and why did the brothers think it was so significant? I never got an answer to these questions so l' affaire du cigarette sans papier remains forever a mystery. 

While thinking l'affaire over,  I remembered that one now can go to Google patent search and look this kind of thing up. I found a French patent dated 31st of October 1876, Patent #40,799 granted to Schaeffer and Fritz for an "imported" invention of paperless cigarettes! It's unlikely that French patents in those days extended to Canada. It's equally unlikely that my grandfather and his brother on farms in Manitoba would have been aware of this patent. But - this proves that they weren't alone in thinking that the invention might be valuable.

Variations and product development/invention on the cigarette ( the tobacco companies can certainly afford to invest in R & D) over the years has culminated in the currently popular ecigarette for which the earliest patent issued is dated 1963. Okay, it's not really a contraption as in a Rube Goldberg kind of thing, but it does qualify, I think quite satisfactorily, as a device. The product was never commercialized - after all most of us were merrily puffing away at real tobacco in 1963 still more or less unaware of how really dangerous smoking was. A clever Chinese pharmacist came up with the first really workable ecigarette and it was introduced to the Chinese market in 2004 as an aid for quitting smoking.


There are many of them on the the market...here's how they work....



I wonder what my grandfather would think about these devices? I'm sure as was his wont, he'd immediately take one apart, lay out all the pieces and start thinking about improving it.

He continued to fiddle with mechanical things on into his nineties. His creative energy was expended on carving little wooden people and animals for a few years; then he began taking everything apart to figure out how it worked. Fine - until he started to slip into senility;  he'd take things apart that ought not be disassembled. As soon as the door would slam behind my grandmother, off to do her shopping, he'd get out his tools and take apart a kitchen appliance; it started small, with her hand mixer or the toaster oven. Like all addicts, soon small things lost their appeal and one memorable afternoon he took the television set apart. Grandma missed her soap opera the "Plouffe Family"; the _____ hit the fan. The piece de resistance was yet to come. One day Grandma stayed out shopping too long and Grandpa took the car apart. It was in so many pieces, my mother and aunt had to declare it DOA. The "incident a la voiture", a rather grand finale if I do say so myself, was both the peak and the nadir of his avocation as a tinkerer.

Speaking of smoking, here's one of my favorite songs. You can play this to accompany yourself as you esmoke on your ecigarette while surfing through cyberspace searching out how this or that contraption works. I also believe this song is excellent for improvement of your French accent.

Pink Martini Je Ne Veux Pas Travaillez

More inventive Sepia Saturday reading can be found here:
Sepia Saturday



Grandpa and carvings






19 comments:

  1. I loved the singer's voice and the foot-tapping rhythm! How magical your grandpa must have seemed. But taking the car apart? wah, I'd be crying over that!

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  2. Too many people in my mom's family (including her) smoked and died of heart attacks. The new cigarette doesn't sound like it's any healthier than the regular ones. I keep hoping my two children and one granddaughter will stop smoking before it's too late. :(

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  3. O my, I understood your post only too well. Funny if not so sad.

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  4. I had a friend who did that with cars ... wonder what it was, that incessant urge to tinker.

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  5. I saw a commercial or ad or something recently about that electronic cigarette. I just don't get it.

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  6. That's both poignant and funny -- imagine coming home to find your car dismantled! Poor guy; it's a tough condition. I'm with Wendy on the electronic cigarettes...what's the point?

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  7. When I worked for the Cancer Society we were told that the burning of the paper was the most harmful part of a cigarette. Much worse than the nicotine. So maybe the ecigarettes aren't a bad idea. They're especially good for people who have quit smoking regular cigs - because they have such an oral fixation.

    Your post did end on theme with your Grandfather taking the car apart. Do you have any of those wonderful carvings? They'd be great featured on the Antiques Road Show.
    Nancy

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  8. Loved your grandpa story. I hope someone in the family has kept his little carvings.

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  9. I love that song and the story about your grandfather is hilarious.

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  10. I have a grin from ear to ear. Loved the story. Loved the song. I look forward to more stories.

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  11. The story about your grandfather is both amusing and sad.

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  12. A wonderful anecdote about your grandfather and told very well. Great picture of him too.

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  13. Great story I really enjoyed it.

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  14. My father was a great fiddler as well, always trying to invent some gadget. He once came up wih a cigarette packet that would open automatically when you pulled a cardboard ribbon. Thus we are linked by smoking inventions!

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  15. So, the paperless cigarette was really a plastic contraption? I was imagining a how a stick of cigarette tobacco would stay in one piece long enough to pick up, much less smoke.

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  16. What a character your grandfather must have been. I loved the stories of his tinkering. Thanks for sharing your family history

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  17. What a story! Enjoyed it. My friend and I were driven around London last Fall by a cab driver who had lost his "ecigarette" in between the two seats in front. He kept searching for it while steering his way in the traffic (hair raising experience) and staying at the intersection long after the light had turned to green. He never did find the darn thing, but we ended up with a hefty cab fare as the meter was running all during the search....

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  18. I don't think that I could have given up smoking without the ecigarette.

    My brother would always take his toys apart to see how they worked. He managed to put them back together again too!

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  19. I missed this last week. I'm glad your grandfather took time out from his inventions to carve those wonderful figures.
    Barbara

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