Pack Rat – Archive

The Ol’ Pack Rat – Archive

From the Clutter of My Old Office Corner

A continuing saga of a cluttered office.

Submitted by anonymous Verona resident. 9/1/2021

Summer’s bounty…


As I write this, much of this summer’s bounty signals the end of the growing season. Canning is still part of the summer routine for some people. As I mentioned last month, a lot of activity centered around our family’s wood-burning kitchen stove and canning was part of that.


Here on my desk is a pair of quart canning jars. But now these two jars serve a different purpose being filled with more of my “treasures.” One contains a variety of colorful seashells, an assortment of seed pods, and a pestle used for grinding spices. The unique items (to me) are a little part of life gathered along the way. The other glass jar is protecting two completely dried onions. All that remains of the once-plump orbs is their shiny bronze, fragile outer skins; yet somehow they retain their original round shape and hold a special beauty.


One jar has a glass top and metal bail closing device. The trade mark on the bottom of the jar indicates it’s from Hazel Atlas Glass Co. and was produced sometime between 1906-1955. The other is a Ball jar with a glass lid and metal screw-on ring. The designs of the embossed word Ball changed ever so slightly over years. The particular design can be used to identify when the jar was produced. By going to the Ball web site, I found this jar’s design fits the period of 1933-1962.


Moving my thoughts away from the culinary, I glance up at the bulletin board. Prominently displayed are a group of three items whose purpose is purely protection. I think I collected them because of their commonality: their use; their size, all approximately 11”; and their elliptical shape.

The first, my favorite, is a large, snapping turtle shell. It is basically bone, formed by the turtle from protein and various types of calcium. Its color offered protection in the simplest of way – camouflage. The earth-tone hues served well in blending into the turtle’s environment as did the intricate 13-segmented design on top. It is nature providing a protective “helmet” from nature itself.


The second of this collection is a WWI GI-issue head-covering. Man’s protection from man. However, this simple, Army-green steel helmet offered minimal protection at best. It has two straps which can be adjusted. One circled around the inside to make it a “one size fits all” headgear. The other, a narrow chin strap, held the helmet in place.


The third is an early 1970s bike helmet. Man’s protection from self. This white helmet is constructed of “expanded polystyrene”. The amount of foam required for preventing serious head injury created a bulky, uncomfortable-to-wear piece of equipment. I have never seen anyone wear this type of helmet. When worn it must have made the person look like Speedy Alka Seltzer!


And so the collection and the remembering continues. Next month I’ll share more of the “treasure trove” from the office corner. Till then, you remember . . . it’s good for you.


The Ol’ Pack Rat

From the Clutter of My Old Office Corner

A continuing saga of a cluttered office.

Submitted by anonymous Verona resident. 8/1/2021

The ash shovel …


While sitting at the old desk in the cool basement on a hot July day thinking about the August Chronicle issue, I let my eyes wander to the space between the old Coke and beer cases. Leaning against the bulletin board between them is a special small shovel. As in all shovels, it has two parts: the handle and the blade. This is a unique shovel by size, three inches short of two feet. In our house we called it an ash shovel used to remove the ashes from the firebox of our wood-burning cook stove.


This tool is machine-stamped from a single piece of metal. The blade portion is long and narrow, 4” wide and 10” inches long. Its sides are slanted and tapered, ranging from 1” at the end to 4” high at the handle. The leading edge of the blade is not just worn uneven but is worn through in one spot from the constant rubbing of metal on metal over the years. The metal of the handle was rolled to form a tube.


My job as a kid was to empty the wood ashes when my mother needed it done. That was a several-step process: Go to the backroom off the kitchen and get the ash pail. Take the piece of old rug to put under the ash pail to make sure no hot coals landed on the linoleum flooring in our kitchen. Cautiously shovel the ashes out from the firebox.


When finished I put the ash pail back next to the wood box which also served as a reminder that box needed to be filled every other day. So out to the woodshed I would go, load my sled or wagon with wood and trudge back to the room off the kitchen.

Directly above the stove was a floor grate used to send heat up to my second story bedroom. It also sent up adult conversations from down in the kitchen! I could lie in my bed and listen to stories not always meant for little ears to hear.


It’s nostalgic to me…thinking of the old wood stove located in our kitchen at an angle near the wall. There was just room enough for me to carefully climb behind it on cold winter mornings. One end of the stove was a reservoir which was a continual source of warm water. Of course, that too required being filled on a regular basis just like the wood box. Filled not by water from a faucet but from the outdoor pump, and carried by a pail full through the backroom into the kitchen.


Our stove had four removable lids. On special occasions one lid would be removed and a cast iron waffle iron was put in its place. The round waffle iron had a top and a bottom lid, each with its own handle; the two were nested together. Directly opposite the handles, the lids were hinged to a circular base that sat on the stove. That allowed the waffle to be flipped, so one side would be baked at a time over the open flame.


Yes, I have lots of memories from the warm kitchen, the heart of our home. Maybe yours was, also… so remember, it’s good for you.


The Ol’ Pack Rat

From the Clutter of My Old Office Corner

A continuing saga of a cluttered office.

Submitted by anonymous Verona resident. 7/1/2021

12-inch glass fish bowl …


Resting on top of the old beer case/book case is a 12-inch glass fish bowl filled with “stuff”. Yes, more stuff, just adding to the clutter in my corner. “Stuff” as defined by the American Pocket Dictionary is worthless matter. As it becomes “stuff”, the usefulness of it is a question of obsolescence. Just maybe that is why it is saved – hopefully to become useful in some situation again.


One of the old things saved is a window pulley from a house that was about to be razed. A rope threaded through the pulley was attached to both the sash and a cast iron weight inside the window frame. The weight acted as a counterbalance to the sash. One could have a window partially or wide open and it would stay in that position.


A six-inch stove pipe damper with its coiled wire handle may be familiar to many older folks. It controlled the draft in the chimney attached to the wood-burning cook stove. Some of us can still feel the heat from that coil handle!


A common item in old houses was a “Can’t Miss” four-way mouse trap. Who doesn’t remember the little wooden device that was just as likely to catch a finger as it would a mouse? While this is a very early version, a similar design is still in production, equally adept at catching fingers.


An ornate, cast bronze coat hook has a beauty of its own. The workmanship of this double-hook coat hanger is a far cry from the bent-wire style we had in the cloak room at school.

Nature and the outdoors also contributed to the fishbowl collection. I recall snatching the lotus seed pod from the Mississippi River on a canoe trip one fall day. The seeds, each visible in the individual compartments, rattle quietly in the hardened, cone-shaped pod.


Another of nature’s offerings is a complete, hollow 5-inch turtle shell. The top of the shell is designed in 13 segments, verified as belonging to a snapping turtle by Kenny Salway in his book, Tales of a River Rat. One can only wonder what caused the young reptile to have abandoned its shell.


At the bottom of the fish bowl rests a metal spile or what is commonly called a tap used in collection of tree sap. The tap is three inches long. The end with a trough is pounded into a drilled hole. A hook on the bottom is designed hold the collection pail or bag. Nowadays the pail is often replaced by a tube which channels the sap to a collection tank. This particular spile was given to me during a visit to a friend who has his own sugar bush in upstate Vermont.


Among the last items in the fishbowl is a railroad spike. It came from the track that ran through the heart of Verona until around 1980. Hammer marks can be seen on the head. One noticeable strike suggests a near miss on the edge.


Yes, the fishbowl is filled with just “stuff”. Maybe it doesn’t need to have an importance to be saved. Just think of how many junk drawers are in American kitchens! Any one thing can put a thought into motion…remember, it’s good for you.



The Ol’ Pack Rat

From the Clutter of My Old Office Corner

A continuing saga of a cluttered office.

Submitted by anonymous Verona resident. 6/1/2021

Take me out to the ballgame; take me out to the crowd …


In the old beer case (bookcase) there is an official baseball program for a Chicago Cubs/Milwaukee Braves game at the famed Wrigley Field. The price is 10 cents while the game’s ticket stub,dated June 30, 1956, was for Grandstand seats, Section 136, with a price of $1.24 + .01 tax for a $1.25 total. I don’t recall attending the game so I wonder how the program found its way to my desk.


The teams’ rosters and numbers were listed; but I don’t know who played that day because the batting order was not penciled in. With any luck at all, fans could have watched four future Hall-of-Famers. For the Braves there were Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews and Hank Aaron. Ernie Banks represented the Cubs team. What a treat it would have been able to see those stars!


The program included a list of snacks at Wrigley Field. Peanuts and popcorn, but no Cracker Jacks. Just the same, can’t you hear Harry Caray leading the fans in singing “Take me out to the ballgame…” during the 7th inning stretch? The ballgame staple of a hotdog and beer was 60 cents. Coke sold for 15 cents. Imagine a day at the ballpark now for under $2.00. Wow!


I had to look up who won the game that day. It was the Braves with a 4-3 victory. That Braves’ team made Wisconsin even prouder the next year by winning the World Series. Unfortunately, they left Milwaukee nine years later.


Resting upright next to the program is a Rand McNally classroom atlas with a copyright date of 1950. It offers an interesting trip through time when one looks at all the countries that were in existence then. I recall how we had to learn those names and locations while in school. Somehow the older names seemed a bit easier to remember than today’s many new-name revisions.

I pulled two “Sports Afield” magazines from the bookcase, dated October 1936 and June of 1994. Even with a nearly 60-year span, they remain similar in content regarding hunting and fishing. However, it is hard to miss the contrasts between the two. The early version has all black and white ink versus the other in color, its ads are much smaller as opposed to full-page spreads. Of course, a price change would be expected: 15 cents vs $2.50.


While tobacco continued to be advertised in both issues, years ago canned, cut tobacco reigned. While paging through the older issue, I came upon an ad for Prince Albert cut tobacco. Seeing this rectangular metal can brought back a flood of memories. That tobacco can became a prize possession as it fit perfectly into the back pocket of jeans. As soon as school was out for the summer, I would spend hours fishing. The can with its flip-top lid was an ideal container for worms and night crawlers. With Prince Albert in my back pocket, a jackknife, a small Bayer aspirin tin for extra hooks, and a tube of split shot with an extra leader wrapped around it in my jeans front pocket, I would grab my pole, jump on my bike and head for the river.


Good luck fishing in your pond of memories…remember, it’s good for you.



The Ol’ Pack Rat

From the Clutter of My Old Office Corner

A continuing saga of a cluttered office.

Submitted by anonymous Verona resident. 5/1/2021

Here it is May already. For many of us graduation from high school was in May, never in June. Adding to the excitement of the time was that yearbooks (annuals) were handed out then. I pulled out two annuals from the wooden beer case sitting upright on the desk top. One is dated 1946 and the other 1956, but they are from different school districts in rural Wisconsin. The earlier book was from a high school created by consolidation in 1942 in the middle of WWII and this senior class was the first to graduate.


The new school offered four courses of study: academic, commercial, vocational home economics, and vocational agriculture. The four were comprised of twelve subjects taught by five staff members. It stated that this was an improvement over past academic-only offerings! A limited number of sports and activities were available.


Jump ahead ten years to the second yearbook from a much older established school. It is reflected in this annual that after the prosperity following the war, schools were able to offer more educationally and to include more activities.


Yet, the books are surprisingly similar especially since they are about teenagers and school life rituals which seem to be a constant. Both schools had graduating classes with students numbering in the 20’s. Each yearbook featured a Class History, Class Prophecy, Sports, Music, and Activities sections. However, a singular difference in the 1946 book was an Honor Roll listing 18 students who had joined the armed forces since the school opened in 1942.


One thing they had in common was the coverage of Initiation ritual. Remember how Initiation was one of the feared highlights of freshman year? The seniors were in charge, forcing embarrassing directives on the lowly newcomers. Some requirements for girls were the wearing ‘diapers’ over jeans and gunny sacks as blouses with no makeup allowed. Boys were required to wear a two-piece bathing suit over long johns, and on their feet, one high-top boot and one bedroom slipper. As you may remember, the activities were equally as humiliating as the garb.

Another similarity was that there were special dances in addition to the more formal ones. These were sock hops, sweater dances, and Sadie Hawkins in November. For the last one, ‘twas the girls who did the asking and the paying for the date.


The most striking difference between the two books is in their appearance. In the earlier one, all text including ads was type written and had the look of a mimeographed book. The other used the more advanced linotype.


Next, I pulled out the folded, yellowed newspaper which rested upright next the annuals. I felt a sense of sadness. It’s dated Friday, November 22, 1963. That is one of those dates in history when everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing. The two-inch headlines: PRESIDENT KENNEDY ASSASSINATED.


Finally, in addition to the items described above, the beer case ‘bookshelf’ holds a thick, high school Prose and Poetry textbook. I am surprised I have that because it wasn’t a favorite of mind. Can you recall sitting through this series in English classes when the hours seemed to drag?


Until my next visit to the Old Corner… remember, it’s good for you.

The Ol’ Pack Rat

From the Clutter of My Old Office Corner

A continuing saga of a cluttered office.

Submitted by anonymous Verona resident. 4/1/2021

Spring is upon us. As I am spending as much time outside as I can, my time at the old desk has been limited. My Coke case still holds many ‘treasures’ and I will return to them at a later date. But for now, my eyes are drawn to a reminder from a significant spring ritual of years past. Hanging on the big bulletin board on the wall behind my desk is a rug beater – an essential tool for spring cleaning. The living room rug, after months of only being cleaned with the carpet sweeper, was rolled up and taken outside. It was draped over several clothes lines ready to be rid of its deep dirt. As you might have guessed, it was my job to beat the rug, pounding out a year’s worth of dusty accumulation!


This three-foot beater looks similar to a badminton racket. The head is bare wire formed into various shapes, the most prominent are two large hearts. This sits on top of a twisted wire shaft running through a wooden handle at the end. It cleaned surprisingly well as the dirt rose to the surface which was then swept away. The process took a l-o-n-g time. To make the time go by more quickly, I turned the beats into hitting home runs, sword fighting, swatting giant flies, and other imagined feats. Still, it was an eternity of beat and sweep, beat and sweep! Another spring cleaning event involved the beds. Each mattress was carried outside, leaned against a tree or clothes line pole to air out. The bed springs of coiled wire were thoroughly washed by hand and left to dry.


While I am on the subject of cleaning…a well-worn wash board, partially exposed behind the desk, rests against the wall. It consists of a rippled aluminum panel held in place by a wooden frame, two feet by one foot. The top had a space for a bar of Fels Napta soap while the legs at the bottom were submerged in a tub of wash water. This essential from the past has a beauty all of its own. The wood, roughened and eroded by the soapy water, now has a silver patina.

But life isn’t all hard work as the ‘treasures’ above suggest. The bulletin board also includes reminders of fun things and events. An iconic Pillsbury doughboy and a rubber chicken are displayed. Commemorative tickets for the first UW women’s basketball game at the Kohl Center are dated Tuesday, January 20, 1998. The free tickets were handed out as a way to fill the arena for that initial game. As you might suspect, the seating was in the nose-bleed section. Today the ol’ knees probably couldn’t make it up that many steps! Joining the basketball tickets is a sponsor ticket for a NASCAR race at Chicagoland Speedway. Attached to it are two passes: a “cold” pass for the garage area before the race and a “hot” pass for pit areas during the race. A nice memory is that we were able to rub elbows and meet drivers in the hospitality section before the race. Another unforgettable memory is the indescribable noise generated by the cars.


Ear protection was a must!


Until the next time, remember … it’s good for you.



The Ol’ Pack Rat

From the Clutter of My Old Office Corner

A continuing saga of a cluttered office.

Submitted by anonymous Verona resident. 3/1/2021

Today finds me sitting at the ol’ desk studying the wooden Coca Cola case. Among the many sections, two bright spots of Kodak yellow pop out commanding my attention. They take me back to my early cameras which today are completely foreign to the young generation as they whip out their smart phones and snap, snap, snap away.


Many people near my age began their picture taking with a point-and-shoot box camera or a Brownie Hawkeye, perhaps. And, of course, the film was black and white. Even though color film was around from the 1930’s, it didn’t become popular until the middle 1950’s with the development and affordability of the 33mm slide camera.


The yellow can and yellow box I see are easily recognizable as the remnants of the 33mm period. This small, screw-top aluminum can contained either a 24- or 36-frame film. Unless one had a special event or a vacation on the schedule, it took a long time to use that many frames.


At the time the film purchase was made, one also bought a prepaid envelope to return the exposed film, by mail, to a processing company. Then the wait and anticipation! Would the slides be disappointing? Would they be in focus? Would there be any photo bombs or even mistakes like missing heads?


When the slides in the yellow box finally arrived, how were they viewed? A projector with slotted-trays was needed. Not used too often, the machine sometimes required one to dig through stuff on the closet floor to find it. One also needed a screen upon which to show the slides. Did your family have a roll-up screen, or did you use a light-colored wall…temporarily removing pictures and furniture to create a blank surface? In the first showing it was not uncommon to have some of the slides backwards or upside-down – somewhat embarrassing especially if neighbors had been invited over for the viewing.

So, do the yellow canister and box have a special use now? True to its calling, the box still has a dozen or so slides, culled duplicates of memorable events from decades ago. The canister, on the other hand, contains coins. There are 4 copper pennies from the 1950s and an aluminum one from 1943. The latter was part of the war effort but the minting of them had to be discontinued because the size and color were too similar to a dime. This valued ‘treasure’, according to Google, is only worth 50 cents or less now.


My eyes, returning to another slot in Coca Cola case, fall upon a shoe horn. Remember what a big deal it was to receive a new pair of shoes? It wasn’t that long ago when a shoe salesman was ready to assist, a shoe horn handy in his back pocket. Often shoe horns like this one from northern Illinois were printed with the name of the store, then given to customers as an advertising tool.


Lastly, how many of you remember, “Walking the Dog”? In the section directly below the yellow canister is a “Genuine Beginners Yo-Yo” officially patented by Duncan, manufactured in northern Wisconsin. The pristine condition of this wooden yo-yo, one side painted black and the other red, has not been much help in my effort to “walk the dog” again. So much for not practicing over the years! Until the next time… Remember, it’s good for you.

The Ol’ Pack Rat

From the Clutter of My Old Office Corner

A continuing saga of a cluttered office.

Submitted by anonymous Verona resident. 2/1/2021

On this cold winter day while sitting at the old desk, my eyes fall on the many sections of a battered wooden Coca Cola case resting on its side against the bulletin board at the back of the desk. Each of the twenty-four 2½ x 2½ inch squares holds a variety of smaller objects collected over the years. Now I am wondering why I saved them!


In one square a royal blue glass jar with its pastel green and white top catches my attention. That’s right, a small Vicks Vapor Rub jar. Vicks was a cure-all for any number of ailments in many a household. One can almost smell the aroma now just as when a dollop was added to a can of boiling hot water. The melting Vicks combined with the steam created an inhaler for those with colds. Or who can forget their mother rubbing a thick layer of the clear gel on their chest at bedtime and covering it with a warm cloth? Or the next day when everyone at school knew what remedy was applied the night before! Indeed, the treatment seemed to work, just as the fading label states, “Vicks Vapor Rub Relieves Distress of Colds”.


As I gaze at two other sections that contain brown and black ceramic door knobs salvaged from a now-razed house, I wonder how many hands had touched each during their useful lifetime. Filling another space is a blue-green telephone insulator. For years anybody driving through rural areas took notice of the telephone poles paralleling the road. The poles were strung with one or more wires, each attached to an insulator affixed to the pole. Speaking of telephone lines, remember the “party line” with multiple families on one wire? Each residence had its own ring, for example, two long and one short. But that didn’t stop others on the line from picking up their own receiver and listening in on private conversations!


A round pressure gauge fills another square. This gauge would control water pressure from a cistern throughout the house. A thing of the past, the cistern was often built into the basement for collecting rain water – used for purposes other than human consumption. Many other houses used pressure systems for an outdoor well pump.

Another compartment holds a cut-off piece of deer horn used to make buttons for one of my children’s school projects. Sharing the same hole are three keys. Who doesn’t have an assortment of keys lying around – their usefulness gone just as the object they opened is now long forgotten. One is the familiar skeleton key. The other is a “church key”. These openers were offered free when needed for every six-pack of beer purchased. Today these openers are seldom used because of modern packaging.


The third key was once attached to the bottom of a can of Spam. With fresh meat being rationed in 1942, urban folks found a likely meat supplement in canned Spam. Spam then became the alternative meat as it required no meat stamps. Spam was eaten cold, fried, baked with pineapple and brown sugar, or prepared using one of the 169 recipes suggested in the Spam cookbook! It was also shipped overseas where GI’s referred to it as “ham that didn’t pass the physical”. That Spam today evokes mixed emotions. The small key is a reminder of its many meals eaten although not always remembered with fondness; yet, once a year I buy the smallest can of Spam I can find and make a sandwich as a token gesture to the past. Until the next time, remember… it’s good for you.

The Ol’ Pack Rat

From the Clutter of My Old Office Corner

A continuing saga of a cluttered office.

Submitted by anonymous Verona resident. 1/1/2021

While sitting at the old desk, I stuck my fingers into the accumulation on the cluttered top and pulled out a tattered magazine. On the cover was a wounded G.I. lying in a tent close to the front lines of a battle while a nurse held his hand. Outside a single star shone on the ruins of a bombed-out church. The magazine is the Christmas issue of LIFE, dated December 27, 1943, at the height of WWII. Price:10 cents. The articles inside are printed in black and white with the advertisements done in bright colors. The main article, “Experienced by Battle”, is a long, “32-page color portfolio of paintings by six well-known US war artist/correspondents”. It provided a moving, descriptive view of what the fighting forces see and do in the action of combat. One of the artists was Aaron Bohrod whose name is familiar to Wisconsinites because of his association with the University of Wisconsin-Madison after the war.


On a lighter note, a young celebrity star, Mary Martin is featured in a six-page “Close-Up” section. A two-page collage of cartoons depicting Bill Mauldin’s Joe, Up Front provided a touch of humor to offset the seriousness of war. One cartoon depicted a less-than-satisfied Joe opening up another can of Spam. Other memories surface while I am thumbing through the pages. Ads included variations of the urging: Buy War Bonds. Occasionally when a house is pictured in an ad, there would be a Gold Star Service flag in the front window. The war ration stamps are unforgettable to people who experienced this time period. Pillsbury’s pancake flour had an added incentive to buy their product: ‘Requires No Ration Points’. And who could forget the Burma Shaveditties? Included here is their ad:


Loose Lips Sink Ships
Don’t Talk Today;
If You Must Talk,
Step up and Say,


Car manufacturers of the past such as GM Oldsmobile and Pontiac featured their efforts in making guns for airplanes. Studebaker made aircraft engines. Willy developed the famous Jeep and also built marine engines. With factories converting their production to the war effort, only 139 cars were produced in 1943 for civilian use, increasing to 610 during the next year.


Other ads are familiar: Borden’s Elsie the cow and Elmer the bull highlighting LIEDERKRANZ cheese; Bird’s Eye touting “frosted” food with a recipe for succotash; Jell-o featuring four colorful salads. There were 14 liquor ads with names like Four Roses, Old Grand Dad, and Three Feathers. Cigarette ads abounded in full-page ads. Seeing the Lucky Strike ad made me recall the Lucky Strike Hit Parade on Saturday night broadcast over our Philco radio. It was my teenage brother’s favorite program. Being the younger of two children, I rarely was able to listen to what I wanted (e.g. Fibber McGee and Molly) unless my brother was not at home. Not often enough as I recall. Until the next time, remember… it’s good for you.


The Ol’ Pack Rat