What's New in Old News? Vol. 1, no. 2, Aug. 2021

What's New in Old News?


Welcome to the August issue of What’s New in Old News. Dog-powered butter churns, daredevils, and oyster burgers roam wild in this month’s edition. If you enjoy the newsletter, share it with a friend…or five.

The Ever Restless Sea

The Ever Restless Sea

Oddities and Ends

MJ and I spent some time in the Astoria (Oregon) Heritage Museum this month. I was quite taken with the description of a dog-powered butter churn. Near the end of the nineteenth century, an Oregon pioneer named Carl Friedrich Erdman Harder invented the device to ease the burden of farm life. The Harders were some of the earliest dairy farmers in Clatsop County. Their herd of thirty cows produced an ample supply, buckets of milk that kept Mrs. Harder and the children busy at the butter churn.

It was an onerous task. Carl, the family’s inventive patriarch, tried to automate the process by coupling a butter churn to a water wheel. For reasons that are not well-explained, this worked poorly. Carl’s next big idea was to construct a wooden wheel, ten feet in diameter, and have the family’s dogs scamper on top to spin the device. When it proved too difficult to turn, he increased the wheel’s diameter to twenty, and finally, thirty feet. Because the dogs did not like to skip along thirty feet off the ground, Carl relocated their running station to the bottom inside face of the wheel, where they could dash like caged hamsters.

As is often the frustrating case, the museum does not reveal whether this invention ever worked. The fact that dog-powered butter churns failed to become household items suggests that there might have been a few kinks in the system.

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Across the country, on July 29, 1910, Mrs. Mary Engdahl, a new immigrant to the city of Rockford, Illinois, was killed by an alarm clock. Mrs. Engdahl purchased the alarm clock to help her rise before her children in the morning. The brass timepiece worked perfectly. At the appointed time, the alarm clock exploded in a raucous clamor, inches from the sleeping woman’s head. Mrs. Engdhal levitated, hung above the mattress for a long moment, and then crashed down—dead—upon the five year old daughter who shared the bed. Five hours passed before Mrs. Engdahl’s son wondered why he hadn’t seen his mother and sister that morning. He rescued the little girl, but, sadly, nothing could be done for the clock’s principal victim.

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Mrs. Engdahl might have enjoyed a much longer life if she had possessed the fearless spirit of Des Moines’ Ella Jellison. A cashier at Higgin’s Pharmacy, Miss Jellison had a good view of the steel-workers who, across the street, were adding new stories to the Equitable Insurance Building. As a large crane hoisted girders to the top of the building, it was customary for workers to catch a ride, using the crane as a personal elevator.

A local physician, Doctor Oliver Lynch, paused outside the door to admire the construction project. After a few minutes, he entered the pharmacy, selected a cigar, and brought it to the cash register. “Those steel-workers are some of the bravest men around,” Dr. Lynch said.

“Oh that’s nothing at all,” sniffed young Miss Jellison.

“Taint, huh?” replied Lynch. “Well, I just bet you $25 you’re afraid to ride up to the top of that crane.”

“You can consider that bet called,” snapped Ella. She locked the cash register, strode out of the pharmacy, and crossed the street to the construction site. There, overriding the protests of the foreman, she managed to force her way onto a load of steel.

Obviously her long observation of the job had taught her a few tricks. Climbing aboard the girders and grasping the chains, the girl braced herself as the load lurched into the sky. Up went the girders as the lift cable spooled onto the crane’s massive winch drum. Finally she reached the apex of her ride, 255 feet above street level. Ella calmly stepped off onto the unfinished superstructure. A few minutes later, after the steel girders had been deposited, she placed a foot in a loop of chain, and just like a seasoned steel jockey, rode the crane back down to street level.

Dr. Lynch quickly settled his bet. Nobody messed with Ella Jellison.

Stories You May Have Missed

Although this account of the final cruise of the S. S. Valencia runs a bit long, I have always thought it rather compelling.

The Titanic of the West: The S.S. Valencia sails to disaster in the Graveyard of the Pacific

The Pacific Ocean does not tolerate incompetence; it destroys it. Nowhere is that maxim more frequently proven than in the waters that strain against the southwestern rim of Canada’s Vancouver Island.


And here is another tragic account of America’s first aerial daredevil:

Death in the Skies: The Rise and Shocking Fall of Ormer Locklear, America's First Aerial Daredevil

A late-spring afternoon in 1919. Two Curtiss biplanes droned high above the 5,000 spectators filling the grandstand of Sheepshead Bay Race Track, New York. After a demonstration of aerobatics…


The Oyster Burger Chronicles

A few new entries from my relentless quest to find the perfect oyster burger:

The Oyster Burger Chronicles, Part I : The Blue Buoy, Westport, WA

Grays Harbor, on Washington’s central coast, is oyster country. The grey tidelands, covered twice daily by the cool, plankton rich waters of the Pacific Ocean, were practically designed to host the…


The Oyster Burger Chronicles, Part II: Bill's Tavern and Brewhouse, Cannon Beach, OR

I have fond memories of Cannon Beach, Oregon. As a boy, my parents would occasionally rent a room along the beach and we would spend a week playing in the sand, flying kites, and feeding spare bread…


Exit Music

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