The Parker 75 Pen


In 1964, to celebrate their 75th anniversary, the Parker Pen Company introduced the Parker 75. Mine belonged to my dad and is, I believe, from 1967. At the time, they sold for $25 which in today’s money would be about $200, I guess. On eBay, the sterling-silver ones, like mine, go for anywhere from $100 to $250, depending on what it’s made of, nib size and collectable status.

Mine is the sterling-silver model with the grid pattern, which looks very elegant and slim compared to many of today’s black and bulky fountain pens. I had my dad’s fine nib replaced with a Parker France broad nib, which is more like what we’d call a medium-thickness nib today.

Some of these pens were made in gold and other finishes, and some were made from 1715-era silver coins from a sunken Spanish ship found off the Florida Keys in the late 1960s.

When my brother (thanks, Jeffrey!) gave me this pen a couple of years ago, I had it checked out and the interior-grip cap mechanism replaced by our friends at Fahrney’s, which is a wonderful Washington, DC pen store. Their store is across from the National Press building on F Street, NW, and their repair facility is in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Good folks. Send for their catalog!

These 75s take both the old-fashioned fill-from-a-bottle ink holders and modern-day ink cartridge refills. Tomorrow, I start a new print production assignment at one of my favorite places, so I’ll celebrate by using this pen, filled with the Parker emerald-green ink, which they call Quink for some reason.

Fountain Pens And A Bit Of Doggerel . . .


I like to use the old-fashioned fountain pens. Always have. Here’s the nib of one of my favorites; a Parker Duofold Centennial:

In my mechanical drafting, cartographic and drawing days, I had to use either a ruling pen (the less said about those abominations the better) or the old Koh-i-Noor Rapidographs with India ink. Those were a nightmare if you allowed the India ink to dry and had to clean the pen. And you would and did! In high school, a girl I wanted to date turned me down because my fingernails always looked dirty; I told her it was the darned India ink that kept my fingertips ink stained and was the very Devil to clean. So it goes . . .

A normal fountain pen with normal ink is a lot easier to manage, though I’ve still had a couple of accidents when I’d forget to cap the pen before sticking it back into my pocket. Then you walk around the office with a big blob of ink on your shirt. Luckily, dry cleaners are used to removing those stains!

Now, there was a stretch beginning in the late 1970s where I was filling out FedEx counterfoil labels all the time, and, for that purpose, a fountain pen isn’t the right tool. Reluctantly, I switched to a MontBlanc rollerball pen, but once FedEx labels could be generated online and printed on a laser printer, I went back to fountain pens.

What attracts me to fountain pens are the feel of the pen on paper, the infinite variety of inks available for them and the lovely designs available. The history of the things is overwhelming and it’s fun to look into that.

My collection isn’t extensive; I have a couple of each by the major manufacturers. I prefer a wider nib or pen-point than most folks do and that’s easily achieved with fountain pens.

Here’s the doggerel I promised. It’s from a pen-nib manufacturer in Scotland or England many years ago and at one time, signs with this verse were evidently all over the place in the UK:

Here’s what a box of those nibs looked like.

I still have a few boxes of that type of nib from my high school and college days. The ones I have are made by Speedball or Hunt, but they look just like the ones in that sign.

Jim At The Republican Convention (1972)

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I promised nothing political on this blog, and I plan to keep that promise, but this is more a funny story than a political one.

In 1972, I was going to college in Boca Raton during the time of the presidential election. Richard Nixon was running for re-election against George McGovern. My assignment for class was to write a paper on the graphics of campaign literature, so my roommate and I drove down to Lauderdale to get some signs and pamphlets at various political headquarters.

At a Republican senator’s HQ, we were picking up some pamphlets when a well-dressed guy came up and said, “Hey; are you college students?” and we said we were art students. Then he asked, “Going to the convention tonight?” He was referring to the Republican National Convention in Miami. We said, “No.”

This friendly guy said, “Tell you what: Get a bunch of your friends together and we’ll send a bus up to Boca and you can attend the convention. We’ll even give you hot dogs and Cokes on the way down, and maybe some beer on the way back!” My friend and I were amazed. We looked pretty scruffy, being art students in those days. I was skinny, wore wire-rim glasses, big sideburns and a pony tail and my friend had an Afro. I said, “I couldn’t dress for it; my suit’s over in Naples.” The friendly man said, “No problem; casual is fine! The more casual the better!” So we agreed to go and spent the afternoon rounding up a dozen or so friends to go on this insane jaunt. We didn’t care much about the election but we thought the convention would be fun to see. The bus came, and away to Miami we went.

At the convention, we were given very good seats on the balcony overlooking the speaker’s podium. The curtains behind the podium blew wide as President Nixon’s helicopter landed, and he came to the podium waving his V signs with both hands. My friends and I were having a great time.

A few minutes into his speech, President Nixon– reading from his notes on the pre-teleprompter lectern– looks up, points to my friends and me, and says something like, “And you long-haired anti-American radicals, who burn flags and don’t support our military . . .” and the whole place just goes nuts!

My friends and I were stunned. We weren’t in the least political but we did have long hair. A bunch of crew-cutted Young Republicans in suits on either side of us began yelling at us and shaking their fists and we felt very uncomfortable.

As the president went on with his speech, we realized we’d been set up!!! We were window dressing; some operative probably had an assignment to get a certain number of seats filled by hippies so the president would have someone to point at.

The photo here is from the Net. Inside the red circle is yours truly, with big sideburns, a ponytail and his best Gant shirt. This photo looks to be from after our moment of infamy, as I appear to be talking to one of the Young Republicans at the time the photo was taken.

Four Cents Is Four Cents!


As I continue my pointless research into the folks who designed, built and sold the guitars we know and love today, I come across some funny stories.

Last night I read about Hartley Peavey, who started the Peavey Electronics company in Meridian, Mississippi back in the mid-1960s. Like Leo Fender before him and the original C.F. Martin before Leo, Mr. Peavey was a shrewd person who knew the value of money and didn’t waste it when making his instruments or amplifiers.

The story I found funny was that Peavey and a young and innovative guitar builder named Chip Todd collaborated back in the 1980s on a new guitar. This guitar eventually became the first of the T-series Peaveys and are still highly regarded for their tone and playing ease. It was the first guitar to use computer-controlled wood cutting and shaping for the bodies and necks. Chip’s design called for a small metal slug to be in the base of the neck, to be the bearing point of a neck-angle adjustment bolt.

As the time came to produce the guitars, the metal slugs still hadn’t been procured, and Chip told Mr. Peavey that, for now, they’d use a nickel coin for the slug they needed. Mr. Peavey, the brilliant business person, replied, “No; use a penny.”

Here’s Chip in a recent photo as he rides a Segway in his living room:

Another story of these wonderful music-industry folks: There used to be some music stores in the DC area called Veneman’s Music. Great stores. Veneman’s also made and sold their own line of guitars and basses and most of us in this area owned some of those; they were good utility instruments. The owner of the stores and guitar factory was a Dutch-born gentleman named Koob Veneman. He was a sweet guy with a beautiful smile and we all respected Mr. Veneman. But he was all business!

I had lunch a few months ago with an old-time salesman at Veneman’s rival, Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center, and he told us a funny story about Old Man Veneman, as he called him.

The salesman from Chuck’s was in Veneman’s Rockville, Maryland, store (now the Guitar Center on Twinbrook Parkway) and a young man was approached by Mr. Veneman, who said, “Hey, I recognize you. I sold you a Les Paul a few years ago. Do you still have it?”

The kid replied, “Why, yes, Mr. Veneman. I still have that guitar and I love it.”

And Mr. Veneman replied, “Well, I still have your $800 and I love that!”

Be Careful, John!!!

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The gentleman across the street from us is a great guy and, as you will see, a brave one as well. He’s probably in his 70s, but he thinks nothing of putting a ladder on the second-story roof overhang of his house to do some repair or maintenance on the third story or even, as seen here this morning, the roof above the third story.

I have a fear of heights and it frankly gives me the willies to see John doing that! I salute his courage as I cringe at the thought of what could happen to him if all did not go as he had planned.

John’s house is the former home of T. Howard Duckett, who was one of the founders of the Washington (DC) Suburban Sanitary Commission, which handles the water and sewerage for much of the DC area. It’s a lovely house sitting in the middle of six city lots.

Duckett, who evidently was a very good business person, put up the five Sears kit homes across the street from his house as rental properties in the mid-1920s. My house is the middle one of the five.

On the next street south of us is the old and vacant original WSSC building. After the WSSC moved to new quarters, the city gained ownership of the property and has struggled for years with what to do with the huge building. From time to time, we hear it will soon be a retirement home or an arts center or a school but what it has been for the nine years I’ve lived here is a big vacant building.

So political inertia is a powerful force and so, Neighbor John, is gravity. May it always remain your friend as you perform these home-repair duties.

G.E. Smith And His Telecaster Lead Me Astray . . .

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G.E. Smith Telecaster

I never paid much attention to G.E. Smith until early this year. He was the leader of the Saturday Night Live band and he was in some concert videos I had, but I hadn’t focused on him.

My loss!

I was starting to research the history of Leo Fender and came across this YouTube video (link above) where Mr. Smith talks about his signature Fender Telecaster. It’s a twenty-minute video, but Mr. Smith is smart, articulate and he knows what he’s talking about. He’s also pretty musical! He really has command of his instrument, as you’ll see if you watch the video. So watch it!

I’d never owned a Tele before, but this video got me wanting one. Since I have way too many guitars and basses already, I decided to use my way-too-ample spare time to research the various iterations of the Telecaster since 1950 or so; they started as the Esquire, then Broadcaster, then no official name for a while (now called No-Casters) and finally Telecaster. TV was just becoming available then and that name was a natural.

The Telecaster I put together, after countless hours of research and comparisons, is now my pride and joy. It has the big boat-hull-shaped solid-maple 7-1/4″ radius neck of the original Teles and, unlike most modern instruments, has a nitrocellulose-lacquer finish on the neck and body. The body is ash wood, so the guitar weighs a ton but is resonant with amazing sustain. I decided on gold-plated hardware simply because I had never had that on a guitar before. After researching a component of the Tele, I’d order exactly what I decided on from wherever in the world I could find it. Took me a few months to get it all together.

I like it:

I keep fiddling with this Tele I built (people call these “parts-casters”) and I just tonight ordered, with the help and advice of two talented and knowledgeable buddies (thanks, Slim and Don!) new pickups for it. It’s the guitar I love to play the most and it demands more of me than my other guitars do. Yet, it makes me a better player.

Go figure! Thanks, G.E. Smith, for your enthusiasm and knowledge.

Long-Lived Mooney!


Here are a couple of shots of what was, to me, one of the prettiest planes my dad ever had: a Mooney Mark 20C. These photos are from 1962.

You can easily spot a Mooney by the 90° leading edge of the vertical stabilizer; I don’t think any other plane has that design feature. It always looked to me like the tail was on backwards!

Also, the Mooney had retractable tricycle landing gear; before that it seems that my dad’s planes had all been tail-dragging Pipers or Cessnas.

This particular plane had a Lycoming 180hp engine in it, if I remember correctly, and my dad had some sort of test arrangement with that engine-manufacturing firm to see how many hours he could put on that engine between overhauls.

Here are some mechanics busy working on something or other on that Mooney:

This particular plane, which my dad owned in the early 1960s, is still in service, owned by a gentleman in China Spring, Texas.

Jim’s Nature Corner: Know Your Moths!


If you’re anything like me, and, after all, who isn’t, you don’t know enough about our friends, the moths. Admit it!

Here’s one I see every year by my front-porch light:

It’s the Ailanthus webworm moth and is about an inch long. Its coloring reminds me, from my scuba-diving days, of a little clown fish, not found by my front-porch light but nonetheless darned attractive and quite friendly:

According to Wikipedia, these pretty moths are originally from South Florida and now found all over the country. They do no harm and are known for their biting wit, ability to sing in a four-octave range, and have a life span of up to 122 years.

Okay, I made up the last three items but they are still an interesting little creature and I look forward to seeing each year’s new batch. From my own observation, they do have the ability to stay in one place for days at a time.

The Office May End, But Scanton Lives!

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Just heard from my son-in-law, Greg, that next season (season nine) will be the last for The Office. Too bad, but it had a long run and was always entertaining.

Greg and I visited Scranton, Pennsylvania, home to the fictional show, a couple of times and took the Office Tours of some of the locations where the show either filmed or mentioned frequently. The other Office fans on the tours were always a great bunch and we had a lot of laughs with them.

Scranton lays claim to being the Electric City and the electricity there was certainly splendid.

Poor Richard’s Pub, often mentioned on the show, is actually in a bowling alley across the parking lot from Alfredo’s Pizza Café, where I had what may well be the best pizzas of my life.

Scranton is an interesting city even without the Office connection. It has lots of trains; the Steamtown Mall downtown is adjacent to the old Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad yard that goes back many decades and still has steam locomotives moving about. It smells very odd; coal fumes, I guess.

Thanks to the good folks at http://www.Shorpy.com, we can see a view from just about the same position taken in 1900. Doesn’t look all that different, does it? That long, sloping walkway is still in place, leading now to a railroad museum, I believe:

Scranton is also in coal-mining country, though I’m a little too claustrophobic to want to tour a coal mine.

Poor Richard’s is more my style:

There’s a street-corner sign claiming to be the site of the birth of doo-wop but I didn’t have time to explore the site or the claim. The town’s newspaper building has great old-fashioned elevators and there’s a 1930’s-era radio broadcast studio there that’s most interesting.

Greg and I had lunch both visits at Cooper’s Seafood House as part of the tours. That’s one of the tour buses in the photo below. Cooper’s as seen on the show is a Hollywood recreation, but they did a good job of it; it’s a fun and funky place and the food is excellent. You may not think a beet salad would be something special, but at Cooper’s it was. The bathrooms are even themed: Elvis for the ladies and The Beatles for the gents. Click on my photo below to enlarge it and you’ll see the pirate above the entrance and the octopus on the deck above that! Wonderful place and very near where Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton’s dad were born.

If you plan to visit Scranton, the Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel, as the name implies, is the old train station repurposed and a very pleasant place to stay.

I didn’t take the two hotel photos; they’re from the hotel’s website, and the old black-and-white railyard photo is from the Shorpy.com collection of glass-plate and other historic imagery. All the other photos were taken with my trusty iPhone.

I hope to visit Scranton again. There’s a lot to see and do.

Jimmy Can Cook!

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Actually, I can’t cook worth a hoot, but I was able to concoct something that is attractive and darned tasty and have decided to brag about it.

This year, I grew, from seeds, four varieties of peppers: ampuis, Anaheim, cherry and cowhorn. These, according to the website I ordered the seeds from, are spicy but not hot peppers. So it seems. Here they are in their little starter pods:

And then as seedlings on our back deck a month and a half later:

And as they are today:

Of course, I now have an abundance of peppers on my hands and am compelled to do something with them. Thus my little cooking experiment.

Background: My wife, Patty, is a phenom at cooking among other things and I am not. I sustained myself through college, in that pre-microwave age, by toasting bread and dumping whatever Boil-In-Bag item I had in the freezer on top of it. If I was feeling ambitious, I’d throw a slice of American cheese on top. Vegetables? Canned corn, pork-and-beans or spinach would be about as far as I would attempt.

But this year, faced with a bumper crop of peppers, I knew I had to come up with something to do with them. Patty flatly refused to cook with them, as she doesn’t like hot or spicy foods. So . . .

First I made some pepper vinegar with my cowhorn peppers, laced with some red-pepper flakes and a couple of other peppers from my crop. Worked great, but only used up a small number of peppers.

Then, crazed with that success, I created this concoction of provolone cheese, sliced peppers, mozzarella cheese and anchovies. Isn’t it great looking?

Tastes great, especially when placed on top of Triscuit crackers.

Recipe: A layer of provolone slices in a Pyrex dish (put down some Pam spray first), add the sliced peppers, then a layer of shredded mozzarella topped with a can’s worth of flat anchovies. Bake for 25 minutes at 350° and then hit with the broiler for a couple of minutes.

Try it and thank me later!

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