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Grandpa and the Satanic Mills:

I never knew my maternal grandfather.

He fell down his last staircase and broke his neck some four years before I was born. Since he seems not to have been drunk at the time, he probably tensed up, which may account for it. (Later information inside the family implies that, in fact, he may have had the misfortune to suffer a stroke while on the staircase. Given the general levels of blood pressure on that side of the family, I can believe it.)

This particular grandparent has the distinction of being the only one of my direct forbearers known to have actually completed a high school education. (Probably the class of 1898) It would have been a bloody waste if he had fumbled the educational ball like the rest of them, since, by all accounts, he was a very clever man. (It was economics which prevented Gran from continuing beyond 10th grade. Schooling may have been free in turn-of-the-20th-century Chicago, but the textbooks weren’t.)

Grandpa ultimately became a mechanical engineer, and worked all over the western hemisphere for various companies. He and Gran eventually settled in L.A. early in the 20th century, where, acto the usual biased and unreliable source (Ma), he was eventually known from one end of town to the other (admittedly, L.A. was a lot smaller then) — “only don’t hire him, he drinks.” Remember, this was during Prohibition.

Still, when he worked, he made good money.

But he never got a patent on any of the machines which he designed and built. Patents were more expensive than he had any margin to cover, and most of his commissions were on a pay-for-hire basis anyway, or were sold outright to the companies which commissioned them, who might or might not choose to patent them in their own name. (One of the family anecdotes was of how proud he was of the tamale press which he designed for the XLNT people. It was their first one ever, and he had even managed to assure that it would shoot exactly one olive into each and every tamale.)

Well, back during the Depression, Ma and Aunt Dodie were working for a bookbindery. Ma was a union member by the time I was born, but I don’t know if she was at that point. The bindery they were working for happened to be the one which made the bankbooks for the Bank of America. Ma and Dodie’s job was to hand roll the rounded corners, since, back then, only square corners could be produced by machine. This evidently employed a lot of people.

As you might guess, one of Grandpa’s commissions during this period, was to design a bindery machine which would bind rounded corners. For that particular bindery.

He did it too, thereby putting two of his own daughters out of work.

Ma was still incensed over the incident 25 years later, but then, knowing Ma, she would have been.

I, however, have the leisure to take a longer view of the matter, and can see that once that bindery had taken it into its head that it wanted a machine which would bind rounded corners, it was damn well going to have one. They were a pretty cheap outfit, too. Rather than going to the expense of patenting the machine when they got it, they operated it in a closed room so no one could see it and steal the design. (The plans for that machine later turned up among Uncle Bronty’s effects. I have them now.)

Unlike Ma and some of the rest of the clan, I’m not under the impression that Grandpa was the only man in L.A. who could have built it for them. That being the case, I’m only glad that someone in the family got the payment for it.

I only hope that Grandpa had the decency not to drink any of it before getting it home.