Obsolete Skills

My brother Kevin and his wife Maureen were in town last weekend for my birthday.  We had a great time.

Whenever we get together, it seems like there are always occasions when I am reminded of the vast amount of trivia that seems to be stuck in my head.  I don’t know why I remember so many seemingly useless things, but I do.

For example, we bought some bananas at the local super market.  Unfortunately, the ones for sale were all very green.  Into my head popped the method I learned from somewhere about quickly ripening bananas by sealing them in a paper bag.  I haven’t the faintest idea where I learned this trick, but it was in my head.  And it works!

Then it occurred to me that over the years, I’ve learned some pretty specific skills, many that are pretty obsolete and not likely to be used much in the future.   I don’t know how I should feel about this.  Archaic?  Well-educated? Road-weary?

Anyway, here are a few of my well-honed skills that have entered the realm of obsolescence, at least in the context of my life.  I dare say this is not an exhaustive list.

Rotary Phone Dialing

I grew up with telephones just like the one.  I image someone who’s never used one like this might have to pause for a moment the first time.  There’s a certain panache needed to dial a number and not look like a total doofus.

Did you use one of these?  Do you remember how to call for help before 911 service was started?  How to tell your loved ones that you reached your destination without actually paying for a long distance call?  What the sound of an actually ringing phone is?

Church Keys & Pull Ring Cans

I betcha that there are kids in America today, that have one of these in a kitchen drawer and don’t have the faintest idea for what it is used:


This is what my dad would call a “church key”, although I’m sure that anything that is made to open one of these could also be called that:



Although pull ring cans were pretty common when I was a boy, there were still plenty of cans around that used church keys.  Motor oil cans come to mind as one example.

I think these are really pretty efficient and don’t cause all that unsightly littering that other pull top and pop top cans caused.

One of my first physics lessons came from using cans like these.   Two holes on opposite sides of the can, of course, made drinking and pouring so much easier!


Drive-in Movie Projectionist

My first real paying job came during high school.  Yes, my social security records will show that I began my work life as a movie theater nerd.  Ever see Fast Times at Ridgemont High?  Yep, I was just like the repressed teenaged geek in that film.  I worked at all three of the movie theaters in Hobbs, New Mexico, including the Flamingo Drive-in.

I felt pretty lucky when I graduated from ticket seller and concessionist to running the awesome projectors at the Flamingo.   That baby, similar to the one above, used carbon arc welding rods to produce the light.  It was like watching a small nuclear reaction.  That was great fun and, boy, did I learn a lot at the drive-in!  Here’s a Youtube video that does a pretty good job illustrating what I used to do:




Oilfield Roustabout

During my undergraduate college years, I spent my summer working as an oilfield roustabout.  Not to be confused with a roughneck.  Roustabouts do repair work on oilfield production equipment, such as pumpjacks, tank batteries, heater-treaters, separators, etc.  Roughnecks are the workers who work on oil drilling equipment – much harder and more dangerous work.

I learned quite a bit about the various types of oilfield equipment.  Not much call to use it now, but I still know my way around an oilfield.  I do still use some of the skills I learned with the various types of tools we used – mostly different kinds of wrenches.  Pretty handy fixing that old kitchen sink.

That summer I spent changing mufflers on a fleet of pickup trucks?  Yeah, not so handy now.

Other Stuff

There are loads of other things I could write about, but here what comes to mind:

  • how to write a computer program using punch cards
  • how to fix typewriter ribbons
  • how to clean a four-barrel carburetor
  • that awkward bamboo dance I learned in elementary school gym class
  • MS DOS commands / BASIC
  • the chemical formulas for ferrous and ferric oxides
  • how to bake an apple in a campfire

Cool, huh?  I think I’m tending toward the archaic. Time to learn some new things.

What skill do you have that are mostly useless these days?


4 thoughts on “Obsolete Skills

  1. I think the word you were looking for is retread. 😉

    And, what if I claim not to know any of this? Oh. I would be lying.

    Remember Pong? Tang? Fifty cents for gas?

    • I had mad Pong skills. Of course that led to mad skills in Asteroids, Pac Man, Tetris, Joust, Galaga … a lot of quarters. I also remember buying my first car in 1978. At $0.47 gallon, it took 2 hrs at minimum wage ($2.65/hr) to fill the tank. I don’t even want to know what that costs now.

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