What Constitutes “Older than Dirt”?

I’m constantly barraged with emails containing lists of items that, should I remember the vast majority of them, makes me older than dirt. In truth, I’d probably take great pride in my memory if the tests were a bit more valid. For example, a recent test included the following list of items:

1. Blackjack chewing gum – I can still buy this delectable product at Fuzzywigs Candy Factory at the outlet mall in Dawsonville, Georgia.

2. Wax Coke-shaped bottles with colored sugar water – refer to number 1 above.

3. Candy cigarettes – ditto. Fuzzywigs carries lots of old time candy items.

4. Soda pop machines that dispensed glass bottles. As I recall, there were actually three varieties of these machines. One was about the size of a large refrigerator and had a long narrow door on the side with several varieties displayed – OK, there weren’t several varieties, many of the slots held the same flavor. When you inserted your dime, the locking mechanism was released so you could pull one, and only one, bottle out.

The second was also shaped like a refrigerator and had a slot for the money and an opening on the bottom where your bottle would drop. Bear in mind that the choices were slim. If it was a coke machine, you could buy a coke. Pepsi machines dispensed Pepsi. Diet sodas, Mountain Dew, and all the rest had not yet been invented.

The third type was shaped more like a chest freezer. Some of these held chilled water to keep the beverages cold. Others relied on cold air. You selected your favorite flavor and slid it through a maze until it was at the exit point. Inserting your coins unlocked the gates long enough for you to remove your bottle. These coolers were normally refilled by the owners of the stores. Therefore, you could often find Coke and Pepsi intermingled with Hires Root Beer, RC Cola, Canada Dry Ginger Ale, and other local products. Obviously, I consider this a legitimate question.

But how many of you remember when the bottle caps were lined with cork? I have a feeling that that was a throwback to the days when all bottles were sealed with corks. We humans simply assumed the metal cap wouldn’t be enough. We used cork before – we had to continue to use it or the bottles would leak.

Old beliefs are hard to shake!

5. Coffee shops or diners with table-side juke boxes – I’ve seen the remote devices in numerous hamburger joints. They are not part of history yet.

6. Home milk delivery in glass bottles with cardboard stoppers – Another subject that deserves to be on the list. I often wonder how many people remember the various colored foil that went over the cardboard stoppers. Each color represented a different flavor of milk – chocolate, buttermilk, or regular pasteurized. Two-percent and skim milk were still waiting to be invented (which meant some farmer would eventually realize he could water down his product and make more money!)

I, for one, was not happy when someone invented homogenized milk; no more cream to suck off the top!

Was my family the only one who begged the milkman to bring us the rolls of foil after the caps had been cut out? We used the stuff to make handmade Christmas tree ornaments.

7. Party lines – People slightly older than me probably remember the phones you had to crank to get the operator’s attention. Again, this item definitely deserves a place on the list.

8. Newsreels before the movie – While this item does belong on the list, why is there no mention of the cartoon? Nowadays all we get is advertisements for other movies.

9. P.F. Flyers – I assume this item refers to the high-top sneakers since low cuts had yet to be invented.

10. Butch wax – sorry. This is a product that is still available… as is the butch hair cut. It may have a different name, but talk to anyone in the military or working with a police department, and you’ll find that many men prefer this hair style. Now, if the D.A was mentioned, it would be a legitimate test of one’s age.

11. Telephone numbers with a word prefix (OLive-6933) – Some old timers will tell you they recall the days before people had phone numbers. Those are real old times… as in real old. Since I still remember the phone number my family had when I was a child – WAlnut 1-7995 – I’ll grant that this is another legitimate item.

12. Peashooters – Without question, I believe this one belongs.

13. Howdy Doody – Some might think this is just a friendly greeting. Those folks would not qualify as older than dirt.

14. 45 RPM records – Part of me thinks there should be mention of the 78 RPM records, but children today wouldn’t even know what a record is.

Are recording artists still given gold records? Do any of them ever question the gesture?

15. S&H Green Stamps – Why aren’t Top Value, Plaid, and the various other stamps ever mentioned in these quizzes?

16 Hi-fi’s – The fact that high-fidelity systems are listed rather than gramophones  indicates that the folks making up the lists are not as old as they like to think they are.

17. Metal ice trays with lever – if I’m not mistaken, these are still available.

18. Mimeograph paper – I recall mimeograph machines, but there was no such thing as mimeograph paper. If you add ‘ed’ to the end and make it mimeographed paper, you would then have a document with a distinctive odor. Some would say the aroma was intoxicating. It never made me high, so I don’t know. Remembering mimeograph machines would make you old. Remembering copier paper… no dice.

19. Blue flashbulb – I think anyone who remembers flashbulbs of any kind did not fall off the turnip truck within the last week or two. But why not ask people if they remember peeling off the outer layer after the flash bulb had been used?

20. Packards – My spell checker didn’t remember the plural of Packard, so I guess it might make me old. Again, if the list was compiled by someone older than an early baby-boomer, the list might include the LaSalle, Oakland, Reo, or any other vintage automobile. How many of us had parents who referred to cars as machines?

21. Roller skate keys – This is another item that probably rightfully belongs on the list.

22. Cork popguns – As I recall, there was also a toy gun that fired ping-pong balls, but I never see that mentioned on these lists.

23. Drive-ins – Are we to assume this refers to the movies? Or are we talking about restaurants. Sonic drive-ins are very popular fast food places here in Georgia… and the last area drive-in movie theater closed sometime in the 1980s. That’s not even older than my children.

24. Studebakers – See the above comments concerning vintage autos.

25. Wash tub wringers – This item truly belongs… as do scrub boards. Some young still-wet-behind-the-ears folks believe the scrub board is an ancient musical instrument.

So, what’s our score? If you eliminate the items that are still around, the most you could score on the test is about eighteen. If we eliminate mimeograph paper, we’re down to seventeen.

Obviously there are many items that can be added to the quiz to make it more authentic. I’ve already given you my thoughts. What are your thoughts?


5 Responses to What Constitutes “Older than Dirt”?

  1. Ivan G. says:

    The third type was shaped more like a chest freezer. Some of these held chilled water to keep the beverages cold. Others relied on cold air. You selected your favorite flavor and slid it through a maze until it was at the exit point. Inserting your coins unlocked the gates long enough for you to remove your bottle.

    I’m not sure if these are still around but a buddy of mine used to work for a radio station that had one of these installed. WNST in Milton, WV, if I recall correctly.

  2. Beth DeLorme says:

    Hi Jim,

    I enjoy dropping by your site and catching up when I can. I enjoyed this column. Just thought you would like to know that (even though I’m a young whippersnapper), I remember mimeograph machines well!! When I was in college in the mid-80’s, I was a secretary in the Foreign Language Department and I used one on a daily basis! It was cheaper for the department than paying to use the copier two buildings away.

    Keep up the good work,

  3. Cool stuff here… and it brings back many memories. It is always fun to remember the way things were…and though not better..many times much easier in life. Life was a lot simpler…and I remember going home from school and stopping for blackjack gum, the plastic bottles full of sweet something and all other of those fun penny items…author of For Kids 59.99& Over

  4. Tina Marshall says:

    Hi Jim,
    I’m a big fan of your site and drop in as often as I can. Wonderful post today…reading through all of the items made me wish I had been born a few decades earlier (I wish I would have experienced bottled milk being delivered to my door, and I love old classic cars…’69 roadrunner is my favorite.) I thought I’d actually comment today because I found a wonderful post on the history of hamburgers that I thought you might enjoy. Cheers!

  5. Joni Berton says:

    Wow – this brings back a ton of memories!! When I saw the part about the bottle caps lined with cork that opened my floodgates!! I remember as a kid trying to remove the cork from the bottle caps with the pointy end of the bottle opener (especially with bottle caps that were running prize giveaways). I always had to be careful not to try it ON TOP OF the soda bottle or the cork would fall right into the bottle!!

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