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210322 March 22, 2021


We Are Survivors Indeed
Tommy Towery
LHS '64

        One of my Air Force friends sent me the picture above. It is similar to many others which are making their ways around social media today. I read it and got to thinking "That's not even close to all the things we survived!" As I started thinking about the other things I tried to concentrate on a few of the really dangerous things we really did survive. Many of these things are unknown to the current generation.

        The first one that came to mind was the one we encountered when we were out buying new shoes. I remember the one at Belk-Hudson's more than the rest, probably because it was the one I considered being left more unsupervised. 

        Shoe-fitting fluoroscopes, also sold under the names X-ray Shoe Fitter, Pedoscope and Foot-o-scope, were X-ray fluoroscope machines installed in shoe stores from the 1920s until about the 1970s in the United States. A shoe-fitting fluoroscope was a metal construction covered in finished wood, approximately 4 feet (1.2 m) high in the shape of short column, with a ledge with an opening where the child (or the adult customer) would then place their feet in the opening provided and while remaining in a standing position, look through a viewing porthole at the top of the fluoroscope down at the x-ray view of the feet and shoes. Two other viewing portholes on either side enabled the parent and a sales assistant to observe the child's toes being wiggled to show how much room for the toes there was inside the shoe. The bones of the feet were clearly visible, as was the outline of the shoe, including the stitching around the edges. The first scientific evaluations of these machines in 1948 immediately sparked concern for radiation protection and electrical safety reasons, and found them ineffective at shoe fitting. Large variations in dose were possible depending on the machine design, displacement of the shielding materials, and the time and frequency of use. Although most of the dose was directed at the feet, a substantial amount would scatter or leak in all directions. Shielding materials were sometimes displaced to improve image quality, to make the machine lighter, or out of carelessness, and this aggravated the leakage. The resulting whole-body dose may have been hazardous to the salesmen, who were chronically exposed, and to children, who are about twice as radiosensitive as adults. Representatives of the shoe retail industry denied claims of potential harm in newspaper articles and opinion pieces. They argued that the devices' use prevented harm to customers' feet that otherwise would have resulted from poorly-fitted shoes.

    The next device is one which I regularly used, even as a pre-teenager. I remember using a Tube Tester machine at Five Points quite regularly since I was the one who worked on our TV sets at home the most. If the danger of electrical shock was not enough, many fingers were burned when trying to unplug a tube which had previously been heated to operating temperature - similar to trying to unscrew a hot light bulb.

        A tube tester is an electronic instrument designed to test certain characteristics of vacuum tubes (thermionic valves). Tube testers evolved along with the vacuum tube to satisfy the demands of the time, and their evolution ended with the tube era. From the late 1920s until the early 1970s, many department stores, drug stores and grocery stores in the U.S. had a self-service tube-vending display. It typically consisted of a tube-tester atop a locked cabinet of tubes, with a flip chart of instructions. One would remove the tubes from a malfunctioning device, such as a radio or television, bring them to the store, and test them all, looking up the instructions from the model number on the tube and the flip chart. If a tube was defective, store personnel would sell a replacement from the cabinet.

        At that time, tubes in consumer devices were installed in sockets and were easily replaceable, except for the CRT in televisions. Devices typically had a removable back with a diagram showing where to replace each tube. There were only a few types of tube socket; a radio or television set would have multiple identical sockets, so it was easy to mistakenly exchange tubes with different functions, but similar bases, between two different sockets. If testing showed all tubes to be working, the next step was a repair shop. As transistorized devices took over the market, the grocery-store tube-tester vanished.

        The next dangerous thing I remember doing was trying to siphoning gas from a car to fill up a lawn mower or camp stove. Although I know several of the boys who I knew at the time were known to use this method to put gas in their own car - most often without the permission of the owner of the car being siphoned.

        A practical siphon, operating at typical atmospheric pressures and tube heights, works because gravity pulling down on the taller column of liquid leaves reduced pressure at the top of the siphon (formally, hydrostatic pressure when the liquid is not moving). This reduced pressure at the top means gravity pulling down on the shorter column of liquid is not sufficient to keep the liquid stationary against the atmospheric pressure pushing it up into the reduced-pressure zone at the top of the siphon. So the liquid flows from the higher-pressure area of the upper reservoir up to the lower-pressure zone at the top of the siphon, over the top, and then, with the help of gravity and a taller column of liquid, down to the higher-pressure zone at the exit.

        Finally on my initial list of dangerous things we survived is a class of entertainment we called fireworks. The fireworks people enjoy today cannot be compared to the ones we "played" with back then. Most of the ones we really enjoyed have not been banned or declared illegal. We had fun things like Cherry Bombs, M-80s, Side-fuses, Silver Torpedos, and things we played with called "(you fill in your own term) chasers." They were known to blow doors off lockers and demolish mail boxes. Although they were bought for New Year's and Forth of July celebrations, they were kept year round, for you never knew when a situation called for the use of one.

        A typical cherry bomb contains a core of explosive composition (e.g., flash powder or, less commonly, black powder) which is generally encapsulated inside two nested paper cups, typically of the type used to plug the ends of an M-80, which is in turn most commonly surrounded by a layer (approx. one-quarter inch thick) of sawdust infused with a mild adhesive (usually sodium silicate). An ignition fuse is inserted into a hole drilled into the hardened sawdust sphere, all the way down to reach the explosive composition. The fuse extends outside the sphere approximately one to one and a half inches. Once the fuse is ignited, it takes about three to four and a half seconds to reach the explosive composition and initiate explosion of the firework.

        The color of the salute's exterior varies, depending on the manufacturer and the time period during which the salute was produced. Early on, in the late-1920s and 1930s, globe salutes had fuses which were tan, red or striped and multi-colored, and their body color varied, ranging from brown and tan to silver and red, and some were even decorated with multi-colored confetti. However, by the 1940s the most common color of the spherical salutes being marketed was a deep pink to red, with a green fuse, which is when the names cherry salute and cherry bomb entered popular use.

        These original spherical salutes were powerful enough to cause a legitimate safety concern. They were banned in the United States in 1966, by the federal Child Safety Act of 1966. Historically, these globe salutes and cherry bombs were made in two halves. One half was filled with powder and the other half was glued in place on top of it, and the whole globe was covered with glue-coated string or sawdust. This left an air-gap which created a louder bang when the case ruptured. Another source says they were originally charged with 5 to 10 times more explosive composition than was used in a standard one-and-a-half-inch (38 mm) paper firecracker. After the enactment of the Child Safety Act of 1966, all "consumer fireworks" (those available to individuals), such as silver tube salutes, cherry bombs and M-80s, were banned, and from then on, no cherry bomb or salute could contain more than 50 milligrams of powder mixture, about 5% of the original amount. The 50 mg cherry bomb law was passed in 1977.

        Cherry bombs with the original potency (>50 mg of powder) are considered explosive devices in the United States and possession, manufacture, or sale is illegal for individuals, unless they have a license or permit issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

        M-80s are an American class of large powerful firecrackers, sometimes called salutes. Contrary to urban legend, an M-80 that contains 3,000 mg of powder is not equivalent to a quarter-stick of dynamite. Dynamite generally contains a stable nitroglycerin based high explosive, whereas M-80s or any other kind of firecracker contains a low explosive powder, like flash powder or black powder. M-80s were originally made in the mid 20th century for the U.S. military to simulate explosives or artillery fire; later, M-80s were manufactured as fireworks. Traditionally, M-80s were made from a small cardboard tube, often red, approximately 1 1⁄2 inches long and 9⁄16 inch inside diameter, with a fuse coming out of the side. The tubes usually hold approximately 3 grams of pyrotechnic flash powder. The "M" is designated by a U.S. military convention for "standard" equipment and "80" is a non-meaningful ID number. Cases of documented injuries and accidents accompanied civilian M-80 use during the 1950s and 1960s, and still occur, as M-80s are still produced and sold to the public. There have been documented cases of users losing their fingers or hands. In 1975, federal regulations were passed to limit all consumer-grade fireworks available for general sale to the public in the United States to a maximum of 50 milligrams flash powder, down from a previous maximum of 200 milligrams.


        Memphis, TN - It's not the same, but it is still March Madness. I hope your favorite college team does good, but this year a lot of favorites have already been beaten.

        Thanks to all of you who responded to our basketball memories. I hope people will also respond to this week's memory challenge.

Rose Marie James
Wife of Glenn James
? - Wednesday, March 17

(Editor's Note: Rose Marie did not graduate from Lee, but as the wife of Glenn James, LHS '65, she has always been a strong supporter of our group and has been more a part of our Fami-Lee than many who did. Our symphony goes out to Glenn and the rest of the family. She will be greatly missed by many at the reunions and Lunch Bunch get togethers.)

    Rose Marie retired from Huntsville Hospital after 45 years of service. She was also a long time member of the Eastern Star.

    Rose Marie is survived by her loving husband of 45 years, Glenn James; children, Richard Walls, Lisa Bumpus (Steve), Lonnie James (Cathy), and David Watson (Christy); seven grandchildren, Steven James, Laura Bumpus, Caitlyn James, Erin Bumpus, Megan James, Zach Watson, and Daniel Watson; three great grandchildren; and her siblings, Butch Adkins, Billy Adkins (Diane), and Julia Arsenault.

    Visitation will be on Sunday, March 21 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. at Berryhill Funeral Home. The family will be having a private funeral service. 

Basketball Memories
Some of our own memories of Lee's Basketball program.

Phillip Stewart, LHS '66 - "Being on the team with Larry Ray, Greg Dixon and Max Garrison. They were great. I sucked."
J.R. Brooks, LHS "64 - "Beating Butler by 27 points."
Lynn Vanpelt, LHS '66 - "The Lee-Butler games were always exciting in 65/66."
Bob Pierce, LHS "64 - "We would get the pep band together and try to coordinate with Sallie Black, I can't remember the song she kept asking me for, but the drums were always trying to get wipeout going "not well, needs a trap set" Sallie would give us a "SallieStopperLook" and the guys would just grin. We did have fun and cheered on The Generals."
Cecilia LeVan Watson, LHS '68 - "We went just to see the players in their short short basketball shorts."
Jim McBride, LHS "65 - "Getting out of school early to support the guys when they were playing out of town in TVC tournaments. We were supposed to bring our game ticket to school the next day to prove our attendance at the game. I don’t remember anyone ever asking to see the ticket."
Dwight Jones, LHS '64 - "My favorite memory was being a member of the team in '63 and the night we went to Florence to play, after the game we stopped at a McDonald's on the way back to Huntsville and the Coach bought each of us a burger, fries, and drink. One of the best burger's i've ever eaten. BTY, I would like to see a picture of that team if you can find one. I don"t remember if we had an annual that year or not, but just a picture would be worth a million to me."
(Editor's Note: We did not have an annual between 1960 and 1964, but maybe someone has a photo. Otherwise, why not check out the Huntsville Times archives at the library.)