Home Repairs ???


The time after the holidays is always a good time to regroup. We put away the decorations and get back to those projects and repairs that have been neglected. So it was when I was younger as well.

My father always fancied himself as a great home repairman. It seemed that there was no project that he didn’t undertake. He did a lot of his own auto repairs, and tinkered with many of the appliances. Sometimes this took an unexpected turn.

In the 1950s we had one of those humongous black and white TVs – big in the sense of the case. I don’t think the picture tube was larger than about 17 inches. But the case was really big. It sat on a table and was made out of wood. The insides were a maze of vacuum tubes and wires.

Now my father came by his interest in fixing things naturally.  In 1929 when he joined the army he became a blacksmith for a cavalry unit, and later moved into the armored division where he repaired vehicles. So I guess he thought that the could fix a TV.

About 1958, he got a “box” so he could test the tubes in the TV and then all he would have to do it get a new one, when one burned out. I don’t know where he got the box or where he expected to get the replacement vacuum tubes in that pre-Amazon era. The sources of these things, like many things adults did, were a mystery to me – a 14-year-old boy. I don’t think he ever successfully fixed our TV and one night he almost did himself in.

He was monkeying around after dinner in the back of the set and suddenly there was a loud pop and a flash and the odor of ozone filled the air. When my mother and I got into the living room he was on the floor, looking kind of dazed. Mother asked what happened. And this is what he told her. He had been using a screwdriver in the set and inadvertently touched the capacitor and when he did, it discharged the electrical current that it had been storing. It blew him across the room. That ended his TV repair days, and the tube box was exiled to the back storage area.

One other time one of his repair adventures took another bad turn.

In the late 1970s, one day my father decided to replace the muffler on his car. He enlisted my sister’s husband to help him. Now this is where the story gets a bit fuzzy. In the process of removing the old muffler, which he was under, either my brother-in-law dropped it, or it “fell” on his head.  It was then a race to the local hospital’s emergency room as he was bleeding profusely.

My sister later relayed what happened next. They took him in immediately and administered some local anesthesia around the cut to sew him up. But before they could begin, an ambulance pulled up with a serious emergency, so they left him to attend the other case. It was about two hours before they could get back to him and by then the local anesthetic had worn off. Of course no one thought about that as they stuck in the needle to sew him up. As my sister put it later, they had to peel him off the ceiling. My sister, who was a nurse, said she couldn’t help it and smiled.  But it wasn’t funny to him.

But these stories did provide a smile to those who heard them and they became part of family lore.

And like most family lore, once you do something they NEVER LET YOU FORGET IT.

About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
This entry was posted in American History, Norvell Family History, NY, NY History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Home Repairs ???

  1. Carole Jensen says:

    I have just rediscovered your blog, my connection lost in our preparation and move to Florida. So many of your experiences seem to parallel my own. My father worked for the Dumont Television Company for a while in the 1950s. Fortunately, he had the parts and know-how to repair our TV, but I was the one who held the flashlight for what seemed like hours. In retrospect, I think it was his way of “bonding” with me.

  2. Barbara Hynek (Norvell) says:

    Thank you for continuing to write your blog about the Norvell family. So many of your stories ring true to my childhood – this time it is memories of my dad trying to tackle TV repairs and countless traumas dealing with car repairs. My husband on other hand can fix anything and is currently taking great joy restoring my dad’s 1953 Chev pickup which I “inherited” over 10 years ago. The truck I was so embarrassed to be seen in (lots of blue smoke, no windows) now sits in our workshop in Canada awaiting the final restoration touches.

  3. John Mutolo says:

    Good stories!

    In those days, I recall that the corner drug store had a tube-testing machine about the size of a washing machine back in the corner. It had lots of strange looking sockets and a book in small print that would tell you which socket to insert a particular tube to test it (e.g. Tube 4GH76P would fit in socket 13). Press the TEST button, the tube would light up and the meter would display the tube’s strength and giving a PASS/FAIL verdict. The test was free, but you needed new tube, the manager would open up the cabinet in the bottom and sell you the replacement. It was actually fun finding the bad tube(s) and being able to fix the TV (or radio) yourself!

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