The Counter

I finally have finished all the paperwork associated with the shutdown and dissolution of Alodar Systems, Inc. I now can devote full time to writing and blogging. As a start, here is something that resides down my memory lane — long before smart phones and video games.

In my senior year of high school, despite all attempts to put the last visible signs of boyhood aside, occasionally some toy would come out of nowhere that was just too irresistible to ignore.

One day a pal of mine brought to school a little counter that had come off some large machine or another. It was a small cylindrical can about an inch long and a half inch across with a square slit on the side through which one could see portions of six wheels with digits on them, just like the odometer of a car. A short shaft came out of one end, and when you twirled it between your fingers, the unit wheel slowly turned. Ten turns of the unit wheel caused then ten wheel to turn one number and so on.

At recess, one of our little group set the record for number of turns in five minutes, about a hundred or so. For several days, we traded the counter back and forth, slowly pushing the record to new heights, exercising our fingers for endurance and steeling ourselves to ignore the cramps as we twirled the shaft feverishly.

After recess in math class one day, one of us had an inspiration. He took the worn down nearly circular stub of his eraser and crammed it onto the shaft. The teacher was not looking so he quickly stroked the eraser across his desk. When he was done, his eyes widened. The total had increased by ten with a single stroke!

Quickly, he ran the eraser across his desk again and again. A series of brrruuuppps filled the air and the teacher turned from the board to see what caused such a strange sound. My friend easily covered the counter with his hand. Only streaks of eraser dust gave any hint of anything out of the ordinary.

The teacher returned to his lecture, and with more discretion, my friend spent the rest of the hour stroking the device across the desk boosting up the total. At the end of the period, we all clustered around to see what he had done — an increase of almost a thousand for the hour.

Another of us grabbed the counter as we headed for the next class. Getting thirty in five minutes was no longer an interesting challenge. So for the next few days we spent each class hour with one of us stroking the counter across the desk as fast as he dared, again slowly pushing the record higher and higher.

One of us took the counter home for an evening and returned the next day somewhat bleary eyed but proudly displaying a total that was ten thousand higher than when he had received it. The challenge at this new level spurred us all onward, each one taking it home for a day and bringing it back with the change in the number of revolutions greater than ever before.

When it was my turn, my parents were away for the evening. I stroked the eraser across a table for a while but could see that it would be a long evening before I could come close to what the others had done. Looking around the room, I saw my Mother’s sewing machine and in particular the little rubber wheel that one pushed against the bigger chrome band at the end of the machine when threading a bobbin.

I turned on the machine, reved the machine to full throttle, engaged the bobbin winder and pushed the eraser up to contact it. The little counter let out a high-pitched whirl of protest. The unit wheel spun so fast that individual numbers were undetectable. The counter grew hot in my hand, but I gritted my teeth and held on. For some twenty minutes, I kept at it and finally when my fingers could stand the heat no longer I stopped and looked at what I had accomplished.

The next day, with a grin of satisfaction,  I gave the counter to Carl. I had counted over one hundred thousand in a single session! After steering the subject around to how much sewing our mother’s did and establishing that Carl’s mother did not have a machine, I told him what I had done, confident that my record would stand, “It is all a matter of gear ratios,” I said loftily. “You see, the bobbin wheel turns much faster than the big wheel on the machine and the eraser much faster than even that.”

The following day Carl returned with a sad look on his face. Opening his hand he dropped into my palm twisted shards of metal. On some of them, I could see the remnants of wheels with numbers on them. He had taken the physics principle to heart, propped his bicycle up on blocks so that the rear wheel could turn freely and got his little brother to peddle as fast as he could while he put the eraser up to the tire. If a four-inch sewing machine wheel could produce one hundred thousand revolutions in an hour, a twenty-two inch bicycle wheel could do even better.

It certainly could. The centrifugal force was so great that the counter was literally blown apart. The toy was broken and it was time to move on to other things. The old saying that the only difference between a boy and a man is the cost of his toys is not exactly true. They don’t have to be all that expensive.

© 2016 Lyndon M. Hardy