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By Bill Mead
Columnist Emeritus 

The Generational Divide

The Overall Picture


Bill Mead

Today, We Honor The Overall Man Classic Bill Mead

Reprinted with permission

Our granddaughter Nikki and her husband Buddy came by the house over the weekend and something in our conversation took me back to the days when radios and TVs were full of vacuum tubes.

When I started to reminisce, it quickly became clear they didn't have a clue what I was talking about. I don't believe they have ever seen a vacuum tube because their expressions remained blank when I described it as a sort of light bulb with lots of thingies in the middle. I wasn't talking down to them. That's about all I know on the subject.

I do know that when a tube went out in one of our early television sets we were all through watching Ed Sullivan. Since the blown tube couldn't be picked from the unblown ones in most cases, this called for pulling out all of them and heading to Thrifty Drug Store where they had a tube tester.

The first time I went through this drill, I had no problem picking out the bad tube and buying a replacement, also at Thrifty. But when I got home I quickly discovered that I should have made some notes as to where the tubes should be plugged back in. I never made that mistake again.

This episode reminded me again that technology is moving so fast that we oldsters forget that people even a little younger can't share many of our experiences with material things.

The median Californian was born after 1970. That's why these folks can't believe we used to travel in the summertime without our auto air conditioning, for example. By 1970, almost all new vehicles come with it. You have to be over 50 to recall when traveling through the Mojave Desert in July was about as comfy as crossing Death valley in a covered wagon.

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To fully appreciate this generational gap we have to get back to those old vacuum tubes and their successors, the transistors and the integrated circuits we accept and then ignore.

Many historians consider the development of solid state electronics as significant as the invention of the printing press and the automobile in shaping society. Microchips seem to be buried in most things we buy today. Personal computers wouldn't exist if we still depended on those cumbersome vacuum tubes.

Ditto for such diverse things as heart pacemakers, kitchen gadgets and multi-function wrist watches. More importantly integrated circuits are the main reason why cars use less gas, burn it cleaner and why air travel is so incredibly safe compared to decades ago. We would find it catastrophic if solid state electronics should suddenly disappear and we had to go back to how things were right after the end of World War ll.

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Vacuum tubes haven't disappeared, however. I found hundreds of internet websites offering all kinds of them for sale. I guess they are sought after by restorers of old radios and such and for use in new guitar amplifiers and certain upscale audio systems among other uses.

Does anybody know what Thrifty did with its old tube testers? I have a place of honor for one of them in our living room.

Bill Mead was the longtime publisher of the Tehachapi News, along with Betty Mead, his wife and partner of more than 50 years. Known for his keen wit, which could be gentle or scathing or somewhere in between but was often self-deprecatory, Bill's writing won him a wide following among News readers. His column "The Overall Picture" ran in the News for more than 25 years, and in 1999 he published a collection of his columns in a volume entitled The Napa Valley Outhouse War. His book is currently available for sale at the Tehachapi Museum for $10.

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Bill had a remarkable mind and because of his intelligence, humor and appearance he was regarded by many as Tehachapi's Mark Twain. As Betty used to remind him, he was "older than the oldest Model A Ford" and his wealth of life experiences and rural upbringing allowed him to bring a thoroughly American, 20th century perspective to his reflections and musings on the everyday. Bill passed away in 2008 but his writing lives on.


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