Boomers Witness Change In Professions

The grandparents of Baby Boomers, and in the case of early boomers, possibly their parents, recall a time when the automobile was sharing the road with horses. Dozens of industries supported the care and feeding of horses; there were feed stores and blacksmiths, veterinarians and gear manufacturers. Many old timers may recall having a stable behind their houses, even in urban dwellings.

Somewhere in the 1920s, cars started outnumbering horses, and eventually, replaced them as the main means of transport. What happened to all the businesses associated with horses? Those that could not adapt to the care and feeding of the “horseless carriage” found themselves without customers, and went extinct.

After a recent conversation, Mister Boomer realized that as boomers, we have witnessed the same sort of transformation of industries as the electronics revolution changed everything about how we live our lives. The man with whom Mister B was conversing had been a movie projectionist for 35 years before the system was changed.

In the early days of movie theaters, two projectionists manned every booth for every movie. The projectionists were there to manually change reels when it was the appropriate time. Clues on the top of the film itself told projectionists when to start a second machine and turn off the first. Since most movies had at least four reels, the projectionists would be required to change over from one machine to the next more than once a night. When the humans were in sync with the machine, the audience would not notice the transition. Yet the projectionist had to do more than thread the film into the projector and start and stop them at the appropriate time. He (and they were all men at that time) had to understand currents and electricity, fire suppression (bulbs and film were highly flammable), and, most importantly, had to calibrate the light bulbs to keep them focused properly so the audience would view a bright enough image on the screen.

The boomer years were the heyday of the film projectionist, as more movie theaters opened, and drive-in theaters employed their share of these skilled men. By the 1970s, however, change was in the air.

The advent of multiplex theaters in suburban as well as urban locations, with their multiple screens showing different movies simultaneously, would have meant hiring two projectionists per night for each screening. Technology helped theater owners by changing the way film entered the projector. Rather than needing multiple reels for each movie, the entire length of film was stored on a horizontal platter that fed into the machine and, when set up correctly, rewound onto a second flat platter on the other side of the machine. If all went well, a projectionist could turn on the machine and not attend to it until the movie was over. Projectionists found themselves being required to run from one theater in a multiplex to another, to start and stop several movies during their usual shift. Movie theater owners could hire fewer projectionists, and some say this was the beginning of the end for the profession.

The final straw for these old-school projectionists was the digital player. Today, theater owners need to access and download films from their distributor by way of a special online portal and password. These downloaded digital copies are then projected onto their screens. There is no longer a need for a projectionist to pack up reels to return to a distributor, or a need to thread film into a projector. Digital copies have automatic expiration dates that render them unplayable after the scheduled screening time, as well. In many cases, it is the owner or manager who starts a movie with a flip of a switch. Direct streaming will be the next move for movie showings, already in play in some areas.

The man Mister Boomer spoke with was fortunate enough to have moved on to another profession before he could be forced to retire as a projectionist. He moved into television and electronics repair, which itself was a changing field.

As movie goers, boomers recall sitting in a theater and seeing the film break. Often the edge of the broken film was melting, and the silhouette of the perforated squares that were used to feed the film into the projector were visible until the projectionist flicked off the lamp and turned the house lights up. While the audience groaned, the projectionist had to splice the film back together and get it up and running in as little time as possible. It’s a profession most boomers never gave much thought to, yet its very existence was an important part of our boomer experience.

So much of what we saw as part of our everyday lives has changed, and is changing. Many boomers may have worked in industries that heavily invested into automation or otherwise altered the way things were done, to the point of losing their jobs. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “change is the only constant in life.” It’s safe to say he never saw a movie, but when it comes to the end of the projectionist era, he saw it coming.

How about you, boomers? Did you work a job that is now classified as no longer needed?

Boomers Did Garden Chores By Hand

According to Mister Boomer’s thoroughly unscientific research — namely, asking other boomers — he has discovered that most boomers were required to do chores around the house. For boys, like Mister Boomer and Brother Boomer, that meant outdoor work throughout the year. Some boomers were paid by their parents for completing tasks, others were not. Mister B and Brother Boomer were not paid; their work was expected. In the summer, the outside work included everything from painting the house to mowing the lawn, plus, weeding and lawn edging as well.

The Boomer Brothers were given the tasks by the time Mister B was eight years old. Brother Boomer, being three years older, had first pick of the jobs he wanted to do, and left the rest to Mister B. Most of the time, the jobs were shared. For example, Brother Boomer mowed the front lawn, while Mister B did the back; never mind the back was larger. When it came time to paint the house, the brothers had two sides each. For the most part, Mister B didn’t mind too much, with the exception of weeding and edging the lawn. Both of those tasks were physically demanding and often accomplished in the late morning, as the sun heated up the surrounding concrete sidewalks.

Weeding meant pulling weeds along the backyard fences, as well as in between shrubbery and the flowers Mister B’s mother was growing. On both the front and back lawns, there were dandelions, crabgrass and other weeds to pull. The Brothers were given a hand tool that supposedly made the job easier. Trying to grasp a weed with pre-teen hands and successfully dislodge it from the ground without breaking the root was difficult if not impossible. Often the weed was so entrenched that the boys didn’t have the brute strength needed for a clean extraction. That’s where the tool came in.

The weed puller, as the Brothers called it, had a wooden handle on the end of a metal shaft that was bent in an exaggerated “s.” At the end of the shaft was a flattened area that was split to form a two-pronged fork. The idea was to get down on hands and knees and plunge the pointy fork end into the ground next to the weed target, with the goal of setting the main root between the two prongs. Then, when it all worked according to plan, pushing down on the handle would dislodge the weed from the ground. It could then be completely pulled out as one plant unit. Remaining clumps of dirt that clung to the roots could be removed by a slap or two to the ground. For Mister B, that scenario was the ideal that more often than not, he did not achieve. If a root was left in the ground, the weed would quickly grow back, and that meant future work. So Mister B found himself digging into the lawn with the tool’s fork end to remove as much of the root system as possible. The result was a lawn that looked like it had been attacked by groundhogs, with filled patches of bare earth dotting the lawn space.

An even worse job for Mister Boomer was edging the lawn. The Brothers were not required to perform the job every weekend, so it became more difficult than it could have been. For this chore, there was another hand tool. This tool was the size of a shovel or hoe, with a long wooden handle that was fastened to a sharpened metal, multiple-edged star-shaped wheel. Attached next to that was a rubber wheel. Its use was deceptively simple: slide the sharpened metal edges of the star wheel into the edge of the lawn, using the sidewalk as a guide, and push it forward and back to clip grass that grew over the sidewalk, and form a groove to denote the lawn’s edge. The rubber wheel was meant to remain on the sidewalk. If the operator had the strength to push the contraption, it would work. However, the summer ground was often hard and brittle, and Mister Boomer acquired many callouses on his fingers and broken skin between his thumb and forefinger while using the apparatus. In addition, trying to keep cutting a straight line was not as easy as advertised. Often Mister B would push the thing, only to have it veer off into the lawn, away from the sidewalk. For these reasons, it was Mister Boomer’s most hated summer chore.

A quick search online shows these tools are being sold as vintage lawn and garden implements, but a hand lawn edger that boasts two rubber wheels is still being manufactured and sold. The one Mister B used may have had two wheels, but he remembers it having only one rubber wheel. He has to wonder if having an extra rubber wheel would have made a difference in his ability to control the thing.

How about you, boomers? Did you have chores to do outside the house during your summer vacation?