Journey back in time

Today I went to Kara, an engineering supply store, to get a pocket penetrometer and a pocket rod. Only civil engineers—the same people who talk abut “erection aids” without thinking about sex—could come up with product names like these.

Kara is in Countryside, one of the closer-in western suburbs of Chicago. Its name may have been appropriate a hundred years ago, but there’s precious little country in Countryside today. Kara itself is next door to the giant ElectroMotive Diesel facility, a vast industrial wasteland dedicated to producing monstrous locomotive engines. This is how it looks on Google Maps. Zoom in to see the beautiful countryside.

Driving toward Chicago on surface streets rather than an expressway is like driving backward in time. As you go through the older and older suburbs, the architecture shifts, and today’s electronics superstores and chain restaurants give way to storefront appliance shops and “retro” diners that aren’t really retro, they just haven’t changed in 50 years. When I was in college, I had a friend who thought he grew up in the 50s. “Art,” I’d tell him, you were born in 1959. You grew up in the 60s and 70s.” Then I visited his hometown of Skokie and realized that he had been right—even in the 80s and 90s Skokie was solidly in the 50s. I haven’t been there in a while, but I expect it still is.

In addition to the things-that-sound-like-sex-toys-but-aren’t, Kara sells drafting equipment, and I picked up a new Staedtler Mars 780 leadholder.

I have a few of these and they are built to last forever, but I worry about losing them and Staedtler ceasing production, leaving me without my favorite writing instrument. I’ve never understood people’s preference for those clicky mechanical pencils with the wimpy leads that break under the slightest pressure. The leads in a leadholder are 2 mm in diameter; the only way they can break is if you oversharpen them, and even then you’ll only break off a small portion of the tip.

Last year, I added a couple of paragraphs to the 43 Folders wiki on the value of leadholders. At the time I was using 2H leads, which are pretty hard. The advantage of hard leads is they almost never need sharpening, the disadvantage is they leave a relatively light line. The light lines never bothered me before, but in the last year I’ve been trying out softer leads to make things easier on my aging eyes. Still haven’t decided between H and HB.

I think my worries about Staedtler no longer making the 780 are well-founded. Like the diners and small appliance shops in Countryside, leadholders are an anachronism and will slowly fade from the scene. Me too.

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