Alden Cordovan Loafers

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alden.986.bPlanned Obsolescence.  The manufacturer’s credo.  Just about the time a pair of shoes begin to feel perfect, they fall apart.  Without need, there is no demand.  The decision-making process to buy  will not exist.

A sales position beckoned after an injury forced me to take a break from rigorous tradesman labors.  The product formerly installed would now, through new skills taught by Sales Training Managers, be sold (by me) for others to install.  I breezed through instruction, and two weeks later hit the pavement running.  And running.  And running.  Until my dress shoes fell apart.  The old adage, “Wanna be a success, start your day with a decent breakfast and a good shine on your shoes” was not quite working, with the upper detached from the sole.  The other salesmen started calling me Flappy.

Decades of living finally produced one new thought.  Shoes start to fall apart just when they begin to feel really comfortable.  So began the decision-making process with me.  I was to become a buyer of  premium-quality shoes.  The salesmen saw me coming!

logosmallI choose Alden of New England, shoes made since 1884 in Massachusetts.  They are recraftable,  a construction that is designed to allow rebuilding. Which I’ve done once so far;  the shoes came back looking, literally, brand new.  Most importantly, Alden is an American company that stands behind their work.  When a bit of stitching came loose, I posted the shoes back to Alden with a note, and they came back repaired and shined up, no charge.

You get what you pay for.  Premium shoes feel better on your feet, and, with care, will last for decades.  Run the numbers and you’ll see, it is less expensive to buy quality.


Alden is now the only original New England shoe and bootmaker remaining of the hundreds who began so long ago. Still a family owned business, still carrying forward a tradition of quality genuine-welted shoemaking that is exceptional in every way.

Le Sirop de MONIN

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Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 7.57.39 AMTREKKING THROUGH THE WILDS of colonial Philadelphia on a sweltering summer morning, one comes to appreciate the offering of a cool Italian soda in a chic café.  Americans are inured to pleasures a quality soda-pop over ice in a clean glass may produce, but there was a time when the drinking of sugary carbonated beverages was not taken for granted.  Planning and location dictated when one could “grab a Coke”, as a soda bar at the Pharmacy was the de facto sole supplier of these addictive, rejuvenating beverages.

When I tumbled through the doors of Old City Coffee one particularly hot July morning, I thought first of an iced coffee.  An ultra-hip hipster, arranging bottles of flavored syrup behind the counter, had another idea.  “How about an Italian soda?”, he suggested, nodding to a leaving customer.  I’d never tried one, assuming factory-bottled sodas to be superior.  But the look of delight on an exiting customer’s face as she tasted her fruity concoction seemed endorsement enough.

“I’ll take one of those”, I asked, pointing to Miss Red Fizzy Drink.  The Hip Barristo poured a finger of raspberry syrup into a cup, added a bottle of Pellegrini, ice, and capped it. “Here you go.  Two-fifteen, please”.  And what did I get for two bucks?

A refreshing fruity soda made with quality seltzer water, pure cane sugar, and natural raspberry flavor.   Most stimulating, I assure you!  A little syrup research reveal’s a company history dating to 1912 in Bourges, France.  Within years, the Monin family is shipping around the world.  1996, Tampa Florida, sees construction of a plant to supply all of the Americas.  This French company producing a quality soda syrup in the USA earns an American Toolbox Five Thumbs Up recognition!

Julz Burnout Wrap • prAna

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AMERICAN TOOLBOX USUALLY LEAVES women’s clothing reviews to others.  Let’s face it, we’ve never reviewed woman’s clothes nor intended to.  But while watching a yoga attendee gleefully unwrap and model her latest purchase at the local Stretch’s Studio, I noted two items: the material was very nice, and among the labeling materials was the tag. MADE IN USA / FABRIQUÉ AUX É.U.

Not all of PRANA’s products are made here, so if you’re particular, check the label.  Sometimes the material is domestic but not the assembly.  The yoga wrap I saw was USA-made with partially recycled polyester fabric blended with organic cotton.  The yogee gushed to her friends over the silky smoothness against her skin. Made me want to try one.  Almost.

The Julz Burnout wrap from prAna offers a great cover-up before or after yoga practice.

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Craftsman Vintage Slim Tape

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2300 BLtape 1OCK OF NAUDAIN STREET, PHILADELPHIA:  In the wee hours of May 1st, 2014, a complaint of carbon monoxide went out to the Philadelphia Fire Department.  Within an hour, the block was evacuated.  Then came the explosion and 3-alarm fire.

No one died, but homes were completely destroyed.  Several people lost EVERYTHING except the clothes on their backs.  Pajamas & slippers, actually.  Within my news-vacuum, two weeks passed before I got the news:  Friends of long acquaintance had lost their home.  Photos, clothes, dishes, Christmas ornaments.  Mementos, furniture, computers, tools.

Wait, did I hear the word “Tools”?  Yep, it appears that, after an initial well-received gift of an old black-and-white photo, a jazz CD, a favorite cookbook, and a couple of crystal tumblers, there were still items of great import we could give to our friends.klein canvas bag

For this couple starting over, I chose the canvas version of a tool pouch previewed earlier on American Toolbox, along with a mint-condition vintage Sears Craftsman Slim Tape – 8′. Perfect for checking the size of an armchair or bookcase, and slim enough to disappear in a pocket. 

Quality tools: the gift that keeps on giving.

Diamond Strike Anywhere Matches

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WAY BACK WHEN THE WORLD WAS a simpler place, my plumbing practice concentrated on specialized services to restaurants.  Fortuitous events led a customer to give me a commercial Garland oven with 4-top range.  From this point on, I was hooked on commercial equipment for the superior construction and control one had over their work.

The Garland is gone, was traded to The Master Of Disaster for wages owed.  I did, however, acquire a countertop 2-burner APW WYOTT a few years later, sporting a healthy 30,000 BTUs per burner.  ***your typical residential cooktop might product 12,500 BTUs on a good day***

The quest for matches in a smoke-free household often impeded timely lighting of the range, usually when marinated chicken was past due in a cast iron skillet.  I finally tracked down the wooden matches DSCF0011ubiquitous throughout childhood, when gas ranges did not have standing pilots.  Surprise, surprise, surprise!  Still Made In The USA Since 1881 they are!

Naturally, we’re talking about Diamond matches. I chose Strike Anywhere Extra Long to fire up the  APW Wyott GPH-2H.  This exclusively outdoor minimal-cleanup gas cook top can now safely be lit without sacrificing the hair on one’s fingers!  While current production Wyott countertop ranges, like the GHP-2i,  feature electronic ignition, Diamond matches will find a use in any household. They store for decades.

 APW Wyott GHP-2i dual open burner countertop range features heavy-duty cast iron grates that quickly conduct heat and distribute it evenly to your pans or pots.

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Apsco Fishing Reel Pencil Sharpener

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Apsco Fishing Reel Pencil Sharpener A slight handsome lad shuffles to the front of the classroom to a wall-mounted pencil sharpener beside the blackboard.  Pencil inserted, he slowly engages the planetary sharpener, called thus because the mechanism revolves around a stationary pencil.  While he does not yet understand the principle within the mechanism which rotates a set of helical cylindrical cutters set at a diverging angle to each other, he does appreciate this opportunity to covertly observe Lori in the front row.  If only she knew . . .

Another American Pencil Sharpener Company product is embedded in the memory of a 5th grader, along with the smell of chalk dust, cedar shavings, and graphite.  Nothing smells like a pencil, and recalls to me the timeless experience of grade school.  The magic of childhood forever with us.  But what of APSCO, of Chicago, Illinois?  Ahh, stay tuned for Part II of this fascinating story . . .

The Fishing Reel APSCO imaged at the top of this article ended up in the same Dumpster® as the Revere Ware. Yet another planetary sharpener mechanismpiece of Americana inadvertently tossed on the rubbish heap!  Fortunately, the intrepid author was there for rescue, triage, research, and restoration. ***Cue heart-pounding triumphant music***  Uncle Curt, up there with Saint Peter threading another worm, smiles through a wreath of pipe smoke . . .

dixonticonderoga     wikipedia

Pennsylvania Blue Marble

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01neighborhood_rect540Bizarre marine arthropods of the Cambrian Explosion roamed a vast sea which covered what is now Valley Forge National Park.  Relax, we refer to events of 450 million years ago.  Under this sea there formed a weakly metamorphosed calcite marble.  FaDSCF0182st forward, to the early days of The Republic.  This Pennsylvania Blue Marble became an  important regional building stone in the first half of the nineteenth century.

One has but to tour older Philadelphia row home neighborhoods to see its extensive use as steps,  window sills, lentils, and trim.  Alas, structural decomposition, changing design tastes, and improved transportation systems increased  availability of better quality white marbles from New England and Georgia.   What becomes of the Pennsylvania marble as buildings are pulled down?

People like me collected steps and sills in nicer condition for garden use.  Wear patterns tell the story of healthy, prosperous neighborhoods.  Tool marks upon the ends aidScreen Shot 2014-06-01 at 9.58.35 AM one in establishing production date, as methods of stone dressing evolved.  The 350 pound steps were welcomed by friends and neighbors, as well.  A unique pillar for the garden bird bath or flower-pot.  And the sills make great bordering stones!  Pictured is a local effort.  These stones were pulled from houses under demolition within Philadelphia’s Fairmount section.

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