Mon
Feb 18 2008
09:11 am
By: WhitesCreek

by Ray Collett

Hello Readers...The mail bag this week brought a lot of feedback about the writing instruments that we used during our school years, particularly the lead pencils. One letter came the old fashion way, by the post office, from our good friend Pelea Meador. Pealea is regular contributor to the column and it is always a pleasure to hear from her. Sit back and enjoy Pealea's letter with me.

Pealea writes," Dear Ray, I enjoyed your memory of the nice # 2 pencils and the slick paper. I remember, very well, the old # 1 pencils that I used in first grade at Miss Annie's school. They were hard as a rock, light brown in color and had a very hard white eraser. They sold for a penny each.

"Uncle Coy Gibson" sold them along with tablets made of paper that looked like newsprint. You could hardly write, read, or erase anything written with that pencil on that old paper!

"After I went to second grade in the "big brick school", I discovered the cadillac of pencils and paper, pencils with # 2 lead and paper with a slick finish.

"I figured the # 2 pencils had a softer carbon mixed with the graphite, and, with a little pressure, made it adhere to the paper more than the hard graphite in the # 1 pencil."

"When I talked with engineers here, I found that in "drawing pencils" the higher they go in numbers, the harder the graphite." Now I don't understand that. Can you find out why # 2 pencils are softer than # 1, and # 3,4,5's are harder. This is puzzling to me. I hope you can find the answer." Pelea Meador"

Thanks Pelea, that is a good question. I do know that today's writing core is a mixture of graphite and clay. And by varying the ratio of graphite to clay, pencil manufactures can adjust the "hardness" of the writing core. Did you know that pencils have been painted yellow since the 1890s? And that bright color isn't just so you can find them on your desk more easily. During the 1800s, the best graphite came from China and American pencil makers wanted a special way to tell people that their pencils contained Chinese graphite. In China, the color yellow is associated with royalty and respect. American pencil manufacturers began painting the pencils bright yellow to communicate this "regal" feeling and association with China. Even today, 75% of all pencils sold in the United States are painted yellow.

`Graphite left a dark mark, making it ideal for use by writers and artists but it was so soft that it required a holder. At first, sticks of graphite were wrapped in string. Later the graphite was inserted into wooden sticks that had been hollowed out by hand. The wood-cased pencil was born!

So there you have it, a little history of the pencil and oh how many we sharpened with those wall sharpeners down to a nub. And remember the little hand pencil sharpeners. Of course most of us boys used our old trusty pocket knives. I guess those are getting to be a thing of the past too.

Another thing that I haven't much about in years is "Rabbit Tobacco." How many of you ever smoked it? Maybe we can do an article on it soon. Growing up in Clymersville, it was in abundance. Bill Wilkey, Larry Monday and myself sure smoked our fair share of it.

The publishers of "The Roane Reader", Sandra Stout and Kay Christopher, are now putting my column in their paper. I have read their publication since day one and look forward to each publication. It is chocked full of memories and tidbits of good entertaining information. Be sure and pick up a copy, they are free and readily available all over Roane County. My book, "Rockwood Memories" can also be gotten at "Live and Let Live Drug Store", "Shack's Restaurant", "Those Were The Days Antique Mall" and at "Yonder Hollow" all in Rockwood. Until next week, keep the emails and "snail mail" coming......Ray

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