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Learning to do it by the book

Remember the chemistry professor who was looking for the universal solvent, and the old farmer from away back who asked him what he planned to keep it in? I've been considering universals lately, and believe I may continue to do so. I think there's a future there. Back in the 1930s, when all the shortline, cross-country electric trolley lines of the State of Maine began to appear, one at a time, before the Public Utilities Commission to ask permission to abandon service, the law required public hearings, at which irate citizens could register protest. The things were cut-and-dried, since the commissioners, who have never liked the public anyway, had already made up their minds, but they would sit in judicial dignity just the same. And at these hearings the lawyers for the trolley lines would pass out financial statements to show how much money the trolley line had been losing. This same profit-and-loss statement was used by each trolley line in turn at each successive hearing. The lawyers, you see, had discovered a universal.

So there's something to think about, and just the other day Bill Tiemer told about buying a side-delivery hayrake. He laid the parts out on his barn floor and began to assemble them, going by the instructions in the ''Owner's Manual.'' In two days, Bill said, he had a windmill that would pump twelve gallons a minute. Anybody who has ever bought anything that comes with an owner's manual will know very well how that can be, and from Bill's testimony I got the idea for a universal owner's manual. I'm fairly well along in composing it. My single set of instructions will serve for anything from a food blender to a bandsaw -- from a patio grill to a kit for cleaning chimneys -- and it will save the American Manufacturing Community billions of dollars every year in printing bills.

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I started with Fig. 4. Every owner's manual that I ever saw has a Fig. 4. Sometimes there are Figs. 1, 2, and 3, but not always. Fig. 4 shows how to insert convex pivot (A) in aperture ULG32-X, and secure it with ST-6 (parts list no. 386924W). So I have incorporated all Figs. into one Fig. 4.

There is almost no limit to a universal. New uses for my UOM (universal owner's manual) will be found every day. For a splendid example of improbable and unexpected results, let me tell about the Rev. Willard Heimbeck and his tent. At that time, Dr. Heimbeck was a Presbyterian preacher in Leavenworth, Kansas, and in a moment of fervency and zeal he volunteered to take the summer pulpit at Loud's Island, here in Maine. This pulpit is supplied by the Maine Seacoast Mission, and emolument amounts mostly to personal satisfaction in a kind deed, plus a Maine vacation in a remote place that is surrounded largely by blueberry bushes, hardhack, bayberry, ocean and loneliness. What the Rev. and Mrs. Heimbeck expected to find on arrival deponent knoweth not, but they did have a friend here in the state who felt they could use some sympathy.

Well, that summer Lon Merithew told us we could use his field down by the water, and a group of us had a camping-out community of five or six tents. The Heimbecks were invited to come to the mainland for a week, between his Sunday pulpit duties, to socialize with us, to see something of inland Maine, and to meet some off-island Mainers. This invitation was accepted. But the minister and his wife didn't leave the island as soon as intended, and had to stop at L.L. Bean to buy a tent, so they didn't arrive at our campsite until well after dark, almost midnight. We were all in our bedrolls, but we roused to welcome them, and to help set up the new tent.

The bundle was unrolled on the ground, and we stood about with flashlights. Dr. Heimbeck, with Mrs. Heimbeck holding his flashlight, began to read from the owner's manual. His magnificent pulpit voice enunciated every syllable with resonant clarity, and while the words may not have come over, his voice could certainly be heard as far down the bay as Mosquito Rock. In the still of the night he read: ''Commencing at any corner, place shank 458-X on support rod 300 -MK into opening ULG32-A and raise to position shown in Fig. 4.'' ''Amen!'' we said. Then he went on, ''Secure to pegs L19B and L19C with lines 32X and 33Y.''

Next morning Lon Merithew walked down to see how we were making out, and he said, ''Bess and I heard you last night at your candlelight devotions!'' (See Fig. 4.)

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