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Jack Smith

Ah, those endearing tones of yesteryear: ah-OO-gah, whish, whish, whish, clip-a-clop and skree-bang

May 01, 1986|JACK SMITH

Maybe we have had enough "forgotten sounds," but they exert a powerful nostalgic pull, and my readers have remembered a few more that I think worth mentioning.

How about the 9 o'clock whistle at the Eastside Brewery?

Rene A. Schweitzer, now of Glendora, remembers that he was visiting a girl who lived on Gates Street, about a mile from the brewery, and his orders were to be home at night before the whistle stopped blowing.

"When I heard the whistle blow I bid goodby and started running. The whistle blew for five minutes, and as it stopped blowing I was running in the front yard of my house. This could have been the start of the 5-minute mile. . . ."

(Five minutes sounds like too long for a whistle to blow, but why blow a good story on a point like that?)

"Most unforgivably," writes M. L. Snellen of Vista, "you failed to mention the mechanical flatulence of the horn on the Model T. A sound like AH-ooga . . . ."

I remember it well: a distinctive sound of the 1920s. It was flatulent, indeed; also playful and assertive. But if I'm not mistaken the accent was on the OO . It went ah-OO-gah . . . ah-OO-gah .

Everyone of course remembers the whistles of the steam locomotives and the clickety-clack of the wheels on the tracks, but Walt Hughes adds "the conductor's 'All aboard!' or usually just ' 'Board!' "

Also, Hughes remembers: "If one were sitting on an open observation platform, the whish, whish, whish as the speeding train passed a sidelined freight with its open areas between cars. (Or if you sat by an open window before the '30s brought air conditioning.)"

Many readers remember the clip-a-clop of the milkman's horse. "Early in the morning," recalls Betty Mallery of Manhattan Beach, "we could hear it coming down our block. The wagon would come to a stop and there would be the faint clink of bottles being put in the milkman's hand carrier. He would sometimes go to two or three houses before returning to the wagon, and the horse would follow him down the street very slowly . . . clip-clopping all the way. . . ." Carol Nadler of Canyon Country remembers a homely, familiar sound that no one else mentioned. "The sound I miss is the skree-bang of the back screen door. Pneumatic door fasteners may be more discreet, but the slamming sound of the old wooden door, propelled by a long spring, punctuated the summer days. . . ."

David Cook of Fallbrook, who says of his origin "circa 1909," has total recall of forgotten sounds, especially automotive:

"The three-toned Spartan Bugle horns on the 1929 Chryslers; the mellow tone of the 1929 Chrysler by-pass muffler; the melodious whine of square-cut transmission gears; the putt-putt exhaust whistles; the super raspberry blaster that fitted on the exhaust tailpipe, used on fast cars only; the tire tread noise generated by those vacuum-cup tires. . . ."

Jim Moore writes that to him "the very specific mixture of songbirds--normally canaries--twittering away in their cages and the clattery playing of an upright piano will always mean dime stores.

"I think specifically of one on Hollywood Boulevard--I'm pretty sure it was the Kress store, and it occupied the space now inhabited by Frederick's of Hollywood. You entered the front door--the store was a rather elegant dime store for its '30s era--and to your right was a curling staircase. As you descended, these sounds rose to you. The piano being played was a very direct sales technique, of course, since this is how sheet music was peddled. It is undoubtedly a figment of my memory that the song played was often 'I Found a Million-Dollar Baby in a Five-and-Ten-Cent Store.' "

Irvin Borders of Laguna Hills differs with Dennis L. Gibbs' description of a small town crossing signal as your train passed by it. "It wasn't ding-ding-ding-DING-ding-ding ," he recalls. "It was ding-ding-ding-DING-dong-dong. After you passed, the sound came more slowly and the pitch was lower. (The Doppler effect, they call it.)"

I am glad to have a scientific note injected into this nostalgic exercise.

Finally, I am vindicated in my recollection that my cousin Annabel tooted her trombone in the Shafter school band, despite Sally P. Davis' insistence that only a flute can be tooted.

"During the early 1950s," writes Ward Kimball of San Gabriel, "I directed an animation film for Disney called, 'Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom,' which explained in a humorous way the history of musical instruments.

"After consulting with knowledgeable musicologists, we divided the instruments into four categories: Toot (the brass), for wind instruments like the trombone, trumpet, French horn; whistle (woodwinds), for those instruments related to the flute, clarinet, oboe, saxophone; plunk (the strings), for all instruments with strings to be bowed, strummed or plucked, like the violin, guitar, bass fiddle, harp and piano; boom, for all percussion instruments--drums, tambourine, xylophone. . . .

"Incidentally, this film won an Academy Award and is now used extensively in many schools to introduce young students to the pleasures of musical instruments.

"Believe me," he concludes, "I know a trombone toots. I have been tooting my own horn (trombone) for over 50 years, most notably with the late Firehouse Five Plus Two jazz band."

William (Bill) Ades observes that the familiar ring of the telephone--"a sound known and recognized by all the world"--will soon be gone with ah-OO-gah.

"That sound is fading. Listen to the phones in most business offices. They screech, they warble, they do anything but ring. Your home phone will be next."

Too true. Our new home phones buzz like a wasp.

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