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SUNDAY READING

Small Is Noisy : "Engines Are Like Dogs," a Wise Old Woman Once Stated.

October 12, 1986|BILL FARMER | Bill Farmer is travel editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch.

Some of the new jet engines are so quiet the pilot has to step outside and listen from time to time to see if the motors are running.

Inside, of course, it is quieter than a Carmelite retreat house. This, despite the fact that these engines pack enough wallop to hurtle 300 overweight conventioneers from New York to Chicago in less than two hours. They express more quiet power than the House Ways and Means Committee.

And I'm not complaining.

What puzzles me is why a motorcycle cannot go across this country without waking up everyone from coast to coast.

And louder still than a Hell's Angels picnic and dance is the piercing whine of a rotary lawn mower engine, one of the few sounds ever to get on the nerves of a sequoia.

But let us take another step and consider the brain-splitting screech of the motor of a remote-control model airplane doing loop-de-loops in a city park. Operating on a thimbleful of fuel, one of these pert beauties can stay aloft for what seems like hours, its shrill sound waves thawing frozen fish fillets and even removing old wallpaper from neighboring homes.

Do you get my drift?

The smaller the engine, the noisier it is. I cannot figure out why. To me, just the opposite should be the case.

Why should a modern freight train creep silently through my neighborhood each night at 11:27, stealthily towing 128 cars of lignite coal, making less racket than a butterfly gliding onto a down comforter? Meanwhile, a dentist's drill--sorry I mentioned it.

My standard-size sedan is so mute that heart specialists like to use the back seat for performing transplant surgery. If a tire blows out, I never know it until a Ming Dynasty temple chime hidden in the dashboard alerts me to the fact. Yet, when the mechanic takes off the lug bolts with an electric wrench, there is such a sputtering explosion of noise that nearby jackhammer operators pause, put their fingers to their lips and go "shhh" like scolding school librarians.

"Engines are like dogs, I guess," a wise old woman once stated.

"How so?" I asked.

"Well, the littler they are, the yippier they are."

It was a Truth. I have never heard a Great Dane raise its voice. However, miniature this es and toy that s can wake the dead with their greetings to the paperboy at 5:15 each morn. Small engines must have nervous personalities. It is bred into them and they can't help it.

My house is filled with yippy little engines that behave like mechanical toy poodles and schnauzers. I can put a spoonful of Jell-O into my blender, and the blender will beat it to death in 45 minutes or so of excruciating decibels. Razor-sharp blades whir and pulsate, snicker-snack and buzz. The appliance leaps and skips around the countertop. Television reception is disrupted. Grandmother yanks the cord out of her old Belltone and covers her gray head in a pillow. Children race to the nearest door frame and brace themselves in terror.

"What's going on here?" a Civil Defense warden, wearing airport earmuff sound inhibitors, once demanded at my door.

"I-I'm sorry," I shouted. "J-just grinding a little Jell-O. The automatic timer will shut it off in 45 minutes or so."

"Why don't you do what I do?" he called back.

"What's that?" I yelled, cupping my ear.

"WHY DON'T YOU DO WHAT I DO?" he screamed.

"NO . . . I MEANT, 'WHAT IS THAT WHICH YOU DO THAT I SHOULD DO?' " I hollered back at him through my old high school cheerleading megaphone.

"TONIGHT, TAKE THE JELL-O OUT OF THE REFRIGERATOR . . . AND PLACE IT ON THE RAILROAD TRACKS OVER THERE . . . AND WAIT FOR THE 11:27!"

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