Stories and articles
from our viewers
and from the past
 Home |  Viewer input |  Alumni |  Cemetery |  Editorial |  Events |  About |  Schools |  News |  Recipes |  Email |  Photos |  Reference |  Videos
 Origins |  Early Settlers |  Coal mine |  Ethnic Groups |  Tragedies |  Businesses |  Buildings |  People |  Old Photos |  Stories |  Sports

or What's that hissing in my ears?

by Albin Johnson

Sound vibrations travel through the air at about 1100 feet per second at sea level. I live about 750 feet higher and have no idea what that works out to be! The word "sound" also refers to a healthy body, good advice or judgment, a way to check the oceans depth, and is a narrow inlet of water.

Our body is equipped with a very complex design of ear passages, tiny bones, fluid and hairs that collect sound vibrations and send them to the brain for interpretation. This is a somewhat simple explanation of an incredible miracle of human anatomy that defies normal comprehension. I can easily understand why many people might find the answer lies within a belief in an unseen and all-powerful supreme creator.

As a youth, our family often vacationed in Lake City, Minn. At night I would sit by the lake and wonder how voices that came from across the lake could be so clear. Apparently sound waves tend to curve down slightly toward the water and do not dissipate so rapidly. If you wish, a better explanation can be found by checking out Snell's "Law on Refractions" or Format's Principle of Least Time", or "Thermal Inversion", or better yet do as I did, listen to some lovers conversation across a mile wide lake and believe! Incidentally, the speed of sound is roughly proportional to the square root of the absolute air temperature. (Oh yah!) As an aside, a cat's hearing is one of the sharpest in all the animal kingdom.

This nostalgic memory of mine is of the Santa Fe freight train that traveled many nights through Minonk. I then lived across from the depot and remember how a person could hear the faint whistles of a train approaching from the West. As it got closer you could hear a couple of short blasts as it approached some distant roadway Then came the "click clack" and low rumble as it chugged into view and slowed for some siding or the depot. Then, soft groans and the crunching of the cars coupling and finally the "whish-whish" as the engine sat idling. When it started again, a quick "chug-chug spinning sound as the wheels gripped the rails and the sharp snap sound as each car was engaged and joined the string. The sound of the train leaving left little mystery for me. As Confucius might have replied, "What you say is not half as interesting as what you heard". I just realized that if you were born sometime after 1950, you have never fully enjoyed the sound of those nostalgic steam trains.

My Mother, bless her soul, used to brag to others that her son played the piano "by ear". My teacher, a St Patrick's Sister would probably answer that I just kept hitting keys until I found one I liked. My ineptness was undoubtedly caused by a series of earaches I suffered as a youth and from which that same teacher, my mother, and my wife accuse me of "not hearing a word they said". Perhaps the real culprit was EARWAX! You do know the cartoon character SHREK made candles from earwax? I like the word EAR, its short and easy to spell. How about: all ears, deaf ears, ear marked, ear full, bend an ear, ear to the ground, earwig, ear shot, lend an ear, wet behind the ears, and finally that famous Civil War General Jubal Ear…ly.

Page 2

All joking aside, humankind has many other senses that prod them into a wider and more scientific understanding. Most thinkers reached the conclusion long ago that a truly great many people couldn't or wouldn't listen, or understand what was being said. I suppose earwax might be blamed for that too.

In today's world, ears and telephones are destined to be forever attached. Awhile back, Grandpa and Grandma Bell living in Scotland took Ma and Pa Bell and their Bell sons David, Melville, and Alexander to the USA around 1850. Pa Bell was interested in elocution, speech impediments, and hearing loss and encouraged his sons to study in those fields. Son Alexander, or Smart- Aleck as he was known to his family moved from Boston to Canada during the 1870's and began to develop inventions that could amplify, send, and transfer voice messages by wire across great distances. The history of Alexander Graham Bell's work and inventions are worth a visit to his museum on Nova Scotia Island in Canada. Visitors who listen carefully may hear old Alexander say, "Mister (put your name here), come here, I want you."

Moving now from Canada to Minonk during the 40's, the first phone had been redesigned into a more modern version that could be mounted on the wall or perhaps on a desk using a "candlestick design". Oh yes, I neglected to mention all those wires necessary to transport and differentiate those sound vibrations. Almost too much to grasp, no? Many oldsters like myself will be able to appreciate this story. City and town homes could be connected up relatively easy and were available to all dwellers. Country farms were not quite so easy to provide the service. The answer lied in connecting several isolated farm houses to a single line and use a "ring code" to distinguish which home was being called. One ring for that farm, two short rings for another and so on. While I was attending Minonk High School, I was coerced into getting a date for an important dance. (I danced as well as I played piano!) I phoned a newfound friend who lived on a farm. Her mother answered as well as a couple more clicks and muffled breathing. The next day in school most all my classmates knew whom I was taking to the dance. Today, they would say they heard it on the grape vine.

Page 3

Now, more up to date, a little researching into hearing tells me that the ear is one of our most important senses. It enables us to communicate through speech. I don't know if I can do justice to COMMUNICATION but I will try. Maybe where I am trying to go is, the reality of listening. Don't you often find that WHAT you are trying to say gets lost in transmission and WHAT you didn't say is what the party heard? Impossible??? I am sure every person can recite "amen" to that supposition. It should be noted that ears also help us stand erect, walk, and keep our balance. Some of those tiny bones and fluids and membranes react with the brain and it in turn sends messages to our muscles, which keep us on a steady course.

Did you know that most sounds could be distinguished with only one ear? But, where the sounds are coming from requires a bit more work. Both ears send sound vibrations to the brain and that marvelous blob of matter will sort things out and identify where the sound came from. Your brain can also identify different sounds. A scientific explanation would be that some of the multitude of "neurons" (a nerve cell composed of a body, dendrites, nucleus, axon and myelin sheath) can locate a noise using precise vertical and horizontal coordinates coming from the originator. (It's a good idea to learn something new every day)

The Rock Band, Smashing Pumpkins and others, plus DECIBLES are forever linked to an era of hearing loss in our youth. One estimate is that 15% of American teenagers have some auditory loss blamed on the AMPED up volume of today's music. Adult fascination with guns, motorcycles, snowmobiles, leaf blowers, power mowers, motorboats and gutted mufflers are also taking their toll on our intricate eardrums. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, affects over 50 million Americans and there is no real cure as of this date.

Moving on to something less serious, Remember the TV term "rabbit-ears"? Television in its infancy brought SEEING as well as hearing to the listener. Now we are getting somewhere! Those of us who may have partial hearing loss and wrinkled faces must surely remember our first TV set. It was in black and white and pretty fuzzy, but we could actually SEE who was telling those jokes and singing those love songs. It was not until about 1946 that television stations started broadcasting. By 1949, there were 3 million homes with sets. I recall seeing my first transmission in a Chicago store window. Don't remember what they were talking about because the sound wasn't turned up. My sister and brother-in-law had the first family set in about 1950. Pretty small, maybe 12" square screen with rounded corners. Perhaps some of you readers could expound a bit more on old TVs.

Page 4

Our first set was a B&W table model about 17" diagonal measure. It was a Philco and we bought it new in Rhode Island in 1953. The only station broadcasting was WJAR in Providence. Programming was minimal, but I remember watching the serial called "Mr. Peepers" staring Wally Cox. And there was the "Ed Sullivan Show" for evening fare. Kukla, Fran and Ollie was for the kids and the show called "its Howdy Doody Time". When those words were spoken our 2 year old daughter would race from what she was doing and sit in front of the set. The first advertisement was from, The Sturdee Chair Company of Coventry, RI.

Much change has been made to Television programming and much could be said about the decline of ethics and moral values and probably our appetite for more violence and inane stupidity in our viewing materials. This would make a good story sometime later. Right now, it's THAT STEREO!!! Turn down the VOLUME!!! You may even find there is some credible music there. If that doesn't work, read a good book or maybe discover more about how hearing loss is largely irreparable.