The antiques mall turned out to be more of a multi-dealer junk shop. You know the kind of thing–ugly Venetian glass ashtrays from the 50s, and cartoon lunch boxes from the 70s. I balk at seeing things I owned as a child under the banner of "antiques." It's not quite time for that yet.
We were on the way out, passing the very last stall, when some sort of alarm bell went off in my head. I turned around and, half buried behind country-kitsch tree ornaments and faux-colonial table lamps shaped like Betsy Ross french kissing Benedict Arnold, I spotted...a spinning wheel.
"I need to go look at that," I said.
I fully expected the wheel to be:
- transformed into a lamp or planter;
- missing half its vital organs;
- ridiculously overpriced; or
- all of the above.
There had to be a catch. I swung the treadle, which had been tied back, into position and reconnected the footman to the crank. The wheel was unlubricated but still spun with surprising ease. The wheel itself was still perfectly true. I had no string to make a drive band, but the flyer, which had all its hooks but one, spun easily on the leather bearings.
The frame didn't even wobble. No sign of rot, no cracks, no sloppy repairs on the underside with nails or glue.
Was it a fake? If so, it was a very clever fake. The wood was old, fine-grained stock, and the table was rough-hewn on the underside. All the joins were authentic. The turnings were machine-lathed, but original. There were traces of the orignal red ochre paint on several of the turnings. It obviously had not been cobbled together from a random collection of incomplete wheels.
To my eyes, which I grant are not expert, it seemed to be an intact, nicely-preserved, Eastern European wheel from the last quarter of the 19th century. Or a well-nigh perfect reproduction of the same.
Gritting my teeth, I flipped over the red price ticket. Less than 100 dollars. Much less than 100 dollars.
My vision went all blurry. And then suddenly we were back in the car going home, and I owned two spinning wheels. Because having just one spinning wheel in my high-rise Chicago living room wasn't weird enough.
That night, I felt as though I'd taken in a healthy but neglected puppy off the street. The little thing lapped up half a bottle of lemon oil and quite a bit of wheel oil. When I first put on the drive band, it groaned a bit as the works began to rotate for possibly the first time in years. But I coaxed it, and offered more oil, and fiddled with the tension, moving very slowly. Within two hours, it was purring contentedly. The action was almost as smooth as my Ashford's.
I finally understood why my father got so much satisfaction from fixing cars and stereos. Only took me 35 years, Pop, but hats off to you for showing me the way.
It's missing only one vital part: the bobbin. However, I'm confident I can get a set made without much trouble or expense. I've got good, close-up photographs from similar wheels, I've worked through Alden Amos's detailed formulae for computing double-drive ratios, and my folks know people with lathes. I've already started making measured drawings.
Now, like any new parent, may I present a few photographs?
Daddy's so proud. Thank you for indulging me.