’The Girl Mechanic Goes Outdoors’ and ’The Boy Mechanic Saves the World’

RIDGE WRITERS ON BOOKSThese two books of instructions, diagrams and photos reproduced from the archives of “Popular Mechanics” magazine evoke a world before texting and online shopping when “we were careful stewards of the great outdoors, because that’s where we found our entertainment, relaxation, and escape” and “no one would ever throw out something that could be repaired or still used in some way.”

Drawn from issues published during the turn of the last century, war years and first stirrings of the environmental movement, both “The Boy Mechanic Saves the World” (252 earth-friendly projects and tips in 207 pages) and “The Girl Mechanic Goes Outdoors” (160 projects in 221 pages) present thrifty and often ingenious ideas that require simple tools to not only solve problems but also provide hours of fun in the home, yard and beyond.

As the nostalgia-filled pages go on to demonstrate, this includes possibilities ranging from nine ways to stretch your fuel dollar in a car to new functions for old crayons in order to conserve resources.

Despite the “Girl Mechanic” and “Boy Mechanic” titles and to the editors’ credit, the offerings do not betray the gender-based bias you might expect from 50 or 100 years ago. Boys acquire skills for the kitchen and home economics. Girls discover plans for “Trans-forming a Table Fork into a Little Garden Rake” and “Fairyland Dollhouse Forms Playhouse When Enlarged” but additionally, creating a canoe, crafting a toboggan sled and repairing a fishing rod.

Make no mistake. “Popular Mechanics” has to do with construction demanding various levels of complexity, and designs that may scare off the lackadaisical. Further, adult supervision and consent seem more than advisable with some projects, such as the “Flying Horse” swing with dual controls, “Thrilling Rides in This Wave Action Swing” and “Daddy Builds a Backyard Slide.” Reading these, you come to realize that the directive to “go play outside” in 1950 occasionally struck fear in the faint-of-heart.

Nonetheless, the contents re-main instructive and appealing: gardening, getting in touch with the elements, and assembling toys, a pirate ship sandbox, musical windmill, bird feeder, corn popper from a coffee can and broom handle and gifts for the family. With “Boy Mechanic” and “Girl Mechanic,” you can reduce your carbon footprint, repurpose trash into treasure, and relive a bygone era in the process — one delightful page and project at a time.

This weekly column is written by members of the Ridge Writers, the East Sierra Branch of the California Writers Club. Meetings are held the first Wednesday evening of each month at Ridgecrest Presbyterian Church and free programs are offered throughout the year. Ridge Writers’ book “Planet Mojave: Visions From a World Apart” is available at Carriage Inn, Jawbone Station, the Historic USO Building, the Maturango Museum and Red Rock Books and online from the official website www.planetmojave.com.

Story First Published: 2013-01-02