It doesn’t add up. Not anymore.

In the confrontation between the book and the calculator, it was the hardback that emerged victorious. It was the book that took the dive though, straight from the edge of the counter onto the desktop where the machine suffered the full force of the blow.

It was no knockout. Still, it was a solid jab, one that took out the little Casio’s zero key completely. Alas – the machine was unable to continue and had to be carried from the bout.

A career-ending blow.

And it was an old book, throwing its weight around. Didn’t even suffer a scratch.

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I mention the loss of a (fairly) cheap calculator, because it doesn’t happen often to me. Having had office supplies for most of my adult life, I’ve managed to keep most of the mechanical things functional. The stapler at the front desk has served me well for more years than I’d care to admit.

Replacing the calculator, of course, is a snap. They are so commonplace these days that they can be found anywhere for a few bucks. The new one cost a dollar. Plus tax.

That’s a far cry from the beastie sitting on the display shelf in the shop. That machine is huge by today’s standards and features an electrical plug identical to that monstrous thing that wound out from the back of that old computer you used to own. Before the tablet. Before the smartphone. They called them “computer towers” back then. I believe they refer to them as “boat anchors” now.

A guest popped in the shop while I was swapping out the devices and I mentioned the fact that I’d just replaced my calculator for a dollar, and pointed to the Beast.

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“Paid over a hundred dollars for that one,” I told him. It shocks me to even say that out loud, even though it is the truth. When they were first offered, the electronic versions of the “adding machine” were expensive. And the Beast is a name-brand: NCR.

I joked that it was so old that I expected the Smithsonian to drop by any day now, to acquire it for their collection of antiquities. On a whim, I checked eBay to see if any were being offered at auction. None. Not one.

So I jumped into Google-mode and typed in some keywords: NCR, calculator, class 18-22. (The class thing was stamped on the serial number plate on the back.) Out of the entire internet-universe of possibilities, the total sum of digitized and archived data and obscure information dating to the dawn of man, there were six results.

Six.

Two came from one website, and two from another. One was errant result.

The top of the list?

The Smithsonian.

The second reference? Calcuseum: a website museum in Belgium dedicated to old technology.

Man.

There came a point that I chose not to use the thing any longer, but I could have. It still works, still adds and subtracts. Multiplies. You can see (in the image) that I use it mostly to display family photos, but I never thought of it as something that should be shuffled off to a museum.

On the bright side – next time I hear talk about the old relic in the bookstore I can imagine they’re talking about the NCR and not me.

Come visit!

McHuston

Booksellers & Irish Bistro
Rose District
122 South Main St. Broken Arrow OK!

No Keebler Elves Here.

You’re sampling a bit of McHuston history every time you bite into a Nabisco cracker.

Baking, it appears, is in the DNA, even if Chef Dustin complains about his results. A young man with shared ancestry named Thomas was driving a bakery truck in Portland, Maine, way back when and put aside a part of his pay each week to save for his dream.

Kept the money in a cracker tin, and when there was enough of it, he bought a modest bakery in Auburn, a small community some thirty miles away. He sent his crackers and biscuits to the Maine boys during the Civil War, and over the next quarter century built up quite a trade. The size of his bakery, the payroll, and number of employees got him a mention in Georgia Merrill’s “History of Androscoggin County” in 1892.

It was about that year that the business burned to the ground.

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Undaunted, Thomas Huston moved back to Portland and started over. His “Down East Bakery” at 314 Forest Avenue did well enough that by 1915 he was able to purchase the property and begin construction of what the newspapers later called “a vast industrial wonderland.” He renamed it the T. A. Huston Company. You can see his completed dream in the image.

Accounts at the time called it “a mammoth, sunlit bakery – one of the largest and most completely equipped baking establishments in the East.”

Huston was a visionary, and used flat-slab, steel-reinforced concrete, poured onsite to provide load-bearing capability solid enough to accommodate the four huge ovens. It was not only beyond sturdy: it was also fireproof. That became important later. Article after article recounted the clean, sanitary, and safe conditions found in Huston’s bakery.

Working with his son William Roy, Thomas continued into his later years and – after entertaining an offer – decided to sell out. In 1931, ownership was transferred to the National Biscuit Company: Nabisco.

The building still stands in Portland, but the ovens have gone cold. Nabisco moved its operations out in 1954. After a couple of later sales, the still-stout structure and property was acquired by the University of Southern Maine in 1991.

University President Patricia Plante recognized that the almost-unnaturally massive nature of the construction made it perfect for a project she was cooking up: she used the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University as a model, and the funding was raised to make the appropriate changes. The new facility was dedicated in October, 1997 as the Albert Brenner Glickman Family Library.

Books.

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The building is now on the historic register, and where the Huston ovens once turned out fresh and tasty biscuits and crackers, you’ll find housed a great many book, map, and manuscript collections.

And where books are offered in the Rose District you’ll also find a relic of Thomas A. Huston’s bakery. The wooden biscuit crate dates back to the bakery’s pre-fire days in Auburn and is over a century old – a gift from our resident Huston… Martha.

Thanks, Mom.

Looks great at the front window and reminds me how disparate events and artifacts can be linked through the centuries by the most slender of threads.

We have the books and the lunchtime fare.

Dustin and I are still working on the biscuits.

Come visit!

McHuston

Booksellers & Irish Bistro
Rose District
122 South Main St. Broken Arrow OK!

One Tasty Event.

Considering the fact that we knew nothing of the event until shortly before the street-closed signs popped up, the Taste on Main Festival was – well – tasty! A caravan of Tulsa food trucks rolled into the Rose District Saturday morning during a light rain shower that was predicted to end by noon.

It did not.

Surprisingly, folks turned out despite the wet conditions, which may have provided an incentive to eat faster, and our store awning proved to be a popular spot early on protecting gyros, Brownie’s Hamburgers, and Not Your Grandma’s Cupcakes. There were plenty of other menu items offered by vendors that lined both sides of Main for the two block stretch.

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When the rain ran its course in the early afternoon (and the televised OU-TU football game was ended), the Rose District quickly filled with a fun-and-food-seeking festival crowd. There was a lot of food-truck fare in a lot of hands, and balanced on laps along Main Street. When Kristen arrived, she dragged tables and chairs from the shop to accommodate the diners. (She is always the gracious hostess.)

Meanwhile, I had every intention of playing wingman for Dustin at the sidewalk beertap, but a steady stream of visitors kept me behind the counter inside the shop. He held his own, and – despite the hectic pace – seemed pleased to have a small crowd lined up waiting for a cup o’ Boulevard Wheat draft.

It was on my personal agenda to snap a few photographs but, unfortunately, there was never a free moment until the crowds began thinning out after 9pm. It was a long day, but I’ve discovered that time spent in hectic activity passes quickly. (The achy muscles not so much.)

We met a lot of folks, many of whom expressed a desire to return during the week to sample our lunch fare (which is served Monday through Friday, 11am to 2pm, for those of you who have yet to drop in.)

Being surprised by the nearly-unannounced event was a little bit like having the circus rumble into town and set up the bigtop tents in the dark of night. In the morning, the astonishment at the colors and sounds is quickly overtaken by the pleasure of the experience. It worked out well, after all.

In fact, if the food-truckers would like to come back and do it again soon, I’ll volunteer to make up a poster to hang in the Rose District shop windows as advance publicity.

If they’ll promise to let me know – in advance.

Come visit!

McHuston

Booksellers & Irish Bistro
Rose District
122 South Main St. Broken Arrow OK!