Today’s essay is a bit different from my normal offering because it is not about old-time Napa or old-time citizens of Napa but, instead, is about old-time lifestyles and things: things that are not done anymore and other things that have disappeared.


When my family moved to Napa in 1942, we first lived on St. Helena Highway, across from where Sierra Avenue ends today. I was 13 years old, in the seventh grade at Napa Junior High School and attended classes in the old high school building at Jefferson and Lincoln.

I had access to school bus transportation to and from school but I hated the bus ride so I hitchhiked both ways. I stood on the highway and, when a car approached and was going my way, I stuck out my thumb. I never had to wait long, and those who picked me up were very nice and accommodating. Back then, not everyone was able to own a car so hitchhiking was a way of life. Hitchhiking is not popular anymore — for obvious reasons.


Remember that red liquid that was used on cuts and scrapes in the old days to prevent infection? It was universally used in the home and by medical personnel. It worked wonders on skinned knees. I have not seen mercurochrome in many years.

Baby car seats

Back in the old days, if you had a car and an infant, you probably transported the baby in a car seat that hooked over the back of the passenger seat. In those days, it was totally adequate, unless the car had to stop suddenly. At some point, laws were enacted that required certified-safe car seats for small children and required that they be secured in the rear seat, if a rear seat is available. Good law.


Remember when many homes, especially during the holidays, had wooden bowls full of unshelled nuts and standing in the center of the bowl was a metal nut cracker? Pick out a nut, put the nut between the nutcracker handles and squeeze. Voila! The shell cracked open and the meat of the nut was there to eat. Of course, pieces of the shell flew all over the room but that was an accepted result

Tuna fish in cans with keys

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Tuna fish is still sold in cans but now one must use a can-opener to gain access to the contents. Many years ago, keys with slots were attached to the top of tuna fish cans. To open the can, the key had to be removed and fitted over a tab on the side of the can. By turning the key, a strip of metal unwound from the can’s girth and the top could then be removed. Today’s can openers are much easier to use.

Log Cabin syrup

Once upon a time, Log Cabin Syrup came in metal cans that were decorated and shaped like a log cabin. The cans are now collectors’ items.

Automobile license plates

Many years ago, California issued new license plates of a different color scheme every year. That system changed to where you kept the same plate but received a new metal tab of a different color each year to be attached to the plate with screws. Then, the state eliminated the calendar year renewal program and went to the current system where you still keep the same plate but receive month and year stick-on tags.

Singing the ABCs

Eons ago, I learned the ABCs by rote memorization. Then, perhaps in the 1960s, some elementary school teachers taught the ABCs by singing a tune with the alphabet as the lyrics. I have a daughter who was taught by the singing method. If she were now asked to recite the ABCs, she would probably sing them.

Zenith Transoceanic Radios

Those portable radios of the 1950s were about the size of a breadbox, had a large battery, were very heavy, were covered in black leatherette and had numerous dials. Supposedly, via short wave, you could receive radio broadcasts from around the world. When I had enough spare money, I splurged and bought one. I found that I did not get much on short wave and reception was no better than the normal table-top radios of the time.

Adding Machines

Adding machines were office fixtures for many years. They were large, totally manual and, as the name implies, would only add numbers. To add a series of numbers, you punched number keys and pulled the handle, then punched in another number and pulled the handle and so it went until you ran out of numbers to add. The machine kept a running total on paper tape. Today’s tiny multi-function calculators are much more versatile and they fit in a shirt pocket.

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Jim Ford can be contacted at jwford571@gmail.com.