Shakespeare Silent; or, Automatic for the Hillbilly



This photo shows the back of a Shakespeare brand Model 1837 automatic fly reel. Shakespeare manufactured a wide range of sporting goods during the mid-twentieth century. This reel is mounted on a Shakespeare Wonderod, a fiberglass fly rod from (probably) sometime in the 1960s–perhaps even the 1950s.

Reels for fly rods come in a variety of designs. Most fly reels are “single-action fly reels.” These reels have simple designs and do not “multiply’ the action of the handle–that is, one turn of the handle causes the spool to rotate only one time. Another fly reel design is called a “multiplying” reel: each turn of the handle causes the spool to rotate multiple times.*

Yet another design is called an “automatic” fly reel. These reels incorporate a spring, which is tightened or wound when line is drawn from the reel. The wound reel can then be triggered, causing the spool to rotate and draw back in the line that had previously been unwound from it.

Automatic fly reels used to be very popular. Now, though, almost no serious fly angler uses an automatic reel. In the minds of most modern fly anglers (and by “most” I mean 99.99 percent), if you fish with an automatic fly reel, you might as well be fishing with a gob of worms hung on clothesline tied with granny knots to the end of a green stick.

As my readers know very well, if I see a bandwagon, I hasten to heave my aging body onto it. So I say, “Get thee behind me, automatic fly reels!”

Well, no. Not exactly quite so much precisely.

Now, in truth, I did disdain automatic fly reels when I first began flyfishing back in the 1980s. I had a reasonably good reason for doing so: most automatic fly reels weigh about as much as the average Volkswagen, so they don’t balance well on the butt** end of a fly rod.

Recently, though, I purchased some vintage fly rods manufactured of fiberglass. These rods are much heavier than modern graphite or fiberglass rods. And they simply don’t balance all that well with modern single-action reels hung on them.

Then I bought–for the proverbial pittance–the Shakespeare Wonderod and the Shakespeare Model 1837 automatic reel shown in this photo (recognizing that you see very, very little of the rod). The rod is heavy by modern standards–but it balances reasonably well with the Shakespeare automatic reel on the butt (tee-hee!) end.

Late this afternoon I bought two more automatic reels–both manufactured by South Bend, another important manufacturer of fishing equipment in the twentieth century. One of the reels is absolutely pristine. I’m not sure that I’ll use it. But I hung the other on an old Heddon rod that won’t balance properly with a modern single-action reel on it.

This shouldn’t surprise you: the old South Bend reel balances the old Heddon rod beautifully.

Here in Minnesota, we’re moving into the season of hard-water fishing–that is, ice fishing. But in the spring, I plan to take out my old automatic reels and see if I can’t catch a fish or two on them. That strikes me as being pure vintage.

* Most spinning, baitcasting, and spincasting reels are “multiplying” reels. This is a topic for another day, month, or year.

** “Tee-hee! He said ‘butt’!” A digression: When I was young, the word “butt,” when used to describe the portion of the human anatomy on which we so often sit, was more than mildly obscene. It wasn’t as obscene as “ass,” but it was plenty obscene. Back in about 1991, I overheard a conversation between two of the children of a neighbor couple. Both were girls; the younger was about ten, and the older was about twelve. Some boys had ridden past on bicycles and spoke to the girls. The younger girl said to the older: “He said that looked tight. He was taking about your butt.”

I was troubled for a host of reasons. I was stunned that such young girls were talking about these things. I was stunned that such young boys were talking about these things. I was stunned by the casual use of the word “butt.” I was very bothered that my older daughter–then about six or seven years old–had overheard this conversation.

And for a bit of irony: These other girls were the daughters of a very, very religious couple who attended the First Assembly of God Church less than half a block from our house.

Whatever. I am still troubled by the casual use of the term “butt” to describe the human anatomy. “I grow old. I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.”




When I was young, we were very poor. My parents were sharecroppers–thus the original title of this site (and still the web address). I didn’t have many toys, but at some point I did obtain a toy cap gun: a repeating rifle, with a cream-colored stock and forearm. It was very small–about eight inches long–but I loved it.

I remember owning the little rifle when we still lived on the farm where I was born. So I must have received it when I was about six. At some time during the next few years it went missing. We moved four times between August 1964 and May 1966, and it no doubt was lost during one of those moves. Or perhaps my mother simply threw it away.

In any event, I long remembered the little toy rifle. And today I found one for sale in an antique shop in Hopkins, Minnesota. Here’s a bit of the little gun.

Waning Gibbous Moon, 2 October 2015



During the summer, I wasn’t able to get out on clear evenings to do photography. We had quite a few hazy nights, and I don’t bother to take a ‘scope out on those nights.

In the last few days, the weather has begun to turn, and we have less humidity. The night of the eclipse (27 September) was reasonably clear, and we’ve had a few good nights since then.

I took this photo on 2 October, using my Meade 127mm (five-inch) achromatic refractor). The limb of the moon appears a bit off–an artifact of the achromatic design, which does not correct perfectly for the different wavelengths of light.

A bit of technicality: A refracting telescope uses an objective lens, containing one or more elements, to gather and focus light. Sunlight–and moonlight, which is reflected sunlight–consists of a spectrum of wavelengths of light. A simple lens, consisting of a single element manufactured of one type of glass, will focus the different wavelengths of light at slightly different points: the blue image will be focused slightly closer to the lens than will the red image. This spread in focal points–called chromatic aberration–renders the image a little less crisp, as there is no single focal point. Further, depending on what focal point one chooses, a simple objective lens will create “false color”–that is, the color of the slightly out-of-focus portions of the image will be visible as a sort of halo around the object.

An achromatic lens bears that name because it reduces the color (chroma) of a refracted image. Achromatic lenses consist of two elements that are made of different glasses. Each kind of glass focuses different wavelengths of light differently. By selecting the appropriate kinds of glass, the manufacturer can reduce the amount of chromatic aberration. Some two-element lenses can achieve a high degree of color correction. Such lenses typically use an objective containing a fairly “exotic” kind of glass, which tends to be expensive.

Other lenses are designated as apochromatic. Such lenses typically use three elements, each manufactured of a different type of glass. Well-designed apochromatic lenses reduce chromatic aberration (as well as spherical aberration) to a very low level.

Some camera lenses are designated as apochromatic. But chromatic aberration is typically less important with camera lenses, as the focal length is much shorter. Chromatic aberration in a 50mm lens is obviously much less important than chromatic aberration in a 1000mm lens, where the spread in wavelengths is twenty times as great. Further, because camera lenses typically have much smaller diameters, it’s much cheaper to introduce additional elements to reduce chromatic aberration. (And most modern camera lenses consist of several elements anyway.)

So the issue of chromatic aberration generally affects telescopes rather than cameras. And the problem principally affects refracting telescopes–that is, telescopes that use a glass objective lens to collect and focus light. Chromatic aberration does not affect reflecting telescopes, which use mirrors to collect and focus light. And chromatic aberration does not generally affect hybrid telescopes–that is, telescopes using both glass lenses and mirrors. Hybrid designs include Schmidt-Cassegrain and Maksutov-Cassegrain telescopes. I have a 127mm Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope, which provides very crisp images without chromatic aberration.

My Meade 127mm refractor is an achromat: it has only two elements in its lens. So it shows a bit of chromatic aberration, which is especially visible at the limb (edge) of the moon in this photo. The defocusing at the limb resulted in an artificially bright limb. I processed the image a bit to bring out additional details in the rest of the image, and that processing bumped up the brightness of the smeary edge of the image.

As I noted above, it was reasonably clear the night of the eclipse. I did take a moon shot that night, but I didn’t use one of my telescopes. The eclipse wasn’t visible from my back yard (which is really kind of a hole). I didn’t feel like hauling one of my ‘scopes up to the street–especially because I would have had to use the Meade 127mm achromat, which is a fairly heavy beast.

Instead, I took a shot of the eclipse with a 500mm lens mounted on a simple tripod. Because the moon was so dark, the exposure was very long–three seconds. The moon moved during that time, resulting in a somewhat smeary image. It’s not a very good shot, but I’m including it here for what it’s worth:



Although this isn’t really a very good image, it does convey–at least to me–the rather moody, even spooky, quality of the moon that night.

An aside: My little girl, Grace (age seven), was asleep well before the moon reached totality. But when I saw that it was clear enough to see the moon, I woke her and carried her in her pajamas out to the street. (We live on a very, very quiet dead-end street.) One of our neighbors came out, and we stood there for a time, watching the moon and talking. I took a few photos and then took Grace back to bed.

The next afternoon, my little girl’s teacher told me that Grace had told her about my waking her up and carrying her out to the street to see the blood moon.

I’m not such a bad dad after all.

Oh, It’s Flying Time Again . . .



I should be embarrassed by this terrible pun, but long ago I had my sense of pun-embarrassment surgically removed.

In case you’re wondering: The photo shows a number of flies used for fishing. Well, a couple of these lures are poppers (they make a “pop” in the water when retrieved), and some people don’t consider poppers to be flies.

Whatever. Language is a mess. We imagine that words refer discretely to separate entities or concepts. It is to laugh. Words are like giant, mushy, slippery mittens with which we must–while blindfolded, with our ears stuffed with cotton–manipulate a bewildering array of ambiguously shaped objects.

Or words are sixteen-pound hammer, with which we must try to drive delicate wire nails.

No word in itself is truly precise. A word can become more precise depending on its use within a particular proposition within a total linguistic performance, which performance itself must be understood as it is situated within a vastly larger context–a context that, at its most distant margins, may cover nearly all human utterances. We can imagine the total field of language as a series of partially overlapping nets of linguistic performances, with the myriad nets joining more or less closely at a vast number of nodes of particularized meaning.

This isn’t merely my crazy talk. These gnomic utterances derive from my readings in Quine, Foucault, and Wittgenstein, as well as more general works in philosophy.

My point is that it is a mistake to expect too much precision in language. Is a popper a fly? Is a hot dog a sandwich? Definitions reflect the lived experience of language–not the dusty dreams of grammatical dons.

And, having abused you with these maunderings, let me cleanse your palate with this delightful tonic: Ray Charles singing Buck Owens’s classic “Oh, It’s Crying Time Again”:

And if you don’t like that, I don’t know what to say.