By Greg Clark, July 14, 1945
“How much hose, inquired Jimmie Frise, “have you got left?”
“By golly,” I said, “I’ve only got about 30 feet.”
“That’s about what I’ve got,” muttered Jim. “And even that leaks.”
“Mine,” I informed him, “spurts all over at the tap. It has two main flaws which shoot fine jets about 15 feet. And in between are sundry soft spots that dribble.”
Mine’s exactly the same,” said Jim. “What I was going to suggest, we ought to pool our hose. I’ll bring my section over and we’ll make a new splice and join them up together. It will make one good hose. Then, on alternate nights we’ll roll it up and take it to each other’s house.”
“A fine suggestion,” I commended. “Maybe out of the two 30-foot lengths we could get one decent hose of 50 feet. Which would just about reach the foot of my yard.”
“Same here,” said Jim. “At this moment some of the best flowers I’ve got are parching to death, 10 feet out of range of my hose.”
“Shouldn’t we have bought some of this ersatz hose?” I inquired. “This wartime composition rubber? I see lots of that hose for sale.”
“Not me,” declared Jim. “I’m waiting for the experiments to end before I invest in any wartime substitutes.”
“I’ve talked to some people,” I advised, “who say that these rubber substitute hoses are better than any rubber hose they ever owned.”
“Maybe so,” said Jim. “But if rubber heels and the rubber soles you get on sport shoes these days are any sample of what rubber substitute is, I don’t want any of it. Did you ever notice the black scars the kids’ shoes make on the hardwood floors?”
“So that’s what it is?” I cried. “I’ve been wondering what those black scratches were.”
“Every scar,” asserted Jim, “is a little bit of wear and tear on the rubber substitute in the shoes. At that rate, they can’t last any time. And I bet hoses and tires are the same.”
“But it stands to reason,” I countered, “that science would sooner or later find some substitute for rubber. The minute the motor car was invented and good roads began to branch out in all directions all over the world, we should have foreseen that mankind would not for long be dependent on the juice of a tree that would only grow in certain restricted climates.”
“It does seem silly,” agreed Jim. “The whole world, from the Arctic through the temperate zones to the tropics and on down through the south temperate zone into the Antarctic, hundreds of millions of people with millions of motor cars each with five tires, all dependent upon a few South Sea Islanders squeezing the sop out of some special trees.”
“It isn’t good enough,” I submitted. “Science just had to get busy, war or no war.”
“Yet,” pointed out Jim, “look how dependent the world still is for so many different things on some small section of the world. Tea, for example. And coffee. How is it the whole world has become so victimized by certain habits and customs? Russia drinks billions of gallons of tea every day. Look at Britain, soaking up tea in lakes and gulfs. Up in northern Canada trappers having to have their pail of tea breakfast, noon and supper. And coffee! Millions of Americans, millions of South Americans, Frenchmen huddled over their coffee cups all along those open-air cafes of the boulevards. Spaniards, Italians …”
Mystery of the Moose
“That’s a queer thing,” I admitted. “A little bush grows in China and India. A few famished Chinese soak the dried leaves in boiling water. They’ll soak anything in boiling water. Sharks’ fins, birds’ nests. So they soak dried leaves. Presently, the queer little habit had spread all over the earth, and hundreds of millions simply can’t do without it.”
“Science hasn’t done anything about that,” pointed out Jim. “Maybe they can find a substitute for rubber. But can they find a substitute for all the other odd things men squeeze out of trees or pluck off bushes in comparatively small areas of the earth’s surface?”
“Do you know, Jim,” I mused, “it seems to me mankind is the laziest animal of all. Admitted, a moose is lazy. All a moose had to do, 1,000 years ago, was keep on slowly feeding south, through continuous lily pad ponds and willow brush and all the other things he eats, in order to reach the southern states. And there, in lush comfort, with no severe winter, the moose tribe would have found heavenly habitat. But are there any moose in Louisiana or Georgia? No. They are found exclusively in the hardest, bitterest spruce tracts of the north, where winter comes like grim death and hangs on for six months out of the 12. Why didn’t the moose tribe feed steadily southward? Why were they so lazy as to stick up in the inhospitable Canadian north?”
“Hmmm,” said Jim.
“The same with so many other beasts,” I said. “But man, apparently so energetic, so discontented, so eternally in search of better and more comfortable regions in which to live, is so lazy that If some Chinese shows him how to soak dried leaves in boiling water, mankind thinks the Chinese have the only leaves that can be soaked. Why haven’t we experimented with our own leaves?”
“Maybe we have,” said Jim. “Maybe those of us that are still left are the ones that haven’t – experimented. I think it is safer to let the Chinese experiment with soaking dried leaves and the Turks experiment with roasted berries. Always let somebody else do the experimenting. If they find something good and it doesn’t kill them, okay. Let’s use it.”
“That’s the trouble with us,” I protested. “Is there a sillier spectacle on earth than the past 30 years, with millions of motor cars racing all over the world, in seven continents, surely the most energetic and hectic spectacle in all human history. Yet the whole vast pandemonium dependent on the juice of some trees growing in a couple of small tropic areas. Modern industry may be a marvel. Modern science may be a wonder. But they both ought to be ashamed of themselves, putting the whole traffic of humanity on a foundation of bug juice from some pagan island.”
A Question of Rubber
“The best principle to observe in modern business,” explained Jim, “is, if it works, leave it alone. The first use of rubber in connection with traffic was rubber tires for wealthy men’s buggies and dog carts. Then – came the bicycle. And before anybody had time to invent a synthetic substance for the millions of bicycles in the 90’s, the rubber importers, who had got busy to meet the buggy trade, were able to produce enough wild rubber to meet the first onset of the bicycle tire trade. Then, foreseeing the great days ahead when the whole world would travel on bicycles, the rubber planters began to create orchards of rubber trees. Nobody foresaw the motor car. But by the time the motor car dawned, the rubber growers had got far enough ahead with their dreams of a world entirely bicyclized to meet the first onset of the motor car.”
“And of course,” I put in, “the motor car would have been simply out of the question without rubber tires.”
“Correct,” agreed Jim. “So you see, the rubber growers and rubber importers in every case were far enough ahead to meet the demand. So science had no call to get busy and invent a substitute. Industry always leaves well enough alone. Business says, if it works don’t change it. And that is why, up until now, there has been no call to science to invent a substitute for rubber.”
“Have they really got it?” I questioned. “Don’t you think rubber, like tea or coffee, like leather for shoes and wool for clothes, is something natural-born and right and fitting? Even if they do work out a perfect substitute for rubber, won’t there always be a demand for genuine rubber tires? They’ve invented no end of substitutes for wool and cotton for clothes. They’ve got imitation leather of every description. But people still like wool clothes as the ancient Romans did, and cotton, as the ancient Egyptians did, thousands of years before Christ. And can you imagine the day ever coming when men will give up genuine leather shoes?”
“Rather than be ruined,” Jim submitted, “I imagine the rubber planters of the east will offer their rubber so dirt cheap that the rubber Importers and the rubber processors will see the chance to make a little dough; and the rubber industry will be revived. Then we’ll witness a great pitched battle between the synthetic rubber interests and the natural rubber interests. Cartels will be formed. Little gangs of British bankers and investors, desirous of cutting the throats of other British bankers and Investors, will gang up with little gangs of American bankers and investors desirous of cutting the throats of other American bankers and investors. That’s a cartel.”
“I thought a cartel,” I interrupted, “was where all the British bankers and investors desirous of cutting one another’s throats got together with all the American bankers and investors desirous of cutting one another’s throats, because it was agreed that the public was hardly worth all the throat cutting. So they ganged up and cut the public’s throat instead.”
“I guess that is a cartel,” amended Jim. “And it may well be that rather than stage a pitched battle over synthetic rubber versus natural rubber they will organize a gigantic world-wide stock company of all the natural rubber plantations. All the planters will be bought out. All the importers and processors will be bought out. And then they’ll sell the stock to the public.”
“That would be a good way to put an end to the natural rubber industry,” I agreed. “But in the meantime I sincerely hope they get through with their experiments on synthetic rubber before the tire rationing comes off. Don’t you think one of us ought to invest in one of these rubber substitute hoses?”
“Look,” said Jim. “There’s just this one summer left. Surely we can pool our hoses and get by for the next couple of months. Then, by next year, either real rubber will be back or else a first-class substitute will be available. I have the feeling that with the war still on the best substitutes are still going into war materials.”
“Okay,” I subsided. “You bring your hose over and we’ll see what we can salvage from the two.”
So Jim ran home in the car and rolled his hose and brought it over to my garden. Jim’s hose was already synthesized. Of the 35 feet he had serviceable, 20 was an old smooth-bore type of hose dating back to the year of his marriage, about 1918. And the rest was the ribbed type, part of an extension he had bought about 1926.
Mine was just the one brand. It was the old smooth-bore style and was the relic of the first and only hose I ever bought. It had three splices in it. The passing years had seen soft spots and bends and cracks appear. I cut the defective section of a foot or so out, and then rejoined the good bits with those metal tubes and rings that splice hose together.
Evening in the Garden
Jim’s had an old-fashioned bronze nozzle. Mine had a more modern nickel-plated nozzle, with a knurled section for easy turning. But the connections at both my nozzle and the tap ends were so defective that regular fountains played at both ends. I had to stand at arm’s length from my nozzle; and even so my feet got soaked.
“So we’ll use my terminal connections,” suggested Jim.
A couple of summer bachelors can spend no more profitable evening than pottering in their gardens with hoses and hoes. With a sharp knife I severed from my three-spliced hose both the nozzle and the tap connection. We attached Jim’s hose to the tap to locate the best spot in which to splice in my hose.
His tap connection was flawless. Not a drop oozed. His nozzle was pretty good, but it had only two kinds of spray – either a great heavy flood like hailstones beating the zinnias and phlox; or else a fine mist of spray that would take all night to dampen the pansies.
But it was the mid-section of Jim’s hose that really fell short. There were several soft spots, dozy, like punky wood. These allowed water to seep out. There were also several real cracks, from which spouts of water 10 feet high curved up in various directions when the tap was turned up full.
“Jim,” I said, “this looks to me like a deal you’re putting over on me. There isn’t a five-foot stretch of your hose that hasn’t got a leak in it.”
“Cut it in the middle,” urged Jim, “and we’ll splice your hose in. Maybe with a good 30-foot section in the middle, like that, the water will flow too fast through mine to leak.”
“Nonsense; the more the pressure, the greater the leak,” I stated. “I don’t think it’s worth while trying to splice yours. Wait minute.”
And I went along and counted seven leaks.
“Each of those leaks,” I pointed out, “would require at least six Inches of hose cut out. That reduces your hose by close to four feet. And seven splices would require seven splicers.”
“Oh, try it anyway,” cried Jim. “We’ve got two splicers. Hitch her up and see if we can get enough pressure at the nozzle to reach the back of your yard. If not, we will simply have to go and buy some substitute rubber hoses.”
So we squatted down and went to work on the splices. We cut Jim’s hose at the junction between the old smooth-bore and the later model ribbed hosing. Then we dragged mine up and spliced its 32 feet in between.
When we pounded the end of the ribbed iron splicer into Jim’s hose, the perished rubber split, and we had to keep on paring off an inch or two until we finally hit upon the idea of filing the splicer a little smoother.
We got it hitched at last and then Jim walked back to the tap and turned it on.
It was quite a performance. I was holding the nozzle. If I turned it to the coarse stream a wavering jet, about seven feet long, wobbled and splattered heavily on the turf, digging a hole. If I turned to the fine spray a round balloon appeared, about the size and shape of an umbrella, and most of it drifted back to me.
An Idea Dawns
But back down the hose there was a wonderful display. From Jim’s two sections seven different spurts rose and arched in various directions. From both splices angry little explosions hissed in all directions. And from my section, in the middle, one very fine spurt and two smaller ones divided the north and south about equally between them.
We stood and watched for a moment.
“Turn her off, turn her right off, at the nozzle!” cried Jim suddenly. “Turn the way for the fine spray until she goes tight off.”
I turned. And as I did so all the spurts and fizzles and splutters suddenly arched higher. And three new ones appeared.
Jim strode up to me.
“My boy,” he cried excitedly, “this has been staring mankind in the face for centuries. Ever since hoses were first invented, we’ve been enslaved by the one idea. The fire hose. The hose with one stream to be directed on one target. But a garden hose should have not one but 10 or 20 outlets.”
“Don’t you see?” he expanded, “Talk about substitute rubber and drinking tea and coffee! Why, it has taken the war to show us what a proper garden hose should be like. Instead of the human race having to stand on damp lawns, steering a silly hose yard by yard over the flower borders, we invent a modern hose, a hose with 10 or 15 little nozzles. And then, all we do is walk down and stretch the hose the length of the garden, turn her on, and then sit back in the garden chairs and watch the garden get watered properly, simultaneously and at our ease!”
“Jim, if we patent this!” I gloated expectantly.
I laid the nozzle end down, and we walked the length of the hose, inspecting the leaks. Those that were not quite big enough, I enlarged with my pen knife, until they threw a nice spurt about 10 feet.
“Cut new holes, at regular intervals,” suggested Jim.
And judiciously turning the tap on and off, we spaced our cuts at regular intervals, until we had a series of 19 jets that, with the evening breeze wavering them, covered the whole expanse of the garden.
“Think,” I said, as we sat back in the deck chairs and watched the play of the little fountains, “of the old-fashioned sprinklers. The kind you had to keep getting up every few minutes to walk over wet grass and get squirted yourself, shifting them from place to place.”
“All we have to do now,” added Jim, “when we’re through, is turn off the tap and haul the hose back in. Only our hands get wet.”
As we sat and gloated, my next door neighbor came out and looked over the fence.
“Some hose,” he remarked.
“There you see,” I informed him, “the birth of a great idea. It is going to be patented. Our fortunes are made. This is the Frise-Clark hose. Or the Frike hose. Or maybe the Clarf hose. History is being made before your eyes.”
“Didn’t you ever see a cloth hose?” inquired my neighbor.
“A what?” I inquired.
“A cloth hose that waters the ground all along its length?” he asked.
“I certainly didn’t,” I said. “But anyway, it doesn’t sprinkle.”
“Sprinkling is the worst feature of hoses,” said the neighbor. “If we could water our gardens without sprinkling the flowers and foliage, causing them to weaken and blight, but merely wetting the earth, we would have the ideal hose. And we’ve got it in the cloth hose.”
“Where did you ever see one?” I demanded.
“You could have seen one for the past three summers,” said the neighbor, “by just looking over the fence.”
Which we did. And there, draped along the flower borders and over the grass, was an earth-brown hose of cloth, originally white, he told us. And it was quietly leaking water onto the parched earth, leaving the flowers and foliage to the dew, but richly soaking the ground and the roots.
“I got it,” he explained, “rather than one of those substitute rubber things.”
Jim and I went back to our garden chairs.
“Well, anyway,” said Jim, “I like the look of ours better.”
And we noticed, at the same time, that the spurts were not quite so high.
But when we counted them, instead of 19, there were already 22.
Editor’s Note: Rubber was rationed during World War Two. Innovations in the different types of synthetic rubber was stepped up to meet demand.