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Now and Then in the SCV | Commentary by Darryl Manzer
| Sunday, Dec 9, 2012

Darryl Manzer

Aboard a ship in the Panama Canal the other day, I was again amazed at the accomplishments of those folks who built that canal. I’ve lost count of the number of Panama Canal crossings I’ve made, but each and every time, I’ve seen something new and different in or on the canal.

The new sights on this transit included the progress on the new and larger locks that will allow the biggest ships to use the canal. Many of the techniques used for the construction are exactly the same as those used in the original construction that took place from 1904 to 1914. Some methods are too good to “improve.”

Many of the men that built that canal had little education. There were thousands of uneducated men from Barbados, and islands near there, who did the heavy labor with picks and shovels. Thousands died from working conditions and disease – but they carried on.

The skilled white American workers, machinery operators, machinists and the like were mostly educated to the eighth grade. Few had formal schooling beyond that. The doctors, engineers, accountants and nurses had additional education, including college. Most of that schooling happened in little one-room buildings just like Felton School in Mentryville.

You know that prior to the invention and use of computers in schools, many great things were accomplished by those who were educated without them. There was the building of the railroads, including the Union and Central Pacific lines that opened up the West (for better or worse, but it did happen).

The Wright brothers had an eighth-grade education. So did Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Samuel Clemens. Many of the men who designed and built America’s Navy, which has keep us free since the first battles at sea, had a bare minimum of education. Our nuclear-powered fleet of submarines and aircraft carriers had little if any computer use to design and build them.

The main engines of the Saturn V rocket and space shuttle were designed using slide rules. Those slide rules were used by many men who started school in a little building like the one in Mentryville.

I may go so far as to say that before the personal computer and laptop, the accomplishments of mankind were astounding. Just a few are: Railroads that spanned continents, and planes that did it faster; ships and submarines that can travel years without refueling; manned space exploration in Earth orbit and trips to the moon.

What has happened since then? Facebook? Adventures in blogging – like this one? What great accomplishments are happening since those little machines came out? I won’t even get into a discussion about the educational “system” we have in the United States.

I am so amazed by the men and women who were able to save those historic structures at Mentryville. Those people also started out in small schools. Without computers. Heck, few families had a telephone.

Frenchy Lagasse

Who were they? They were folks like mine who in 1959 and 1960 convinced Standard Oil that Mentryville buildings needed to be saved. The ones who followed them, Frenchy and Carol Lagasse. I know my folks started in a one-room school. I’m not sure about Frenchy and Carol; I do know Frenchy went to San Fernando High.

Regarding Frenchy, I have an error to correct. I had always been told, or thought, that he was of Cajun ancestry. Alas, I was very wrong. I must have thought that, because his cooking for events at Johnson Park had a flavor I associate with Cajun cooking.

In fact, Mr. Lagasse was of French-Canadian heritage.  I had stated the Cajun “fact” about him on video and in print. I admit I was wrong and want everyone to know that.

Like my father, Frenchy was a hero of mine. Long before he ever thought of moving to Pico Canyon, he gave me a talk about becoming too “cocky” about riding my motorcycle. A few months later, I was in a wheelchair while both legs mended. Frenchy was right.

A computer didn’t help in any of those huge accomplishments. Slide rules, No. 2 pencils, drafting instruments, hard work and the sweat of countless thousands did.

So, the next time you think the problems of the world can be solved by a few keystrokes, think again. Our efforts since the invention of the personal computer and laptop have given us little in comparison. More free-thinking computing power happened in Felton School and others just like it than any PC or other machine could ever accomplish.

That’s because all of those machines lack a basic ingredient we people have, but use so little: imagination.

Now, go use your imagination. Create a new canal or a colony on the moon. Don’t worry what your friends on Facebook think, because it just doesn’t matter. The best and most powerful computer on Earth is between your ears. Use it.

 

Darryl Manzer grew up in the Pico Canyon oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s and attended Hart High School. After a career in the U.S. Navy he returned to live in the Santa Clarita Valley. He can be reached at dmanzer@scvhistory.com and his commentaries, published on Sundays, are archived at DManzer.com. Watch his walking tour of Mentryville [here].

 

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