Through the years, I've heard construction blocks referred to variously as "concrete blocks" and "cinder blocks." What's the difference between the two, if any? -- J. Quevreaux, of Columbia
Since you sound like an old-timer, perhaps you will indulge me in some childhood memories your question has sparked.
The first involves the time my family decided to install a new coal-fired furnace. Knowing that storm water occasionally seeped into our basement, Dad decided to put in a slab of concrete a couple inches high on which to place the furnace to keep it from rusting.
I still remember him and a couple of friends nailing together the framework and laboriously mixing the cement, sand and water. Then, they poured the sludge and let it dry to form the large platform in the middle of the basement.
But the new furnace was still connected to our old stoker, which used a long auger to feed coal into the furnace. One of the fall highlights for me as a youngster was the arrival of the coal man, who would whip his conveyor belt off his truck and proceed to shoot a ton or two of the black mineral down the chute and into our coal bin.
Unfortunately, when I was old enough, it was my daily job to shovel coal from the bin into the stoker like a fireman on a locomotive. (I still can hear the stern lectures I would get when Dad would open the stoker lid and see the last pieces of coal sliding into the auger.) Dad's job was to open the hot furnace door, remove the spent cinders (or "clinkers," as he would call them) and lug them out to the trash.
Note that word: cinders. As you know, concrete is a mix of cement and what are called "aggregates," which can make up 60 percent or more of the final product. For stronger concrete -- like the kind Dad poured for the furnace slab-- sand or finely crushed stone is used as the aggregate.
But decades ago when coal was a common source of fuel, there were a lot of cinders going to waste. So instead of throwing them all away, they began grinding them up and using them as a cheap aggregate in the production of concrete. Voila -- the cinder block.
But cinder blocks come at a cost. Because they use cinders as the aggregate, they are much lighter and not nearly as strong as concrete blocks, which are made with sand or gravel. Some building codes even expressly forbid their use because of their inherent weakness.
In the 1970s, my parents finally switched to natural gas -- as did most other homes. Cinders began disappearing. As a result, cinder blocks haven't been mass-produced for 40 or 50 years, although old-timers like us still may slip up and use the words interchangeably.
In fact, if they're looking at homes built since 1960, Arlene Puentes at October Home Inspections in Kingston, N.Y., reminds her inspectors not to correct homeowners if they ask about their "cinder block" foundation.
"It is a commonly used term and you're not going to explain things any better to them by correcting their terminology," she says.
Where could I get an AKAI reel-to-reel repaired? -- D.H., of Belleville
My standard advice still applies for these great, old dinosaurs: Call Alpha Tech Electronics in St. Louis, which has been doing reel repairs for 38 years. They're still at 1502 S. Big Bend Blvd., just south of Interstate 64 (314-645-5250 or www.alphatechstl.com).
As an alternative, you also can contact L.S. Electronics at 9516 Lackland Road (rear) in Overland, Mo. (314-426-9355 or www.lselectronics.net), whose technician says reel decks and turntables are his specialty. Sorry, I still am unaware of anyone in the metro-east who works on them.
Who was the famous offspring of Apollos de Rivoire?
Answer to Thursday's trivia: When early American settlers spotted wild turkeys, they mistakenly identified them as a type of guineafowl that they had been familiar with in Europe. These guineafowl, known scientifically as Numididae, had been commonly called turkey fowl or simply turkey, because they were imported to central Europe through Turkey. But the name "turkey" stuck with the American birds for a couple of reasons: Many of the earliest settlers believed that America was attached to Asia, so they figured the birds had simply migrated. And, of course, people even then liked to associate animals and food with far-off lands. Hence, the American turkey gained the genus name meleagris, which is Greek for guess what? Guineafowl. Meanwhile, the real helmeted guineafowl from Africa is classified as Numida meleagris. In 1550, it is thought that navigator William Strickland brought the first turkeys back to England from the New World. As a reward, he was granted a coat of arms that included -- ta-da --a turkey-cock.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or email@example.com