Saturday, September 25, 2010


SOMEWHERE between here and the Owens Valley and home again, I lost a favored tool. I suspect I left it on the dresser at the Mt. Williamson Motel in Independence. I recall looking at it several times as I was packing the BMW’s panniers and loading my pockets for the ride home. Wallet. Watch. Note pad and pen. All of these found place on my person in one of the dozen or so compartments in my Motorrad pants or jacket. But the pocket knife – a single locking-blade Schrade “Old Timer” with a “Delrin” handle and a nickel-silver bolster on the hinge – sat on the corner of the dresser as I did this, then that, in preparation for departure. Gotta put that in my pocket, I thought to myself each time I saw it, always immediately distracted by some other task.

FOR A TIME, I owned an original Isuzu Trooper II. It was called the Swiss Army Knife of four-wheel-drive vehicles. Tough. Versatile. Dependable. For a time, I owned a Kawasaki KLR 650 – dubbed the Swiss Army Knife of dual-sport motorcycles. Tough. Versatile. Dependable. For a time, I owned a Swiss Army Knife. It proved not to be as advertised. The stainless steel blade failed to keep an edge and was nearly impossible to re-hone. The built-in corkscrew hyper-extended itself and would no longer settle into its nest in the handle after the first pull on a stubborn bottle of red. The scissors didn’t cut and once the tweezers were lost, my fingers always searched out their cavity like a tongue finds a missing filling. The Swiss Army Knife was chic and versatile, but it didn’t do any task particularly well.

Not so the Old Timer. Sure, it hadn’t the facility to pull a cork or a splinter, but its steel blade took an edge nicely and was up to any whittling, carving, smoothing, slicing or trimming task asked of it. I’d carried this tool for eight to ten years, certainly longer than any other pocketknife I’d ever owned. Others had been lost. A black handled Buck stuck into a picnic table and forgotten up in the Lakes Basin. A Bokker “Tree” busted when used to pry something it was not engineered to pry. A Case dropped between couch cushions somewhere. Several cheapies, I know, are resting in the cobbles of the streambed of Chico Creek out in front of a house on Bidwell Avenue.

The Schrade Old Timer, however, was different. In part because of its elegant design: a smooth simple 2 inch blade that folds nicely into a rustic handle. In part because of its ease of maintenance: a couple of swipes across an oiled whetstone as part of my Sunday evening ritual while barbecuing lamb or chicken. In part because the machined hard edges of the Delrin handle had been softened by constant use over the decade: splitting tape on a box, opening an envelope, whittling a stick into tender for fire starter, slicing an apple for lunch or cleaning fingernails. Always something.

Until that day in that motel. I know it is still sitting there. Or that Maria, the housekeeper, has added it to her collection of derelicts left by forgetful hostliers.

A MONTH AND A WEEK have elapsed and I am more assured that the thing will not resurface. I decide to drop a couple of twenties on a replacement. But none of the local stores sell Old Timers: neither the Home Depot/Lowe’s chains nor the independents. The hardware stores seem to have buyers that acquire product from the same sources so all of the inventory in all of the stores is all the same. On-line, I discover that Schrade no longer makes the Old Timer line. My heart sinks. While the good news is that a similar model may be had for half the price, the bad news is that the new knife looks to be of far lesser quality than my original. “Imported,” the entry admits.

I’m okay with imported. I ride a BMW; drive a Nissan and a Civic. But, still, I feel as if I’d lost a piece of quality that I will never regain and think about calling the Mt. Williamson to see if the thing had turned up.

Instead I decide to go for a ride. Perhaps I could head up to the Lakes Basin and find that Buck still stuck in the picnic table. It’s only been 30 years.

I pull my riding pants from their hanger and something heavy hits my sock-clad right foot. It directly impacts a bunion sending a shock wave from foot to brain. Reflexively, I kick and whatever it was skitters under the cedar chest, ricochets off the wall and lays peeking from beneath the cabinet’s edge. In the inkling prior to dousing the closet light, I see the nickel-silver bound hinge and a trace of Delrin handle.

The Old Timer had been caught in a pocket or a fold of the riding pants – and I’d painstakingly checked them all. I pick it up, open, close and open it again, run my thumb across the blade’s edge and promise myself that I’ll hone the steel as soon as I return from the day’s ride.

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. Sorry for your loss. Better a hotel in nowhere than a TSA agent at at xx-international

  2. sweet story....glad it had a happy ending!

  3. great your blog

  4. I have a lovely story about a Swiss Army knife, given to me years ago, white (unusual) with the name Paola engraved in it. It was actually purchased in Switzerland. Love that knife. Once I was at Patrick's Point and went down to go for a swim. I took off my shorts and tossed them up to higher rocks, but the knife fell out of my pocket into a deep, narrow pool of water. It was too deep for me to get to the knife. I tried reaching down with my arms, but wasn't even close. I tried reaching down with my feet thinking I could use my monkey-like toes to grab it, but still I wasn't even close. So sad, I returned to camp bemoaning my loss. But that night was a full moon, which also means highest and lowest tides. So I checked when the next low tide was to be (though I don't remember how I got that info while camping - perhaps someone had a tide chart with them). I woke early the next morning along with the sun and the low tide. I walked to that previously full pool. It was now empty of water and I reached down and picked up my white Paola Swiss Army knife. I think it was meant to be mine, just as your Old Timer is meant to be yours.

  5. If we compare those items we have for which value is established by how much we paid, against those items for which value is established by elements such as utility, durability, history, timelessness, sincerity, and love - we'll find we spend oodles of money on stuff that doesn't provide real return on investment, don't you think?