By Mike Sokol
I thought about this last week when I saw an eBay ad for a vintage butter churn. I was immediately taken back to when I was 6 years old visiting my grandma and grandpa on their small farm in West Virginia, and was mystified about how a butter churn could make a lump of butter out of liquid milk. While my brothers and sister and I turned the crank handle, I was learning the physics of emulsification. I just didn’t know what to call it at the time.
My grandparents had a very small farm by any standard, perhaps 2 acres, half of which was hay and the other half had a small house with a chicken coop and paddock for one cow (Cheelog, which means Star in Hungarian). Oh, yes. It also had a 2-seat outhouse which us kids thought was great fun.
But the star of the show was indeed Cheelog, who my grandma would milk every day, much to the joy of all the farm cats. We would help haul the pail of milk up to the house, then every few days she would pull the butter churn off the shelf, fill it with the cream she had skimmed from the top layer of milk, then let us turn the crank for the 15 or 20 minutes it took to turn it into butter.
While there was a certain fascination with the gears making the paddle go around at high speed, I remember being most enamored with whatever process was creating a lump of butter out of milk that we saw come out of a cow not an hour before. This was real magic to a 6-year-old, or at least some sort of alchemy as I watched it work time and time again.
There were no encyclopedias on the farm, and this predated the internet by at least 40 years, so I had to wait until I got home to look it up in the World Book. After hours of random reading (no Google search function back then, either), I stumbled on “emulsification.” So the water was being encapsulated in the fats, creating a semi-solid structure (butter) we all love to spread on our toast or put in the pie crust. Good heavens, mystery solved.
This lead to other hypotheses and experiments with shaking oil and vinegar for the salad dressing. So at the ripe age of 7, I was already a citizen scientist and willing to tell everyone about it.
But all was not well with being too smart in the ’60s, especially when I needed to wear thick glasses starting at the age of 8. Nerds were not welcome in middle school, and I was teased relentlessly and called 4-eyes so many times I couldn’t keep count.
But I had learned how to learn and I soon learned how to charge up a capacitor with a high voltage, then toss it to my tormentors to give them a pretty good shock. After a few of these shocking moments they left me alone, especially after I spread the rumor that I had figured out even more nefarious tricks that would be REALLY painful.
So did I go to the dark side and vaporize any of my tormenting classmates with a death ray? No, I did not and I’m very proud of it. But that.was certainly fun to think about, and it was great to see the fear in their eyes when they figured out I knew stuff. Yes, knowledge is power, and it all started with a butter churn.
So show your own children the power of learning about everything, but make sure you instill in them the knowledge of good and bad. My parents eventually sat me down and gave me the talk about using my intellectual powers for good and not for evil, but by then I had already established myself as a white hat. That’s a technology person fighting on the side of good and not evil. We really don’t want to know what could have happened if I had turned to the dark side, now, do we?
Let’s play safe out there….
Mike Sokol is an electrical and professional sound expert with 50+ years in the industry. His excellent book RV Electrical Safety is available at Amazon.com. For more info on Mike’s qualifications as an electrical expert, click here.
For information on how to support RVelectricity and No~Shock~Zone articles, seminars and videos, please click the I Like Mike Campaign.