Taking things apart

So I found myself in possession of a big old newspaper vending machine. It took me an hour to figure out how to open it, which I did mostly by sticking my arm in the available crack and seeing if I could find anything that felt like a latch. That was fun. I definitely did feel things that felt like dead bugs and spider webs!

Eventually it occurred to me to see if the thing just worked. I grabbed some quarters and discovered that for the low, low price of $.50 I could open the door! The locking mechanism worked perfectly. And it was even fairly self-explanatory; with only a few minutes’ consideration I was able to set the price to $.25, or to $1.50. What I wasn’t able to do was set the price to free, which is kind of important in the making of a Little Free Library.

Obviously I did what I do best and turned to Google. I discovered that the maker of the whole thing still exists — in case you’re in the market for a brand-new newspaper vending machine of your own. (I will add that they do NOT respond, at least not quickly, to frantic emails saying “Help! I need to take apart a lock you sold in 1976!” So thumbs down on that customer service, Kaspar Wire Works!)

I discovered the patent for the lock mechanism (here, if you’re bored). It had fun patent drawings and one of them was clearly my exact device. But there were a lot of parts labeled!


Unfortunately… I mean, I’m a word person. I looked and looked at the lock itself and at the schematics and the only real result was that I am now absolutely in awe of lock designs. I know there are digital versions out there now and I can’t believe they can be half as beautiful. I put a quarter in this thing time and time again and I watched the little switches and arms move and they moved gently and with no force. And yet somehow at the end the whole operation depressed a latch-tongue that actually takes a good degree of pressure to depress by hand. I have no idea what’s going on. But I’m glad Mr. Knickerbocker and his kind exist!

I am, however, laser-focused when I encounter Very Important Problems like this. (Just don’t ask me to clean my closet.) I wasn’t going to give up, even when it was pretty obvious that I was in over my head. I’m smart! I have technology! Specifically, I have an 8-megapixel camera on my phone! I closed the door as far as I could, so as to enlist gravity in the operation, and wedged one arm into the machine and under the lock. I took pictures. Then I inserted a quarter with my other arm and took more pictures. I did it again with video.

I got a couple great pictures of my nose from underneath, and some stills that might make interesting desktop wallpaper, like this:


But at the end of the day they didn’t make a whole lot more sense to me than the patent drawings and they definitely didn’t unlock the door.

One friend suggested leaving a container of quarters next to the machine. I’m still laughing about that one. I suppose the guy who checks out local pharmacy-by-mail packages to see what’s in them (he always returns my thyroid drugs!) would be pleased, but I’m not convinced it would actually help people in the neighborhood have easier access to books. So that wasn’t on.

In the end, I resorted to a skill I picked up way back in my days at Kalamazoo College Recycling, where our basic MO was to locate anything that could be unscrewed and unscrew it. (Hi, Rob!)  I unscrewed lots of things. I’ll admit I also had to bend some bits and bang on some other pieces but finally the whole lock mechanism came off. The door’s heavy enough that it sits shut without a real latch, so that’s the plan for right now.

And there was much rejoicing!

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2 Responses to Taking things apart

  1. gregmahler says:

    I hope you sent a copy of this to Rob! But remember, it isn’t the taking things apart that is the challenge, it is putting them back together!

  2. Alden says:

    I don’t need to put the lock back together, Dad. And in the context of recycling I never needed to put things back together either. It was take apart, pull out the stuff that didn’t stick to the magnet, avoid dead mice. No rebuilding required.

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