Wednesday, June 5, 2013

At the Dr. Grabow plant

[Popular Mechanics, September 1970.]

“The machines that make Grabows have no name outside the factory, and no use outside pipe manufacturing. The factory has its own lingo heard nowhere else: machines called frazers, procedures known as tripoling”: from a look at life in the Dr. Grabow plant in Sparta, North Carolina.

Fraise (that’s the correct spelling) and Tripoli (spelled with or without a capital) are nouns new to me. The OED has fraise: “A tool used for enlarging a circular hole.” The fraise isn’t limited to pipemaking: an OED citation refers to marble-workers using this tool. Fraise is also French for strawberry, which makes an image search for the tool amusing. (Search for fraise tool instead.)

As for Tripoli, this OED definition sounded plausible to me: “A fine earth used as a polishing-powder, consisting mainly of decomposed siliceous matter, esp. that formed of the shells of diatoms; called also infusorial earth or rotten-stone.” A trip to Google Books clinched it:

[William Augustin Brennan, Tobacco Leaves: Being a Book of Facts for Smokers (1915).]

Here too, use extends well beyond pipemaking. (Tripoli buffing compound, “for polishing aluminum, stainless steel, and wood”: as advertised here.)

The last time I saw someone smoking a pipe, the bowl had three or four inches of cigar in it. Before that? I can’t remember when I last saw someone smoking a pipe. But I do remember seeing the name Dr. Grabow back in my tobacco-stained past.

And speaking of the past, the OED dates fraise to 1874; Tripoli, to 1601. Old-time ways in Sparta.

Thanks to Mike at Brown Studies for passing on the link to the Grabow story.

comments: 2

brownstudy said...

I'm glad you found the story interesting enough to do some extra research. Fascinating stories.

Michael Leddy said...

It’s one of the things I most like about reading online — finding answers to impromptu questions. I didn’t think of looking up the words until I started putting together a post. And then there was no turning back.