Vintage SCUBA

Ron is an avid collector of vintage scuba equipment and at one time had over 300 vintage double hose regulators in his collection.  Over time some of these were sold to collectors in Canada including avid collector and dive historian Phil Nuytten, and many others went to Adiar in Brazil to compliment his collection.  Today you can see my prized '68 Gold Plated Royal Aqua Master in Adairs collection.  Sadly I let this gem slip through my fingers? But I've been quite fortunate and in one event I was contacted to help clean up a building that was the former dive shop of Jack the Frogman who started in the early 50's and closed in 1977.  I almost went to this shop in 1973 for my dive training.  The irony here is that Jack closed the door after a tragic accident and every item in the store sat on shelves until he died in 1998 and I was called to help clean up.  It was a true treasure trove and I kick myself in hindsight for not taking pictures of every phase.  But this was pre iPhone and I didn't carry a camera like I do today.  Imagine if you can the largest dive store inventory you have seen, but this is equipment from the 1953 - 1974 all dusty, many in original boxes, bags, and piles and piles of double hose regulators with hoses rotting away in the open air.  The basement contained hundreds of scuba tanks on racks from New (1974) In Box U.S. Divers steel 72's,  to WWI 1918 industrial oxygen cylinders, home built scuba systems, to customer tanks ready for hydro.  Along with many notes and letters that asked "Jack I dropped off my tank/regulator can you tell me when it will be finished".... He was not a crook but he had a breakdown after his shop truck rolled over his son, killing the child! 

 

See more on Jack The Frogman bottom of page 

 

In an effort to start rebuilding some of this collection that I acquired at JTFM as well as many I purchased from divers who would come into my dive shop, I needed new rubber components.  So I scavenged all the remaining vendors who supplied the US Navy like MarVel, or old dive shops, to friends like Dan who has Vintage Scuba Supply.  Problem was that there just wasn't enough vintage rubber parts left on the marketplace.  So I started a quest to reproduce Mouthpieces, Mushroom Valves, Valve Cages, etc.  It was a brutal start as I had never purchased as rubber mold tool and proofing the blueprint was not my specialty.  I gave the engineers a vintage mouthpiece and said this is what I want.  Well it was like handing them a duck and they handed me back a chicken?   "No Guys, my customers want exact reproductions" so we went back and re built the tool.  For those who do not know a single cavity tool can run $10,000 - $15,000 before being polished and.... Eventually it came out perfect, but in my attempt to be authentic I asked for "rubber" and not silicone.  I wanted original!  Well sadly our country has lost much of its knowledge of rubber manufacturing as we have sold out to China.  I have original double hose mouthpieces from Shamrock Rubber (a U.S. divers rubber mfg plant in California) that have been either in a bag or sealed box for 40 years and it is still as pliable as the day it was made!  And I have rubber reproduction mouthpieces that were made for me that were beautiful the day they were made, but in one year I could drive nails into an oak plank with them?  Very sad and disappointing.  I then switched to Silicone as I didn't want to fight the rubber compound battle again.  I sold my mouthpieces to other vintage sites that re-sold them, but eventually they decided to go offshore and import them from China where they have the hoses and other parts made.

I don't begrudge any of the other vintage suppliers as you get into a market and either fight or give up.  Originally the tool box from JTFM I sold to Bryan contained many New Old Stock parts that were copied.  His first gaskets and seats were all crooked, but in time he perfected them to have incredible new reproductions that are spot on amazing!  I simply cannot do the hose deal as a tool is too much and I have had my fill of dealing with direct China imports through the dive store.  Its a learning curve and if you take the challenge it can be rewarding, but it take patience and connections.  

 

*Please visit my site and see the original OEM Aqua Lung Parts kits, My Reproduction Soft Goods, plus New & Vintage Double Hose Regs

 

Click on the Double Hose Regulator to visit my online store for Vintage Equipment 
Virtual Vintage SCUBA Museum
Virtual Vintage Museum
 
 
JTFMCO Story Continued

Jack Blocker was an early SCUBA pioneer that started his dream of operating a scuba business out of his home by hanging a shingle on post in his front yard.  He corresponded with the science magazine Popular Science that published an article on How To Build scuba from military surplus, and he contacted the Palley Co. in California where the magazine directed people to purchase the military surplus parts. Jack was a very detailed person who kept every record of his entry into the scuba world, as well as the demise of his business with every customer letter complaining that he never returned their equipment sent in for service.  There were file cabinets with file folders full of letters and replies from U.S Divers corp located at 1045 Broxton Avenue.

In the spring of 1998 I was contacted by Jacks long life girlfriend Carol to help clean up the property.  At the same time one of my dive stores Divemasters who was also a Mpls police officer alerted me to a strange call he was on.  The officer was called to a business property where pimps, whores and drug addicts were loitering.  What he found was a time capsule of diving history, JTFMCO, but it was sadly abused as these drug addicts would piss in the corner of the room.... And by the time I was invited to assist, another dive store owner who is a notorious crook had emptied the basement of 70 of the NIB U.S. Divers steel 72's.  He had no interest in history, just to be able to steal some useful items for his current shop.  What I found was bizarre to say the least as there were Aquala Dry Suits from the mid 50's rolled up in the original plastic shipping bag and they were like new!  Cases and cases and cases of new old stock hoods, booties, gloves or neoprene that was crude in shape and fit as compared with current wetsuits accessories we wear today.  And then there were un-opened boxes of U.S. Divers UDS 1 systems from 1974!  And again I was sadly a day late to really appreciate the true nature of the site as one of the family members was a "salvage scavenger" and was going through the building boxing up every bit of precious brass that he could take to the scrap yard for cash?  It was sad as I visited his garage with Carol and found piles and piles of brass heaped on the floor.  In one pile were new old stock J, K , Manifolds Valves with a few scrapes where he hit it with a file to confirm it was brass.  And there was they eye popping pile of 180 double hose regulator bodies!  There were Viking, Dacor, early Broxton labels as well as every version of common Mistrals and DA Aqua Master....  I was able to convince Carol that this history was worth more than the scrap value and paid her fairly for the entire lot of brass at current eBay market.  Rather than cheat Carol as did the previous dive shop, I paid her as well as I could and in return she gifted me with a few surprises.    Carol knew that I was a former commercial diver and she had already plucked the Miller Dunn III Shallow Water Helmet and a few NIB snorkels for me.  Now these were not just US Divers J tube snorkels, these were original new in box 1954 Squale Swim Pipes.  OMG!   I found out that all the rubber goods from the double hose regulators were thrown in a large dumpster the family had delivered to the business site, and here again a day late!  They had already hauled away one 16 yard dumpster, with what I know was full of history!  But in the second dumpster, I literally dived in picking and plucking as fast as I could filling up my box truck with everything from original Palley Supply Oxygen Demand Regulators built into homemade scuba's, bags and bags of Aqua Lung OEM parts, to miscellaneous paperwork such as early letters to US Divers Corp, and cycolac plastic regulator bodies that had no brass value....  It was dirty, filthy, dusty work that I know was pissed on by hookers, pimps.... but it was rewarding.  There were literally thousands of items and too numerous and obscure to name all but oddities like Yak-Yak underwater communication devices,  to SnorkAir early single hose tank/regulator kits....  I had also spent several days in the basement sorting through hundreds, and hundreds of cylinders from WWII oxygen tanks converted into early scuba tanks, to the brand new US Divers Aluminum 72 "bobber" , and I only found a few of the remaining NEW steel 72.  And yes I did find several sets of "Rene" single and triple sets, and manifolds!  And there were perhaps 150 customer cylinders in all states from returned from hydro, to condemned.....

Again hindsight is always 20/20 but if I could go back and take pictures it would curl your toes!   

 

Orville J. Blocker, better know as Jack The Frogman . Jack was one of the first persons in Minnesota to introduce the public to the new sport of skin diving. Starting at his home in Minneapolis in 1953 Jack built his first regulator from surplus military parts and common plumbing fittings. By the Spring of 1954 Jack was ordering Cousteau / Gagnan Aqualung regulators and training divers in the use of compressed air and double hose regulators. His storefront at 4251 Nicollet Ave. ( Jack The Frogman Co. ) boasted the Midwest’s largest supply of skin diving equipment and air filtered 4 times. Jacks success was in part due to his marketing efforts: T.V., radio, newspaper, Midwest Sports Show, mobile dive truck, buttons, stop pollution stickers, etc… Although Jack inspired many people to explore the new underwater world, he only visited the ocean once off Catalina Island by invitation of U.S. Divers Corp. John Cronin a salesman for U.S. Divers and close friend of Jacks offered Jack in 1968 to be one of the founding members of a new instructional agency PADI. Before certification cards were prevalent Jack issued divers his own "Qualified Diver" card to signify their training. A tragic accident occurred when Jack backed over his son Jimmy with the mobile dive truck. His sons death started a decline in his enthusiasm, then in 1977 Jack closed the doors and faded into obscurity. Many people I have interviewed remember Jack for different reasons, I think a fitting way to close on his life is the way Jack closed his correspondence: "Get Wet & Be Happy".

 

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