The 1940s came alive last week for Sara Yates, 88, of Salt Lake City, thanks to the restoration of an old wire recorder, the predecessor of the reel-to-reel tape player.
Scott Brooks, technician for the Utah State Library's Radio Reading Service for blind and handicapped, was able to restore Yates' antique wire recorder and thus give her access to voices of family members, some that had been silent for almost 50 years.Legally blind now, Yates lives alone in her home near the mouth of Parley's Canyon, where Brooks and Radio Reading Service Manager Bob Wall presented her with the repaired wire recorder and played part of several recordings for her.
"This is going to be choice. This is going to be terrific," Yates beamed as the equipment was started up for the first time in more than four decades.
"Talk about a voice from the past," she said as a March 1948 recording of her only child, Vern M. Yates, was played to her delight. The recording was made while he had served overseas in the U.S. Navy. "This is super."
Later, Brooks played another wire tape from 1948, this one containing some family historical highlights from Yates' mother, Angus J. McBride.
"Yes, that's my mother," Yates enthusiastically said.
What started this audio reunion of sorts was a story that appeared in the Deseret News about one year ago, talking about the repair of some old-time phonographs.
Yates heard the story read by Wall in his daily newspaper reading for the blind broadcast and began inquiring if her antique wire recorder could be repaired.
Brooks volunteered for the job and was able to repair the wire recorder on his own time. He also copied the antique recordings on 17 regular modern-day cassette tapes so Yates would have even easier access to voices from her past.
"He (Brooks) just wanted to do a good deed," Wall said.
"I like older things and working with them," Brooks modestly said of his time-consuming repair work. "I'm a history buff. I enjoyed looking at this. . . . You hear things here you don't find in the movies."
One thing Yates wished there were more of on the recordings was the voice of her late husband, C. Vern Yates. He died 10 years ago, and while there could be a few of his recordings on these tapes, there aren't many.
That's because the time period of the tapes - late 1940s - was when C. Vern and Sara Yates were separated for some 18 months because of different employment responsibilities - Sara Yates working in Salt Lake City and C. Vern Yates remaining in Twin Falls, Idaho. The couple exchanged wire recorder tapes daily during that time, but Sara Yates recorded over the tapes her husband sent her and mailed them back with a nickel postage stamp.
"How sad I'll be not to hear Vern's voice on these," Yates said.
The Yates' are most famous for their work in helping developing the LDS Church's MIA dance program.
"We danced our way to the temple and around the world," Yates recalled.
The Yateses married in 1927 and were united for 59 years until Vern's passing.
Besides voices of family members on the recordings, there are also some sermons from LDS Church leaders - Ezra Taft Benson and Matthew Cowley.