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Card-shuffling table gets new life thanks to tinkering neighbor
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Diana Pollard checks her cards that were shuffled by her electric bridge table. The machine was manufactured in 1931 by The Hammond Co. - photo by PEGGY ATTAWAY

With the help of a mechanically inclined neighbor, Diana Pollard has brought new life to a quirky furniture piece she has kept in the family since the Great Depression.

And the restoration started as a result of a bridge game at Lanier Village Estates, a retirement community off Thompson Bridge Road in North Hall.

Pollard mentioned that she owned an "electric bridge table," which contains a mechanical device that shuffles cards and randomly distributes them to four bridge players through a chute by way of a metal track.

One of the players, Judy Yager, said she would like her husband, Leo, to look at the table.

Leo was glad to take on the chore.

"I'm just kind of a tinkerer," he said. "I'm always interested to see how things work."

The job turned out not to be too involved, as the table was in great shape and had all its moving parts.

Yager cleaned it up a bit, mainly focusing his attention on the "thumb," a device that moves the cards on the track and delivers them to players.

Yager secured a rubber band around it to give it some much-needed traction.

"Son of a gun, it worked," he said.

The Yagers returned the table to Pollard last week in the clubhouse lobby at Lanier Village Estates. There, Leo removed the table's cover, exposing a motorized network of metal tracks, wires and springs, and demonstrated its use.

After dispensing all the cards, the device automatically shut off. Yager and Pollard counted the cards; there were 13 in each hand. Yager smiled in relief.

Pollard also seemed pleased, recounting how her family came across the piece.

"It was given to my mother by a wealthy neighbor who knew that she loved to play bridge," she said. "He went to the Chicago Exposition in 1933 and had this delivered to our house."

Pollard, who grew up in North Carolina, also recalled, "I think my mother's friends got a kick out of playing with it."

Yager researched the device and came to learn that Laurens Hammond invented the table in an effort to keep his clock company from failing during the Depression.

"They sold 100,000 of these, like in a year," Yager said. "And that produced enough profit that the banks decided not to foreclose on him, and they were able to get things going in their regular business."

The table stayed on the market for a couple of years, selling at $25 apiece.

But it was neither clocks nor bridge tables that made Hammond a household name.

The Illinois man would go on to invent the Hammond organ, which, as part of Japan's Suzuki Corp., remains a fixture in churches and popular music today.

Pollard, who is 85, began playing bridge when she was 10 years old.

"We had a little foursome in our neighborhood - one very brave little boy and three girls whose parents were avid bridge players," she said.

"We would play in each other's homes, and the mother of that particular household would kind of walk around, look over our shoulders and suggest or see that we were doing it correctly."

As for the electric bridge table, "I personally only used when I visited my mother and we were playing cards," Pollard said. "I don't remember using it in my home. It was just one of those things I got out of the house when she died."

And she has kept it through the years.

"I had the good sense not to throw it away," she said.

Pollard said she is curious about the table's worth, but she's not interested in selling it. "My daughter would have a fit if I got rid of it," she said.

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