Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cool Old Stuff

When they read the title, the wisecrackers among my close friends will probably immediately think this post is about myself.  Sometimes I feel like Rodney Dangerfield around them (I don't get no respect).  Having said that, this post is not about me, it's about my old stuff.  More than that, really...it's about the memories that this stuff evokes.   And, fortunately for me, the memories that the items in this post bring to me are all good.  The best, really.
My father was not much of an outdoorsman.  He was a cost accountant, what can I say?  But he tried, knowing my early interest in the outdoors, to get me "out there".  I don't have much in the way of stuff representing those times, though.  His father, my grandpa, was a different story.  It seemed to me that he lived to bird hunt and fish.  When we visited his home in Syracuse, NY, I would spend hours in his basement handling the boxes of shotgun shells on his shelves, admiring his worn hunting clothes, checking out his fishing tackle.  The stuff mesmerized me.
His two best bird dogs, English Setters Prince and Jimmy, were gone by the time I arrived on the scene.  But I do have the original photo that my grandmother took of them on point. Guys didn't worry about high-tailed points in those days and there's now a Holiday Inn where the pheasants that the dogs are locked up on huddled.  Her photo won the Syracuse newspaper's Photo of the Week competition.  Can you possibly imagine a photo of pointing bird dogs winning that sort of competition anywhere but in the hook and bullet press today?   The photo has to be pre-1950 (the year I was born):
I mentioned his boxes of shotgun shells.  I have a few of his, and have gathered a few more that have neat graphics on them.  The paper shells take me back to his basement.  Pardon the dust.  Our housekeeper (well, Bridget's housekeeper, lol) knows that she would be taking her life in her hands if she started playing around with this stuff.  I do vacuum it every couple years, whether it needs it or not.
Besides interests in bird hunting and fishing early on, I also liked to be around, and use, tools.  Again, my poor Dad didn't know which end of a hammer was up, but we had neighbors, in the 1950's and early '60's, in a suburb of Buffalo, that took me under their wing.  I helped build garages, pour concrete and was generally allowed to participate in many different home improvement projects in the neighborhood.  And they gave me tools.  Mr. Lyman lived two doors down from us.  He was a master plumber.  I don't remember the exact circumstances, but he gave me this 12-inch level (Stanley, made in the USA):
I can't fathom being able to buy, new, a level of this quality today.  Sliding brass covers for the glass, such substantial construction.  If you could buy it, imagine the cost.
After my grandfather passed away, I received a few of his tools.  He built the house he and my grandmother lived in for more than fifty years; it was a good house.   I've never used this spoke shave.
I use this little square and the mallet often, wondering how many projects they squared up or knocked into place for him.
Of the little projects I made as a kid, two survive, thanks to my mother and her incredible inclination to save all things family.  I made this pump-handle lamp in 8th grade woodshop.  So I would have 12 or 13, I suppose.  It shows the stains of her watering the plants she kept in it.  I like them.
The other survivor of my youthful woodworking endeavors is this wall-mount key hanger.  And again, thanks to my mom, I know exactly what year I made it.  That's her handwriting.  I was 10, and my parents had just given me a jig-saw for Christmas.  A real one.  Not from Toys R Us.   I have a hard time imagining many parents of a 10-year-old giving that kind of gift today.   Surely there's a virtual cabinetry app available so we don't make a mess or hurt ourselves, eh?
Looking at the key-holder, I'm reminded of the time, somewhere between the ages of ten and sixteen (when the hormones really started to kick in - forgot all about woodworking for awhile) that I decided I needed some sort of table saw thingy.  Out in the garage, I clamped an electric motor that I found somewhere to a bench, figured out a way to attach a seven a quarter circular saw blade to it, and let 'er rip (all puns intended).  No table that would expose just a portion of the blade, no guards, no nothing.  Just a blade whirling away at 1,750 rpms.   I don't really think I ever tried to cut anything with it (that's a good thing, is it not?).  My hands are pretty beat up after 50 or so years of working with them, but at least I still have them.  Guess I just wanted to see if I could do it.
But I digress.  The key-holder hangs in our kitchen, where lots of other cool old stuff hangs out, mostly thanks to my mother and her mother (and to Bridget, because she likes - and uses it - too.)
We like waffles.  Not a fan of Teflon or other space-age coating where cooking is concerned.  And no new stuff could ever make waffles like my mom's waffle iron.  It gets used a couple times per month, and makes the best waffles ever.  Well, I mean to say that it does again after a certain someone decided it needed to be cleaned differently than it, well, than it should be cleaned.  It is now off-limits to any operator other than myself.  Which seems to be OK with everybody.
And made in the USA.
As I said, I'm no fan of Teflon.  There's nothing like cooking with cast iron.  It's all we use.  These were from mom's kitchen.  And, of course, made in the USA (Seeing a theme here?  Quality stuff, years and  years old, still perfectly functional....and made in the USA. 
We have some cool old stuff in the cutlery department, too.  Again, thanks to my mom and her mother (who worked as a cook).   I can't tell where this antler-handled carving set was made, but I'm guessing it wasn't Taiwan.  That sharpening steel puts an incredible edge, quickly, on the knife.  Try that with stainless.
These spatulas and fork get daily use.  They are years and years old.  The paint is gone from the handles on the spatulas, but that's probably a good thing.  They are definitely from before the days of lead-free paint!  Oh, guess where they're all made.  right.
This is simply the most-used knife in our kitchen.  By the looks of the curve on the blade, it was likely the most-used in my mother's and grandmother's kitchens.  I think the close-up shows where it was made.
The last cool old bit of stuff from the kitchen area is a thermos jug.  Although it rarely gets used these days, I'm just happy to have it.  Of all the old stuff on this post, it probably evokes the most, and most pleasant, memories of all.  I can almost taste the homemade lemonade my mother filled it with, especially for our journeys from Buffalo to Haliburton, Ontario for a week's vacation.  All puns intended, that jug, made in American, is just full of memories.
Books make great old stuff.  I don't have a kindle and don't read books online.  Old-fashioned? Sure. Resistant to change?  Highly likely.  I just like looking at books, in my hands or on the shelf.  A bunch of stored electrons or bytes or whatever just don't get it for me.   A real book does.  Like this first edition Hemingway with my mother's book plate in it.
And I love old salmon fishing books.  A few from my small collection.  Great stuff.
The inside covers can be a wonderland of discovery.  Guys writing, in their own hand, comments and dates...you can see where the book has traveled and who has enjoyed it.  I'd love see how it was passed around.   Internet "signatures" pale in comparison.  Yikes, what a curmudgeon I've become!
I have some other cool old stuff that wasn't passed down to me.  Rather, because it was "new when I acquired it" but that was a long time ago or it was already old when I got it, it takes on cool old stuff status.
In 1968 (I was 18), a buddy and I made a camping trip to the Haliburton, Ontario area I went to as a kid.  I had always wanted a real Hudson Bay blanket - don't ask me why, I just think they're cool - and I wanted to obtain one on this trip.  I found a store in the village of Haliburton that sold them; they even had the green one that I wanted.  Problem was, though, that it was twice as big as I wanted (or could afford).  No problem.  The nice saleslady got a pair of shears, folded the blanket in half, and made one small cut at the fold.  She then ripped the blanket in half!!  I got the half with the label (ever the status seeker).   It cost me twenty-eight dollars.  And it has never unraveled in the slightest bit along that ripped edge.  Now that's weaving.  Oh, and by the by, a 4-point Hudson Bay blanket will set you back $399 at LL Bean these days.
I look at this blanket (I sleep under every night in the winter), and I remember back to the most incredible lightning storm I've ever been in...it was part of the same trip to Haliburton.  Some other pleasant memories associated with sleeping under it, too, but that's another story.
 Just as cool as an old Hudson Bay blanket is original Orvis Battenkill luggage that was made in the USA - NOT the new off-shore stuff, which has no soul.  I think I have had every piece of it that they made over the years, and still make my trips to Salmon Camp with it.  Wouldn't leave home without it!  This suit bag carried a lot of suits over the years.  Now it carries fishing shirts.  Just the way it should.
Someone once asked me why I leave the remnants of so many flights attached to the handle.  Why wouldn't I?
My brief case was as much a million-miler as I was...and shows it, I suppose, just like I do.
Now it carries stuff back and forth to Miramichi Salmon Association board meetings.  Much better use of its time.  I even found an old business card in it when I went to take its photo.  That job was fun for several years.  Then, not so much.
If you look inside an old Orvis rod bag, you'll find this tag.  Today, I don't think so. Pity, really.
The rod bag thought brings me to fishing's cool old stuff.   I fish mainly for atlantic salmon these days with two-hand rods.  I used to use disc drag reels when I was fishing single handers, but when I moved on to the long rods, it seemed only appropriate to switch to one of the great salmon reels, The Hardy Marquis Salmon.   The sale of no longer needed gear has allowed me to obtain two Salmon 1's and two Salmon 2's.   Each size balances a different rod for me, and love the way they scream when a good fish is taking line.  Definitely hold a place in salmon fishing's cool old stuff category!
And I love my old line winder!

Old stuff.  Well-made, lasting products that evoke the memories of a life, hopefully, well-spent.  The items in this post were made in either the U.S, Great Britain or Canada, proudly, I'll bet. My old stuff is of a pretty modest nature; I know there are collections of far grander stuff than mine.  I hope that stuff brings as much satisfaction to its owners as mine does to me.  Good old stuff.


  1. I love this post. Thanks.
    The bird dogs and and bird hunting really mean a lot to me. My Brittanies are all gone now, and I still hunt the Woodcock every October. The partridge hunt will happen in January.
    It's harder now without my Britts, but it still gives me a great pleasure to seek them.

  2. I'm almost included the collars of 4 of my setters that have gone to their reward (which I hope is rich) as a photo of what constitutes cool old stuff, but I decided that's for another time. Bird hunting and atlantic salmon mean so much to me; I'm glad you enjoyed the post, and that it brought back good memories.

  3. What a great story Gary, especially the tools from your youth! I live in a 100+ year old house and see the signature of old time handwork whenever I replace a floor board or electrical outlet. Almost all the wood in this house either has rough cut saw marks on it or on some beams, hand hewn markings.

    Great blog as always! Catskilljohn

  4. Very glad you enjoyed the post, John! I work in a lot of old houses so I know what you mean about those saw and hewing marks. Pretty cool.

  5. The old Griswold pans are just the best. I've several and use them to do all the cooking in the house; one or two will usually accompany me on my camping or fishing trips. They're nearly 100 years old and they're the best cooking instruments I own. Enjoyed this post ...

    1. Happy you enjoyed the post...and your Griswolds!

  6. How did I miss this one? A lovely read. What treasures you have!

  7. Thank you, Dee! The treasures I have are small and of little monetary value, but they are so important to me.