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Thursday, 7 November 2013


American Pickers Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz
Canadian Pickers Sheldon Smithens and Scott Cozens
There Must Be Another Way To Make A Living?

Back when I was in my mid-thirties I thought about changing my working career from sales to something else. It wasn’t that I was totally dissatisfied with being a salesman, it paid quite well. It was more about trying something new. After a while, flogging the same type of product year after year can get pretty repetitive. The field I was in, selling photo copiers, was kind of a one and done type of deal. There were no long term relationships to be built with customers in most cases and there was pressure at the beginning of each new month to find fresh sales opportunities.
The company I was working for was the best in the business and for a few years I was one of their most proficient producers. Eventually I quit and worked as a sales manager for a competitor. That was a big mistake and a waste of time. What I really needed to do was start my own business and that is exactly what I did at the age of 38. I sold the business clients list about 20 years later and semi-retired. The business itself is still in operation but on a much smaller scale. It consumes about 2 days a month of my time if that.
But there was a time before I started my own business that I thought about other endeavours.
I thought it would be great to own a B & B, the simple life away from the hustle and bustle of the city, meeting people from around the world, introducing them to the beauty of British Columbia’s great outdoors. Perhaps a place close to the ocean on Vancouver Island I thought. My wife at the time thought it was a terrible idea right from the start. She was a very social kind of person and was not keen on the idea of living somewhere isolated away from her friends and family. When we were first married we lived on Bowen Island off of West Vancouver and although the house was neat and had an amazing waterfront view my ex couldn’t wait to move back to Vancouver.
The B & B idea wasn’t going to fly. I hadn’t really thought it all out. When I did I had to agree that it was a bad idea. We had stayed at several B & B in the past and I had to think long and hard to see if I could recall any B & B owner who seemed like a happy sort. I couldn’t. They mostly seemed kind of anxious. Perhaps because of all the idle time in the off season, the putting up with some obnoxious people they didn’t want in their home, being at the beck and call of strangers, the no shows, guests walking off with this and that, and probably more than anything else the financial strain. On top of all that dumping soiled sheets in the washer after the guest’s romantic weekend or whatever you want to call it seems like a nasty chore to have to do.
Another idea I had was opening a restaurant. I had an opportunity to pick up a lease on a closed restaurant on Bowen Island right near the ferry landing. This was a no go right from the start as my ex wanted to get off of the island. Still the idea of my own restaurant floated around in my head. I thought a 40 seat place would be perfect, a seafood place. I even came up with a name for the place…Thish Ish Fish, a cute name but a stupid name. In retrospect the name kind of sounded like I was mocking First Nations people.
I thought I could open a restaurant for about 35 grand. Although this was more than 30 years ago I was probably out by at least 50 grand in my estimate. I liked seafood a lot but had limited experience at cooking the stuff myself which meant I would have to hire a cook. Seafood is expensive and it goes bad very fast. Running a small restaurant means that you have to be there pretty well all the time it is open. There is always somebody with sticky fingers as far as cash is concerned. All things being considered owning a small restaurant is kind of like buying a job but with more responsibilities than the profits warrant.
Oddly enough the small business I still own supplies about 350-400 restaurants and pubs on Vancouver Island. In the past few years I have seen a number of these restaurants and bars go out of business for a variety of reasons including one suspicious fire. The number one reason for failure is probably location. Not having a personality or some charm doesn’t help either. Some owners have no sense of self promotion. And of course there are those who treat the cash till as their own personal piggy bank.
In the past few years there have been a number of reality TV programs that have turned up that show people making a buck in a different way than many of us are used to. I’m not talking about the pest control guys, the alligator hunters, the wild hog chasers, the tuna fishermen, or the Alaska crab fishermen (I get a chill down my spine watching the latter. It makes me want some hot soup). 
I never thought it would be fun to be one of those storage locker people. Going through what often seems to be someone else’s garbage looking for some gem just doesn’t seem appealing. Bidding against people who might want to see you rubbed out also doesn’t seem to be very enjoyable. Standing around a musty second hand store with a load of junk seems like a crappy way to spend one’s days. And then of course you have to drag all the worthless stuff off to the dump, often at a loss. It is a job for some people but not for me.
I’ve been watching American Pickers and Canadian Pickers from the first time they turned up on the tube. If I was 25 years younger I might consider making a living picking. I`ve always loved travelling and the open road and I am always starting conversations with complete strangers so I am not shy. Plus I have all those years of experience working as a salesman. I have a genuine interest in most old stuff (no tea cup sets or life like dolls). Why not give it a go?
Well there are a number of reasons that I wouldn’t consider picking. At this stage in life I like the freedom of choosing a variety of things to spend my time on. Picking would just take up too much of that time and most likely it would become an obsession that crowded other pastimes out. I don’t think I would be that fussy about carrying heavy objects. Digging through old stuff covered in animal crap would be cringe worthy and getting punctured by an unseen rusty nail must happen from time to time. And just where would I keep all of my findings? I would have to rent a storage locker. And last but not least I would need a partner with the same interests and how would that work out?
I do have a bit of boldness as far as getting into places. I’ve had tours by the owners of 3 different houses I once lived in. The summer before last I got invited into an old house on Vancouver Island that had a large boat hanging from the ceiling in the living room. I even got a detailed account of the owner’s divorce and how she had changed bedrooms in her house after finding that her husband had slept in her old bed with his girlfriend there while she was away on vacation. The lady’s house had once been part of a logging operation, a main building connected to a cookhouse. The place was full of old artifacts and looked like a pickers dream. Her divorce wasn’t final and she thought she was going to have to part with the house as part of the settlement. She was a nice old gal and I hope things worked out for her.
Old house (1890?) on Vancouver Island.
Boat hull hanging from living room ceiling.

I much prefer American Pickers to Canadian Pickers. I kind of have a man crush on Mike Wolfe. It would be difficult not to admire his exuberance about rare old things. He seems to genuinely respect the sellers he comes in contact with and doesn’t play them for suckers. He has an interesting way of describing things and uses words like “toasty”, “honey hole”, and “sugar ditch. It is kind of nice to see the long-time relationship he has with his partner Frank Fritz which goes all the way back to when they were kids. Both guys have a really good sense of humour.
The summer before last we took a car trip across Canada to Ontario and Quebec. On our way home to Vancouver Island we went across the US Midwest and western states. The average daytime temperature was about 105 degrees. One night we found ourselves staying at a motel near the small town, Leclair, Iowa. It is pretty little town on the shore of the Mississippi River. I decided to see if I could find a local fast food place to pick up something for dinner. While I was waiting to place my order I overheard some folks talking about the American Pickers place being just down the road. I wasn’t going to miss out on checking that out.
We were up early the next morning because that was the best time to drive in a heat wave. We took our dog for a stroll and a pee in area where a paddle wheeler was moored on the Big Muddy. It took a few minutes for us to find the American Pickers building. It is a pretty small place with an office and garage. It didn’t look like the joint was big enough to hold much of anything.  The place was closed and we were the only people around. There wasn’t much to see. A rusted out old Hudson car sat on a mound in the middle of the parking lot, there was a Volkswagen with a flatbed parked at the side of the building and what looked like the sphere of a church steeple sat outside beside the front door. We hung around for about 10 minutes and hit the road again. We didn’t even get a chance to buy the tee shirt. They now also have a warehouse in Memphis, Tennesee.
Leclair, Iowa
Mississippi paddle wheeler.
The home of Antique Archaeology in Leclair, Iowa.
Me standing beside old Hudson. My father had a couple of Hudsons in the 50s.
I like Canadian Pickers also but I am not a big fan of Scott Cozens. It isn’t that surprising that he is also a lawyer. It seems that he often wants to put himself in an adversary position when communicating with sellers. Sometimes he comes across like he is doing folks a favour by being on their property. Cozens doesn’t mask his feelings very well and it seems that he doesn’t recognize his personality flaw of showing anger when he gets frustrated. His buddy, Sheldon Smithens, has a lot more tact and is lot easier to like.
Canadian Pickers is more coast to coast than American Pickers who tend to stay around the mid-west with occasional visits to the north eastern States. Canadian Pickers have travelled as far west as Vancouver Island and as far east as Newfoundland. The Canadian version also seems a bit more subdued than the American version and a lot of the programs seem to deal more with folk art kind of stuff like totem poles, chainsawed wooden animals, old snowshoes, old canoes, and old furniture. Personally, having a buffalo skull resting by my fireplace does nothing for me. Still, it is nice to see Canadiana and learn more about Canadian history.
Before watching the Picker shows I didn’t have a clue what a patina is. There is something about finding old things that were built with care and attention using methods that are no longer prevalent today. I’m not quite sure what constitutes an old codger today as far as age goes but my guess is there are a lot of people out there around my age (66) that have nostalgic feelings for things they remember from when they were growing up. Things like gum machines, pinball machines, old sports equipment, old pop bottles, pedal cars, barber poles, Tinker Toys, Matchbox cars, HO gage and Lionel Trains, cowboy lunch boxes (with the thermos of course), rock and roll memorabilia, old posters, radios, and board games, to name a few.
Floor ashtray.
Old lunch box.
Old Orange Crush bottle.

Pedal car.


Old pinball machine.
I’ve never owned a motorcycle but I’ve had an appreciation of them for a long time. I find it amazing the amount of money that can be fetched today for some old motorcycle parts from around the beginning of the last century. Things like gas tanks and wheels with spokes.
1907 motorcycle.
I realize that I am watching Reality TV when I tune in the Picker shows and that there is a lot of editing done but there are a few things I wonder about the whole process.
First of all most of the collectors appear to be hoarders who can’t help themselves. It also seems that many of them spend an awful lot of time by themselves. Some of them look like they are just happy to talk to anybody who has taken the time to locate them which is often in an out of the way place. You can bet the last thing they would want is to be made to look like suckers on TV. My guess is that for many of them a visit by the Pickers is one of the high points of their life.
I also don’t know what the appeal is having stuff crammed in a barn or shed and not knowing or remembering what the stuff is. Wouldn’t be smarter to sell it to someone who could appreciate it or give some of it to a museum? Also a lot of these barns and sheds are like tinder boxes never mind that many of them leak causing decay and rust.
Another observation about these Picker shows is that the pickers often only seem to skim the surface. It would seem only logical that if boxes are stacked up that the older stuff would be on the bottom. I have no idea of why, when they find a “honey hole”, they just pick a few items and move on to greener pastures. You would think that they would want to clean the place out before some competitor gets wind of the place.
If I had a barn full of old stuff and was getting on in years here is what I would do. I’d hire a couple of local teenagers to drag everything out of the place, separate it all into 3 sections, 1 for the garbage dump, 2 for the stuff you absolutely want to keep, and 3 sell the rest and take a nice vacation. In most cases that is never going to happen of course and their stuff will still be sitting there when they are pushing up daisies.
It is pretty obvious that a lot of these collectors live with false illusions. You pretty well know that they are never going to around to restoring what they plan to in their lifetimes.
One other thing I’ve wondered about….just what is on Mike and Frank’s list when they turn up at someone’s door when they are free styling?
Garage Sales
Every Saturday morning people from all kinds of different walks of life skip sleeping in after a long work week and get in their cars and drive around for a few hours checking out garage sales. They know that the better stuff is often found in tonier neighbourhoods but not exclusively. People often find themselves on streets they were totally unaware of before. Many don’t have a definite idea of what they are looking for but believe they will know their “discovery” when they see it.
If you have ever held a garage sale yourself you would have an idea about what these people are all about. The nicest people seem to be the ones capable of holding a conversation or sharing a laugh. It would be nice if everybody was like that but that simply isn’t the case. Some have a hard time even saying hello and seem to feel any kind of communication is showing a weakness. You could call them anal. There are those that want to grind the prices down as if it is some kind of sport. There are some really cheap bastards who end up only spending a buck or two and pay for their purchase with a handful of sweaty coins. There are the “professionals” who arrive while you are setting up hoping to scoop a deal before the hordes turn up. Very annoying people when you are still trying to get the cobwebs out of your head at 8 a.m.
Over the years I have had a number of garage sales. Mostly it was about downsizing and getting rid of stuff I didn’t need. A lot of the stuff was excess furniture. It took me a while to realize that keeping unused furniture in a storage locker made no sense at all. It was like renting my own furniture that I wasn’t using.
I was never a big garage sale attendee up until about a year ago. It was always a sometimes thing where I might pull over and park if I spotted something that looked interesting while I was driving by. About 15 years ago I bought a Lazy Susan and a pancake grill both for 5 bucks. Eventually the Lazy Susan fell apart but I still have the pancake grill.
In the past year we have bought a number of things at garage sales. All in all we probably spent about 6 Saturday mornings cruising around. Some of our stops were very brief. Some people have no problem laying out what should be called garbage in their driveways and garages. We also found out that some people have a garage sale week after week which kind of makes it a business.
Among the good deals we have found in the past year was an almost new patio umbrella ($15), some homemade plant trestles ($6), a kid’s bike with training wheels for Linda’s grandson ($5), a room divider that we had no idea what we were going to do with ($15), and some tomato plants ($5). I also picked up a number of wooden picture frames for a feature wall in our living room.
Linda will also pick up the occasional used book. Once in a while we will see something very interesting but realize that we don’t have any use for it. Neither of are fussy about household clutter and kind of have an unwritten rule that when something comes into our house something should also go out.
I kind have my eye out for one of those plastic radios from the 1950s. Maybe a lime green one that could sit on the kitchen counter. We would also consider a couple of slightly used kayaks but they seem to hold their resale value pretty well.
The kind of radio I would be interested in.
We live just outside of the city of Nanaimo and one of the side benefits of Saturday morning cruising around is discovering some unique houses with spectacular ocean views or other places with well- groomed properties nestled in between huge trees. It can be fascinating seeing what people have done with their homes.
Personally, over the years I have been a bit of a pack rat as far as memorabilia is concerned but it is mostly smaller stuff like documents and photographs that are stored in a trunk that I have had for more than 45 years. The oldest thing I ever possessed was a 1934 Philco floor model radio that my father once owned. When I got my hands on it the radio was pretty well trashed and there was zero chance of truly restoring it. It was in the Art Deco style and for a number of years an aquarium sat on top of it. It finally bit the dust for good after being stored in a locker.
I have about 8 storage boxes of old Playboy Magazines dating back to the 1960s out in the storage shed. I have no idea what value they have but I do know that they have moved with me many times over the years. Linda has a few metal toys that her dad gave her when she was a kid. She also has a creepy doll that is about 3 feet tall from her childhood which fortunately for me is kept out of sight.
Linda's old toys and a Fred Flintstone Pez dispenser.
For 3 bucks I had to buy this Doors block of wood.
I expect that we will be back roaming the Nanaimo area on a few Saturday mornings in the coming year once the sun comes out again for more than a few hours.
As far as starting a new business goes that isn’t going to happen but I still have ideas floating around in my brain every once in a while. Most of these ideas, for some reason, seem to be about food products that I remember from the basement food floor at the old Eaton’s store on St. Catherine Street in Montreal when I was growing up in the 1950s.
In the bakery department Eaton’s used to sell something called a croquette. It is kind of like a deep fried crumb crusted dumpling with a spiced mashed potato base inside. There are a variety of additions that can be added to the mash potato base including minced seafood, chicken, onions, bacon, and cheese. Years ago croquettes were commonly found on the menu at local “greasy spoons” in Montreal. Sometimes they were served with gravy. It is the kind of food that requires little preparation and could be sold at deli counters or served in casual restaurants.
Another food product that was once sold at Eaton’s years ago were variety packs of little sandwiches with the crusts cut off. They were made with white and darker breads with assorted fillings. I think they are sometimes called finger sandwiches. I believe there is a market for these sandwiches for picnickers, hikers, or people who just want to snack on something a bit different, perhaps after a morning of walking up driveways looking for bargains?



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