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Uncle Ben’s Plane

I have had the privilege of being present at three of my uncle’s auctions of their stuff. Unfortunately they died beforehand, which I guess is the reason why the stuff was being sold. So far very few people have made it out of here alive. Anyway, I had tools from two of my uncles, Pete and Rudy. I grind my tools with a hand cranked grinder I got at Rudy’s auction. It is really amazing how the memories of him come back when I put my hand on that crank. The cantankerous old fart will be with me the rest of my life, or as long as the grinder lasts.

Anyway a while back in the fall of 2012 I heard that my uncle Ben’s possessions were all going to be auctioned off. He lived in Pennsylvania, and a group of us made arrangements to drive out together. Ben was Amish his whole life, a member of a very backwards sect, poor to an extreme. A lot of their food was salvaged from dumpsters; true story. He repaired washing machines and was a true dumpster diver, collecting all sorts of stuff you would never use. It was against the rules of the church to play with face cards and I remember the euchre games that would ensue for whole days when they came to visit. He grew his hair long and reddish, a full beard, and a belly the size of an old fashioned keg of beer. There was no smoking in our house and he wasn’t to be bothered with putting his shoes on to go outside to smoke. I can remember him going out to smoke barefoot in 10° weather in the winter. The auction bill listed several planes with no description.

We went out to my cousin’s house in Ohio on a Thursday afternoon. Our host Thursday night is an extreme extrovert with an infectious laugh. There were six of us all together and when we got there the party started. We spent the night there and drove out to Pennsylvania in the Valley on Friday, six of us in a full size van with the back seat out for cargo. We signed into our hotel (we never told them the six of us were staying in the one room). After checking in we drove out to uncle Ben’s place to see what we would find at the auction. I began looking over the wagons and before long found a couple planes, a junk block plane and a pretty nice but nothing special #6. I kept looking and two wagons down found what I wanted; a nice plane in good condition but not so valuable that it would be out of reach. It was a Stanley 4-1/2 with very nice wood on it, rusted but not too bad; it will clean up very nice. I decided that if I had to I would go up to a hundred dollars on it and borrow the money I would need to get back home.

I am bipolar and so much excitement with the gang, the anticipation of the auction on Saturday, had me in a very manic state. I only slept about 2 hours that night, listening to the rest of the group snore. Saturday came and we ate breakfast then headed for the auction. The hardest thing at an auction is to wait for your item to come up and the fear that you will miss it in the midst of all that action. Two rings going, a crowd, a bottomless cup of coffee. They sold at the main ring for an hour or so then said they would start another ring on the wagons so I headed out. The first wagon was all junk and they got rid of it pretty fast. The #6 was on the second wagon. I decided to buy it in case I didn’t get the one I wanted; another plane guy was there and I ended up having to pay $15 for it. I let him have the #220 block plane missing the front knob. A long series of stuff was sold next; I waited several hours for the #4-1/2 to come up, at one point thinking I had missed it when I went for some lunch. I panicked and started looking around and realized it was one wagon over, still there. It finally came up. I started bidding at $5. Here was the moment of truth; I had driven 400 miles for this and it all depended on whether someone else wanted it worse than I did. I just about fainted when the hammer fell at $35 and it was mine. I could not believe it.

So here it is; it cost me about $280 if you include the trip expense. I wonder what it’s worth? Every time I pick it up, even if I just see it, I will remember my jolly uncle Ben, my mom’s brother. The arguments over euchre, the memory of him rolling a cigarette and standing in the snow barefoot to smoke it, his 400 pound wife, and throwing the rocks at the hornet’s nest at their place when we were little kids, and the trip to go get it. I think if you offered me $5000 for it I would tell you to keep looking.




Mom’s Pitcher

The little Elizabeth (Lizzy) came into the world silently. Her parents were Swartzentruber Amish, the strictest sect of Amish. Her life would be difficult, but there would be a few items of great beauty in among the thorns. A few years down the road her mother died. She was old enough that it affected her. Further down the road she got a step mother, Lovina.

      Her father repaired buggies for a living. Life on their small farm was harsh but they were used to it. They had very few nice things and treasured what they had. The pitcher was one of those things. It set in a small cupboard and was never used.  Lizzy looked at it occasionally and one time when they were doing the dishes she saw it and said “That pitcher is the one thing I would like to have.” Unbeknownst to her Lovina (her step mother) was around the corner and heard her say it. 

    Life went on for many years. Lizzy met Dan, a ruggedly handsome bull of a man and they raised a family together. Lizzy (my mother) forgot about the pitcher. They left the Amish and were shunned by both of their families. Not even allowed to eat at the same table. We visited occasionally, I can remember spending nights there, but there was the ban between my mom and her parents. After getting married to Lizzy’s dad Lovina had two sons, Andy and Levi. Levi was mentally handicapped and later on Andy accidentally shot him dead.Lizzy’s dad died eventually so all of the property belonged to Lovina.  Andy was now the only living son of Lovina’s and when she died everything went to him. He had lived on the farm and he and his wife Edna took care of Lovina in her sunset years and she left everything to them. The house and the farm, everything. Lizzy was shunned by her parents so she didn’t expect to get much but it would have been nice to have something. It was just another tough thing in a series of tough things and she got over it. 

    Years later Andy’s wife Edna got cancer and her health declined rapidly. My Parents went out to visit her and Lizzy was sitting with Edna on her death bed when Edna revealed to her that Lovina had wanted her to have that little pitcher. Edna told her to take it home with her. 

    I can imagine what this means to my mother. In spite of the Amish shunning, Lovina cared about her enough that she wanted her to have that pitcher. I stop by my mom’s house for coffee on Fridays after work. My dad died last fall and my mother is going through all her stuff, sorting and getting rid of a lot. She showed me the pitcher Friday and told me the story behind it. It is about 3″ tall, ideal to put cream into for coffee. I don’t think it has been used in the last 50 years. Here in the middle of this harsh life we have one object of great beauty. 




All the things I hated as a child are now dear to me. Well, most of them are. I remember my dad’s spankings with fondness. One time I was hammering with a tinkertoy, the round spool piece stuck on the end of a green stick, and when swung over my shoulder to hammer down again the spool piece flew off the stick. Where do you think it headed? According to Murphy’s law it would head in the worst possible direction and it did so with malicious glee. Right through the clock window. The glass in the clock had a gilt criss cross design in it and was shattered into many pieces. My mom spanked me immediately and when my dad came home he spanked me for it again. I felt terrible about it anyway, I had ruined our beautiful clock. I didn’t mean to. The glass was cleaned out and saran wrap taped into the door. It was like that for years. At that time a piece of plain glass cut to fit in the opening probably would have cost $3 but that was money we didn’t have. Eventually my dad bought a piece of glass and installed it. 

Last fall my dad died and we are sorting stuff to sell. I saw that clock, no longer working, in the bottom of a desk drawer and asked my mom about getting it fixed. I took it to a clock shop last week and yesterday he called and said it was done, working. $65 worth of labor to clean and oil and now it is running again. He said it was a Howard Miller clock. When it is sold at the kinna fenyu (PA Dutch for children’s auction) I will be sure to bid on it. I would like to have it as a reminder to be careful when I hammer with tinker toys. 

Tools in boxes

A picture of my small tools in boxes collection. 


When I first found out how much an old tool in the original box was worth I was shocked. I have been trying ever since to figure out why they are worth that much. I never had much money but focused on little tools in boxes and bought one here and there until I have what you would call a small collection. Some were found at garage sales and auctions on the cheap but most were purchased when I had a $20 per week tool allowance and I found them at antique shops. There are several impressive antique tool booths at the antique malls in Goshen and Niles in northern IN. I also found some at MWTCA tool meets, where I bought most of my old tool catalogs. I once hit a jackpot of old catalogs at a garage sale; the tools had all been sold and the catalogs overlooked. So here I have my small tool in box collection, my Stanley bible, and my old tool catalogs. I think the earliest catalog dates to 1907. I think the tools in boxes mostly date from the 40’s. I look them up when I get them then promptly forget. 

The question is why is the box so valuable? A Stanley #60-1/2 plane in mint condition is listed at $75, currently I think it would sell for maybe $50. (Ebay and economy seem to have driven prices down.) Here is one in mint condition with the box that sold for $104. . The box in this case is worth about $50. A couple pieces of cardboard and a label for $50? Neil Caffrey would have fun with that. Why are people willing to spend so much for a box? Obviously because there aren’t that many of them around. This is why gold is valuable; the supply is limited. In the same way, there is a demand for tools in mint condition in the box and there is a very limited supply. 

I on the other hand actually prefer a tool that has been used. When I pick up an old plane that has some of the japanning chipped off and the finish worn off the handle, I connect with the past when I pick up this plane and use. In the future I will be highlighting some of these tools I have, the people they came from, and the memories I have when I pick them up and use them. 

I used to spend tons of time on Facebook and decided not to do that any more. Instead I am writing a blog for my creative outlet and have it linked to my Facebook account which is only family members now. I will write about things that happened during the week or things that are on my mind. I am a woodworker and tool collector so most of my posts will include some references to those passions.


    Today’s post is all my mother-in-law Mary’s fault. Last fall she rearranged her house and put her former living room into her former dining room and vice-versa. This caused the little cogs to start spinning in my wife Meg’s head. We never ate in our dining room; we home school and the dining room was the school area in our small house and not conducive to setting up an area large enough to seat guests. At home alone we eat our dinner in the living room in front of the TV. She decided that she would also move our living room / TV room into what was currently our dining area. In order to do this we needed a new entertainment center built into a corner, which would be funded with our tax return money. I began designing an entertainment center and when done figured it would cost about $300 for materials.

                We waited most of the winter, a harsh winter, and finally received our tax return after filing. My wife thought $300 was a bit much to spend for a TV cabinet so we went shopping. We found a very nice shelf unit at Menards and a mounting bracket to put our TV on the wall from Amazon. Incidentally the bracket only cost $25 and came with an HDMI cable so now we can hook up our computers to the TV. The ent. shelf unit cost $200.

                Last weekend we began rearranging stuff. It was a very major undertaking. One corner cabinet contains most of her Breyer horse models and I think there are about 200 horses in there. We took all the horses out and set them around, mostly on the kitchen floor, then moved the cabinet, cleaned it, and put the horses back in. We worked on assembling the ent. Shelf unit, installing the TV bracket and mounting the TV and moving all the furniture.

                Here is what we arrived at. Meg’s chair is on the right, the small sofa on the left and my chair kind of in front of the sofa facing towards the TV. There is room to sit on the sofa comfortably, leg room between my chair and the sofa.


The television mounted on the wall with the shelf unit below. We have the main stereo on the top shelf with speakers on the floor and then the DVD player on the shelf below and CD player on the left beside it. The wires hang in the back, we will probably organize them at some point.


                We needed a central location to put all of our DVDs without spending a bunch of money. I have been building simple inexpensive shelving for books out of 1 X pine boards and did the same yesterday for our movies. I had two pine boards in the shop for the sides and simply bought eleven 1 X 6 pine boards 36” long for the shelves and stretchers here. The unit is screwed to the wall at the top. This completes our TV room. Today I am dismantling our old ent. center and will use the parts to build some furniture to sell I think.