Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Picking and Yah-dah-ing to Superior
Ok, so we went picking yesterday. Not this looking at nearby shops or hitting the local flea market picking, but full blown driving a couple of hundred miles away and knocking on interesting looking doors picking. My guide on this adventure was Chris, who has made a living picking and buying and selling for more than 20 years. Our destination was Superior Wisconsin and a place where I had left a galvanized cupboard on my first picking trip last February.
Chris drives a very nice Dodge pick-up truck with four full doors. The truck has a “short box” needed to accommodate the larger passenger area. The reason that the cupboard was still in Superior was because we filled the box with other good junk on the last trip. Chris says that he never filled the truck before I started picking with him. He specializes in smalls and my attraction to the biggest thing that isn’t a tractor has altered his logistics. (Of course he ignores the fact that the reason the cupboard wasn’t in the truck last February was because he had bought a school work bench, filling the box). On a March trip we even took his small trailer realizing that the truck may not be adequate. Yesterday it was only Chris and I. He decided no trailer was needed. We would slide over to Superior, pickup my cupboard, and shuffle around the area to see what we can find.
We are heading east on 210, right into the morning sun, and Chris decides to make a u-turn. We have done this many times before. He sees something, often out of the corner of his eye, and we have to check it out. There was a “BIG SALE” sign stuck into the shoulder of the road. So off we go, down a gravel road in search of the sale. Of course it was not even 7 AM and it may be a tad early for a garage sale. We get to the site and there is stuff sitting on tables and piles on the ground. Almost everything is priced. We get out and start to explore the junk. A window opens and a voice is heard: “I’m getting dressed, I’ll be out in a few minutes”. We find a few things. I got a metal sign and two 1950's 8mm film projectors. Chris got a couple of pieces of paper and a steel wheel with a handle. Back on the road to Superior.
We get to Carlton and instead of getting on the freeway to Superior we take the fabulous road through Jay Cooke State Park. Chris says, “you don’t find anything at 70 mph”. The road through Jay Cooke is wonderful. It follows the St. Louis River on its pass through the cataracts over the billion year old Canadian shield into Lake Superior. There are pockets of private housing that predate the park’s establishment. We, of course had to cruise the streets of a couple of these pockets and suddenly we stop. Chris backs up. He saw a old guy working in his backyard and the place has a huge garage. We pull into the driveway. We get out and the yad-dah-ing starts. (Turns out that the old guy is less that a year older than me, but that’s a different blog someday). The guy is retired railroad and sure he has some junk here and there. He has a cracked crock jug marked with the name of a Moorhead Minnesota liquor store that he dug out of a pit on an old farm. Chris collects Red Wing advertising pieces. We were into the garage to look at the jug right away. It was cracked, but from an advertiser that Chris had never seen. The guy wanted $10, Chris offered him $25. Before I could even look at the jug, Chris had a porcelain enamel LaBatts Beer ashtray into his pile. I headed for the far side of the garage. There was a nice arts and crafts style oak file cabinet. The veneer on the top was a little rippled, but I bought it anyway. It was from the Duluth and Missabe Railroad offices when they remodeled about 1970. Chris did the yah-dah-ing to a tee and we even explored the guy’s house and basement. About $200 later we had a good start at filling the truck and it was only 9 AM.
Harry, the guy, referred us to his neighbor Clyde, who had a lot of junk around. We found Clyde fixing his riding lawn mower on the driveway. We get out of the truck, yah-dah for a while and then Chris buys a damn boat. It’s a small boat, handmade and painted green in the late 1940's. Clyde has a bunch of stuff in his attic and basement, but he was not letting us in to look. He wanted to get the stuff out himself and would call us next week when it was ready. Its still before 10 AM, we were still west of Duluth and the truck was full. There would be no room for my Superior cupboard on this trip.
We cruised the little pockets of neighborhoods stuffed between the steep bluffs and the shore of Lake Superior. Many had been built as workers’ housing by the big steel, mining and railroad companies in the boom before World War I. We’d see something interesting and Chris or I would grab a flyer to see if we could yah-dah our way into some good junk. Pickings became a little slim. A couple of rejections sandwiched between miles of neighborhood streets with no likely suspects. Then Chris stops and slowly backs up. He tells me that there is an old guy sitting in a lawn chair in the backyard of a house we just passed. I could not even see him and Chris caught him out of the corner of his eye while driving. Damn!
I grabbed the “Wanted” flyer and head into the backyard. The guy is sitting in his chair while a woman is picking up sticks etc. so she can mow the grass. I show them the flyer, talk about the weather, comment on the huge size of the yard (more than 2 acres behind the house that you can’t really see from the street) and ask about the junk. The woman says the magic words “fishing tackle” and we are off. I convince her that she needs to show the stuff to Chris. She heads for the garage, I pull Chris from the truck and we are off to picking. They were reluctant in letting Chris or I get into their stuff. Chris yah-dah-ed and cajoled and charmed them. He bought a 1920's multi-drawered workbench from the garage. I didn’t see it before he was all over it. Money flowed, banter flowed and access increased. We were there for more than an hour when the couple decided that they needed to empty the bench and Chris and I went to lunch. When we got back the bench was mostly empty and they wanted us to look at stuff in the house. Its amazing, from nothing to sell, to maybe some junky fishing tackle, to look at all of the stuff in the basement in less than an hour. And the guy was a friend and had his own house nearby. He invited us to look at his junk too.
So we got more junk. We disassembled the workbench, unloaded the truck and repacked. The truck was now really full. So we kept on picking. Rather than heading for Superior, we gave up on recovering the cupboard and headed west picking all the way. Chris spotted another old guy sitting in a chair outside smoking a cigarette. This was on my side of the truck and I never saw him. In we went. Yah-dah-ing commenced and we were in his basement and garages. We got some great railroad lights including two from a railroad work car. (The guy wanted $10, Chris gave him $40). I got some great cast iron railroad lights. So we are in the garage and Chris finds a skeeter motor that was used on a two man railroad cart. He bought a huge water pump complete with the attachments to a hit and miss motor and a few other pieces. Then he understood. We were full. He made arrangements to pick up these heavy pieces next Monday.
We are headed west on a small St. Louis County road, well beyond nowhere. Chris stops and backs up. He had picked this farm 5 years ago. Rodney had a Case farm equipment sign and Chris couldn’t get him to move on it back then. In we went. Rodney meets us on the drive where he was working on his large John Deere tractor. Chris told him that he was here for the Case sign and Rodney asked him what had taken him so long. They yah-dah-ed. We looked at the sign, which was right were Chris last saw it 5 years ago. We bought some cast iron pieces. Chris scheduled a Monday pickup of his sign.
It was a great day. Chris, who bought a boat, was commenting on all the big stuff that I bought. We agreed that my presence must infect him with the bug of buying big. We also agreed that from now on we would be taking a trailer when I was picking.