Monday, May 31, 2010

RISK - No, not the board game...

Picking antiques the way I do does pose some amount of risk and danger. Same goes for guys like Mike & Frank from American Pickers, and many of us in the field. I have had some close calls, errors in judgement, and a variety of situations that could have turned out very different than they did.

For some reason, I have gotten into a number of basements of old drug stores. No one I know has been in the basements of so many.  You wouldn't initially think that there would be much dangerous in a drug store. You'd maybe expect to find old drugs, of course, such as cannabis (found a bottle of seeds in one basement, but the druggist wouldn't let those leave!)

But, I have pulled out stuff that makes you wonder what would have happened IF....

Like the time I was constantly pushing aside these two big bottles with what looked like water in them, banging them against others, looking through a shelf of a variety of old drug bottles...I finally turned them around....




Another one of those common things you tend to find in basements of all types, including homes, are those glass tear-drop shaped fire extinguishers.

They used to be a tough sell, then along came eBay. So, then they started selling for good money, opened up access to a hungry market. The thing people didn't realize is that they are actually illegal to ship in the mail.


They contain Carbon Tetrachloride.

The same goes with many of brass fire extinguishers you see.

The stuff was banned from consumer products in 1970, but the stuff is still around, lurking in basements, attics, sheds. etc.

The "fun" fact about the glass teardrop ones, is some of them have a spring loaded hammer mechanism that releases in heat...or if you happen to smack it.

So "be careful out there" when you see those things.

I was in another drug store basement, and spotted what appeared to be 2 glass gallon jugs, of the type used for syrup for soda fountains. Some of the 1960s and earlier ones are collectible, so I had to get a look at their labels. One problem...there was 3 sheets of thick, plate glass, measuring about 5' long by 3 feet high leaning on the shelf, right in front of them. They were dirty, so looking through them was not an option. The only way I could get a good look at the labels of the jugs was to move the glass.

Moving each sheet was risky, as they would be sure to break, as I;d have to leave one end on the ground...putting a sheet of glass on its corner and dragging it across concrete is a sure way to crack it....and slice yourself to a bloody mess. So, I stood in front of the panels of glass, and slowly flipped them against my gut. Now, I don't know if you have ever tried to lift 1/4" thick, 5' x 3' sheets of glass, but, I can assure you they are HEAVY....and, this was THREE sheets.

I then, bent over the panels, and went to lift the first jug out. Hmmm...the panels are definitely feeling quite HEAVY...I had to flip one leg out to keep my balance or I was going to end up under the glass....Another Problem: the jug only had a molded finger hole size handle at the neck, and there was NO WAY I was going to be able to grab it with 2 hands...I could barely reach it with one....Oh, and did I mention it was full with a clear liquid?

With a single finger in the finger hole handle of one of the jugs, between the top and next knuckle, I lifted it up, with what amounted to be more effort than I expected. Probably had something to do with the position I was standing in, one leg in the air, with the glass threatening to either flip me over and smash on top of me or slice me in two.

Peering at the label, in the dim basement light, I read the label:


Oh shit.

I gingerly put it back on the lower shelf where it came from.

But, there was another, a brown glass, resisting the odds, I repeated the process....


I guess that is also an "Ooops."

Yes, the stuff we come across is not always inert substances, for sure. Country picking can also hold similar dangers. Old sheds, with rusty cans that spill their contents as you lift them up. Sometimes it is spewed out in a cloud of dust as the bottom stays stuck fast on the shelf as you lift the rest of the can. Sometimes you have the pleasure of your fingers entering the can and the goop inside it as you grip it to lift it off the shelf. Sometimes it ruptures and splashes/sprays/gloops/drips its contents all over you.

You always wonder, with a mental or verbal "Oh Shit" (or similar comment, sometimes utilizing that tried and true F word) "What is it?

Was that flour? Or insecticide? Or gunpowder?


Paint thinner?



Battery acid?

Spray insecticide loaded with DDT?

Brake Fluid?

Aunt Maud's tumor she saved in vinegar?

Or just some putrid water with a few rotting mouse corpses? Usually your nose will recognize that one.

Best case scenario is stagnant water...and usually there is SOMETHING rotting in it.

So often the label on the can, bottle or jar is gone, faded, or simply does not represent what is actually in the container.

I have hauled out boxes of bottle, cans, and other containers from a wide variety of picking spots; banged them around, and hauled them over bumpy back roads, the containers clattering together the whole trip. Then I get home and go through the stuff closer, realizing I essentially should have had some hazardous materials placards on my truck, and thinking I likely just broke some law governing the transportation of hazardous materials....

I have inadvertently (and, yes, sometimes knowingly, 'cause the container was so cool!) bought & hauled full and partially full containers of: DDT, Hydrochloric Acid, Sulphuric Acid, Strychnine, Suspension of Strychnine, Belladonna, Carbon Tetrachloride, Nitro pills, Formaldehyde, among a host of assorted poisons, acids, chemicals and other substances that I ended up having to carefully haul to the hazardous waste depot...and where I am met with a "what are you doing with THIS?" kind of look.

These are above and beyond the tons of household cleaners, brake fluids, oils, and assorted unknown substances that tend to be in old farmhouses, basements, sheds, barns, etc.

I am a little more careful now. I think it is the fact I am getting older, and more aware of my mortality. Just takes hauling the wrong two chemicals that when combined create a nice little explosion....Not too keen to be the next sensation on "The Darwin Awards".

Well, I am now thinking I may have potentially cheated death a few times...or at least gross disfigurement

"Pick safe" folks!!!