Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Well, did a "sort of" road trip Monday/Tuesday. Cash is mighty tight these days, and you need a pocket full of cash to go picking the way I do. Can't go out with just a $100 and expect to get very far. You can do ok at garage sales, maybe an auction, thrift stores, that sort of thing, but I am going out looking for a quantity of stuff...a van load to make the day worth the effort. What happens when you come across a motherload of cool stuff, and you have only $100? Besides that, gas for my van comes close to $100 a tank.

So, when cash is tight, and I am doing a road trip for some other reason, I scout places to pick in the future, for when cash loosens up. In this case, my wife & I were taking my stepdaughter back to Winnipeg. So, I did a little business there, sold some scrap metal at a scrap yard, which helps cover gas costs. My loads consist of higher value metals (brass, copper, aluminum, non-ferrous stainless steel, copper wiring, etc). It tends to accumulate, and, with metals prices rising, it is worthwhile saving those chunks of copper pipe & worn out tub taps you got in an auction box, silver plated junk that is copper or brass beneath that worn silver or chrome plate, pieces of old light fixtures that are beyond saving, all that wire you removed from the lamps you have been rewiring, that aluminum screen door that came with all those old paneled doors you bought, etc, etc. There is cash, or at least potential cash in that "trash". You might have to do a little work to "clean" the metal (that is, you have to make sure there is less than about 5% - 10% foreign materials contamination, or the scrap yards won't give you the premium price for that metal). You should be used to doing some work for your money, anyway, if you are in this business! Think of all the pieces that you have spent far too much time on, and realized pennies an hour for your labors. At least the metal is an instant sale. If you watch prices on metals, you can do good when prices rise. Also good to have a reserve when times are tough, you get an unexpected bill, have a slow month for sales, need a vacation and can't quite afford it, etc. This little "bank account" in the corner of your basement, shed, corner of your property, barn, etc can come in handy when you least expect it to. Plus, it costs you nothing cash wise to accumulate if you are just sorting out junk from your auction purchases, that estate you bought, that garage of cool junk, etc.

So you don't want to deal with that stuff?

Hmmm, ok, let me put it this way: If you saw two $20 bills sitting on the ground, and one was crisp and the other was dirty & crumpled, would you really leave the crumpled one behind?

If you do, I hope I am right behind you.

I have bought things out of garages, basements, etc, and then offered to haul away the old copper pipe, an old propane bar-b-q, or whatever other higher value metal objects that are there that the owner needed to get rid of or planned to haul to the dump. In some of those cases I ended up getting more for $ the scrap metal than the $ profit on the item I bought. If they are happy to get rid of that "junk", you are doing them a favor and they may well be happy to sell you more...maybe even give you something you were willing to pay for, just for helping them out. You bought some old junk, and you got some more junk for free. Free is usually a good price. Could be accumulating some good karma there, too.

Anyways, I figure you need to keep your eyes open for other opportunities when you are picking sometimes. You need to recognize that other things can make you money, and you won't have to put out a dime. You are there anyway, why not maximize the opportunity?

Make contact with people who buy things you do not. Find out if they pay a finder's fee. You may not buy vintage tractors, but maybe a guy you know who does will pay for a solid lead that gets him a good tractor. Or, you are after the pottery, but don't want the depression glass, so refer another dealer to them. Sometimes it is just good to make the seller happy by sending them a buyer, and that may well get you into their friend's place, a referral to a relative, etc, who could have even better stuff. Plus, the tractor/depression glass buyer might refer you to one of his/her picks, and it ends up being a place where you score some great stuff. I had dealer friends who bought china, glass, and traditional antiques, and I would get referred to the people they bought from, and ended up buying some great tins, toys, signs, primitives, art pottery, crockery, etc.

You've got to network a bit, cover different angles in order to make your days worthwhile.

If you are doing it as a hobby, have a 9 to 5 job, then I guess you really don't need to do income does not depend on picking. No need to worry about expenses when you have a 9 to 5 job and paycheck. No worries about having to sleep in your vehicle to save on hotel if it has been a bust, or you blew out your last bit of cash, as well as got a cash advance on your credit card in order to buy that cool stuff, but are still many hours from home, and just can not drive any more.

Not very "romantic", is it?

That said, I still love it. Not everyone can pick that way people like myself do. Mike & Frank from American Pickers likely were similar, pre-fame. They are now fairly "set", so they obviously won't have to worry about sleeping in their van for awhile. Good for them. Happy a picker finally got TV's interest, even it it wasn't me!

*Ah well, there is still Canadian TV...*

Wow, got off topic a bit! Well, maybe you learned a little? Picked up a few tips? Might make a little more cash on the side the next time you buy some junk?

Anyway, back to my "road trip"...

So, we took off about 10:30 AM, with it being a 3 hour drive to Winnipeg, we wanted to make sure we got there before 5:00 PM.

Yeah, I know, doesn't quite compute, does it?

Well, you see, there are roughly 10 thrift shops, junk shops, antique shops, etc, between here and there. SO, if we wanted to hit as many of those as we could, we had to get a somewhat early start. Not too early, as the first ones on our list didn't open until 11:00.

Good way to pick up a few bargains to offset your expenses....once you sell the items, that is.

I did ok. Bought 4 pieces of Sherman rhinestone jewellery for 50 cents each, a 10K gold ring in a bag of junk rings for $1, a couple nice 1960s vintage embroidered western shirts for $2 each...which sold wholesale for $15 in the city to a vintage clothing dealer I deal I made a whole $11 on those two shirts. I know it doesn't sound great. However, when you realize that the amount of work that went into getting that "profit" was maybe 5 minutes....well, would you work for $132 an hour?

That said, there were many other minutes where I made nada....nothing, zero, zip. Picking certainly is a different type of work than a 9 to 5 job. Not the security, for sure. But, if I encountered a place with 20 of those shirts, my profits would have been better, ($220.00) for that same 5 minutes work. So, with that in mind, you tend to keep looking. That big treasure might be just around the corner.

We made a few more stops, bought a few more treasures, and blew through our $100 budget for thrift shop picking by about half way through the trip.

Could have spent it on stuff that we could not junk food, seeing a movie, supper, whatever. All that unnecessary stuff!

The one thing about buying inventory, you can pretty much justify that you will eventually get your money back...if you are careful when you buy, and KNOW what you are buying.

The 10K gold ring, as an example, is a 1930s baseball related ring that I am still researching, but, even if it turns out to be worthless as a baseball item, it is still likely worth $25 or $30 as scrap gold. (Say, anyone know what BSB would stand for in baseball?)

We made a stop at "Junk For Joy", just east of Portage La Prairie. Junk For Joy is a well known antiquer's stop on the #1 highway. I have known Vivian, the proprietress for pretty much 20, time flies. Anyway, she's a character, like many of us. I figure pretty much ALL of us are "characters". We're not exactly boring, run of the mill folks. You kind of have to be a little off-the-wall to do what we do. Who else would get hyped up when the musty smell of cellar hits them after a trap door in a floor is opened? Isn't the general population pretty much programmed to be pretty wary & cautious? Heck, things that go bump in the night, star in horror movies that eat slow moving coed's brains live in such places!

For me, that cellar could be the treasure trove of the century! Gets my blood going. What is down there? A cache of crocks? Some old Coca-Cola signs? Or???

Viv may be a character, but she is a pretty decent lady when it comes down to it. Lots of decent & nice folks in this business...makes up for the shysters you do come across once and awhile.

Much of our "social lives" in this business tend to happen while "working". When you are working amongst people who love old stuff like you do, you have lots to discuss, compare, debate, etc. When collectors or dealers marry people who have no interest in old stuff, it tends to be a recipe for disaster. One dealer I know married a newspaper reporter, with absolutely zero interest in old stuff at all. He would bring home vintage toys for their kids to experience, and she'd have it all piled up at the door and scream at him to "take that junk back to the shop!"

They are long since divorced.

Both parties have to love this stuff, or at least an appreciation or understanding...otherwise it can destroy a relationship...or at least make for unwanted tension.

Hmmm..where was I?

Oh yeah, ROAD TRIP....

So, we finally hit "The Peg" (Winnipeg). I did my errands, etc....wait, I told you that stuff..the scrap and the like? Yeah, ok, here we go...back on track.

Had planned to sell some items to a vintage bike collector I know, but turned out he was away for 2 weeks. Was really hoping to get some extra cash to pick on the way back.

Left the city with a little bit of extra cash after filling up the van with gas, but not enough to do much other than to buy some junk food...which would essentially be supper.

I took a different route back, down another highway. Three 3 hours of gravel and not being able to stop and knock on doors where you see a potential picking spot is not a fun drive. I'll cope with some gravel dust if there is potentially treasure somewhere, but if I have to suck it in and can't "shop", then it gets pretty irritating.

This route is one I took often when picking, back when I was living in Winnipeg. I just enjoy the drive more. It is a single lane highway (one lane going each way), so for some it might be stressful, but I am pretty used to that sort of driving. Did some decent picking along the route at times. Plus, in these rural areas there is some great scenery.

Though, for some, it all may be scenery, but for me, it is potential picking spots to check out! The one above, is a farm off in the distance. Far enough off the highway that it would make a good spot to hit. Appears to have some age, which can mean an accumulation of stuff.

Even these hills in the distance make me think.....

"There's gold in them thar hills!"

Rusty gold, that is, not Texas T, good old good junk.

Actually, there is likely little in those particular hills, but, then again, you never know. If I stopped at that farm, maybe, just maybe, I would have been given a lead to follow, that could have led me to a farmer who owned an abandoned farm site, with a barn full of cool old stuff in them thar....I mean, THOSE hills.

There are days where every road holds potential. This one intrigued me enough to snap a picture. Just a gut thing, I guess. If I had some decent amount of cash on me, I'd have zipped across the highway and trekked down the road.

Forgive my photography skills, they leave a little to be desired sometimes. Remember, I'm a picker, not a photographer. Luckily, I do know how to use a photo editing program, so now you don't have to look to the far left of the photo to see what I am talking about!

A great thing about being on the road picking, is you can take some time to smell the roses, so to speak, if you are so inclined. Lots of things to see that you would not normally look for. You can do a bit of the "tourist thing."

It will also occur to you that some peoples' sense of humor sometimes is way out there, kinda corny, or just plain strange.

The ski-doo on the pole still puzzles me a is cool, but still strange...

These round bales being "held up" tend to be scattered around the have a sense of humor, too....don't know if you could be a farmer without one. I have seen "feet" sticking out of round bales, giant "pumpkins", happy faces, and a host of other hay bale sculptures...heck, even the town of Virden made a giant inukshuk from hay bales for the Olympic Torch being carried through town. Versatile things those bales, like Lego for farmers.

Here is a shot I took as I was driving by...which accounts for the "high quality" of the shot...

No, I did not accidentally slip in a photo from someone's trip to the Netherlands. That IS a windmill you see.

Not sure what it is about little towns and their fondness for BIG THINGS to "represent" their town. The one above is self-explanatory. This one in "St Claude" not so much...

Yeah, you are seeing correctly, it is a giant PIPE.

Oh, and, in case you wanted to use it, it is functional. Don't advise trying to put it in your vest pocket, however. Note, for those of you who are reading this at 4:00 AM and missed it, for size, that is a PICNIC TABLE to the right.

As it turns out, there is a legitimate reason there is a pipe is meant as recognition of early settlers who came from Saint-Claude, France, where the main industry was the manufacture of pipes.

Though I suspect they didn't make them quite that big.

Prairie small town pride tends to be HUGE!

There are lots of such "landmarks" in Manitoba

They tend to invoke a smile, so I suppose that is not a bad thing.

One thing about small towns, is the "community bulletin boards" that tend to be somewhere in the town. Yeah, they are in cities, too, but the small town ones can hold some good leads. Sometimes they are like this one:

Other times they are just a chunk of plywood on a couple posts with 20,000 staples, tacks and fluttering bits of tape. Sometimes they are some in the local grocery store, in/on the curling rink, and a variety of other places.

This one happened to hold a couple leads.

One was a vintage Boler trailer for sale.

Still some money to be made on it, I would think, in the right market. $3000 was the asking price, which I could see just below the frame of the protective covering. Who knows, maybe they would have taken somewhat less. PLUS, notice the old building in the corner of one of the photos.

If you are a tractor guy (or gal, as the case may be), then this might have caught your interest:

$4500 for, $2250 each. Could be the steal of the century, who knows. I am not a tractor guy, so I will end up passing this one on to a tractor guy I know. Writing does appear to be that of an older person, so they might have some other stuff for sale, who knows. They appreciate older things, obviously, so they may not have thrown out all the old stuff around. Might still be worth going to look at the tractors, get some pics for the tractor guy I know, and maybe buy some more stuff.

Yep, that was a good potential lead, and a legitimate way "in" to potentially do some shopping! There are leads all over the place, you just need to look...think way outside the box, it will help you find great stuff.

These are disappearing fast.

Old grain elevators, also known as Prairie Skyscrapers or Prairie Sentinels.

As a picker, they are a beacon to a tiny town in the middle of "no where." So many towns have fallen off the maps, many close to deserted or completely deserted, and even the odd one entirely in one person's hands.

Now they are being taken down, demolished; history hauled to the dump. So, my beacons are vanishing from the prairie landscape. I have to rely on other clues to find these places, including old maps, area history books, and one of the best things, referrals from other people I have bought from. (HEY, some more TIPS!)

Just talking, yakking, "shooting the shit", telling stories, talking about farming, auctions, old buildings, whatever, can bring out a lead, trigger a memory in someone.

I did actually, sort of manage to do some picking, without cash. I had gotten a call about some old farm stuff a fellow had, and seeing as I was going to be in the area, I was going to give him a call if it wasn't too late by the time I got there. I thought it was better to check it out and see if it was a decent lead.

Anyway, while talking with him, he recalled a trip he had taken, and had seen a bunch of gravity gas pumps in a shed behind a gas station while he was getting gas at a little 3 building town.

Now, he saw the pumps 20 years ago, but, the potential is there. Some things don't change in 20 years. Then again, the pumps could be long gone.

We got along great, were on the same wavelength as far as the valueof much of the stuff, was a nice guy, and he is now going to do some digging for leads for me in the area. He and his family have lived in the area since the 1880s, solid, trusted local citizens.

He has a nice old family farm site, well kept, but still with a basically intact, but slightly leaning, 1880s hand-hewn log beam barn as well as a newer (1950s) barn, as well as some other out buildings.

He told me his grandfather & father saved everything. Odd, the shop building we were in was pretty bare...but I did see 3 barrels by the door when I came in...with bits of metal sticking out of them. I knew right away what the situation was.

Turns out, he has been hauling scrap off the property for a few months....

And taking loads to the dump regularly.

I found one 4-pane, weathered old barn window, good "raw material" for those into folky crafts, the shabby chic look, and such.

He was surprised I even wanted he had hauled literally a huge truckload of them to the dump.

He had a minty cookstove, but kind of plain, and it made my back hurt just looking at it. He did realize there was little market for them locally, as he had seen once 10 times as nice on a local website for $100, with no takers. He did not hold any hopes of getting rich of his old junk, just wanted rid of it.

He also did have some antique furniture, most of which was not of interest to me, and, besides, he had a buyer already hot on the stuff. I did assist him in valuing the pieces, and he did seem to appreciate that. Normally I charge $35 an hour for verbal appraisals, but, hey, I figure it will work out in the end. All part of establishing a repoir, and who knows what stuff I will get as a result of the places he refers me to.

The summer night sky was starting to dim, being past 10:00PM, so it was time to head home. I will be going back to pick up a load of decorator farm-type stuff, and one good piece of furniture that I did speak for, a beautiful 1880s Ukrainian settler's trunk in original green paint. The problem with not having the cash on you, and making plans to come back and pick the item up later, rather than being able to buy it and load it then, is that you risk loosing that piece. I doubt he will get second thoughts about selling it and going back on his word, but there is always a chance that a family member may suddenly get sentimental, or "artificially sentimental" (ie: GREEDY), and suddenly lay claim to it. When I had a shop in the city, I had a couple occasions in estate situations where family suddenly wanted items I had made offers on, then a week later said family member would would walk into my store wanting to sell the item.

Hopefully I get the trunk. The sooner I go out with the cash the better. You know what folks? You can help! YES, YOU CAN HELP! Imagine that!

BUY, BUY, Facebook albums are full of stuff, and my eBay auctions are running (see my Facebook page - "Fedora Antiques").

How is that for blatant self promotion?

I have been thinking...yeah, yeah, I know, you heard the gears grinding...

Maybe people would contribute to a picking fund.....for ME to go picking.

Bear with me here...

I am not talking about big money. Say you have $2 in your PayPal account, and are closing it out, that sort of thing. It all adds up, eventually. I realize I have a grand total of 4 official followers, and I have no idea how many of you are following this from my Facebook posts, or have stumbled upon it. For all I know there are a total of 6 people following this. But, I guess it is worth a shot. People contributed to "SAVE KARYN" , and she was just wanting to pay off a credit card she got over extended on. She even parlayed the whole thing into a nice little enterprise.

I'm just letting the idea perk a bit in the old grey matter....hang on...maybe go to the fridge and get a beer or a glass of wine.....maybe get me one while you are there.

Hmm...maybe I could let it accumulate, and let it grow to a certain point, like, maybe , $500 or a $1000. Then, I would go on a picking trip with a video camera, tape some of the trip, initially "release" it on You Tube for only the "investors" to enjoy, then give them advertising and/or credits on the publicly released You Tube film...YES, YOU can be a sponsors for "CANADIAN PICKERS"

Whadaya think? Are my little tid bits of picking tips, cautionary tales, quips, blathering, humor, and generally entertaining banter worth a couple bucks to you?

Or maybe you find it to be an invaluable sleep aid?

If not, just keep following, keep reading. Maybe someday you'll decide that you made $100 because some of the advice you spotted here, and figure ya owe me a cash tip! Or maybe you decided to carefully turn around that old bottle and handle it more carefully than initially planned, and saved yourself from a nasty acid burn. YES, you reading about my carelessness (ok, ok, ok, stupidity) will save you from injury.

Yikes, my ego is getting big now, isn't it?

If you figure you have learned nothing, other than my grammar can tend to really suck, that is fine, also....enjoy the blog! I do enjoy writing it, and without any readers, I'd have less reason to write....having some readers keeps me going, some incentive, giving me some sort of invisible push to write.

Keep it up!

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