Sunday, July 25, 2010

More Cautionary Tales...

If you know you are invincible, you can skip this bit of friendly advice.

I was first going to work on a blog of my recent trip to Winnipeg.

However, over the past couple days, while browsing pics in a few folks Facebook photo albums of places they have been into, I took notice of a few. They made that exclamation point jump out of the top of my head like in cartoons...

Aren't I talented?

Anyway, the various pics showed some rooms, or rather, areas/corners/ceilings of rooms. The one thing they had in common was they had black stuff in spots on various parts of the walls/ceilings/stuff.

And what was this black stuff?

It is highly likely it was black mold.

No, not Beverly Hillbilly Jed's black gold...but, black MOLD.

Good old Stachybotrys.

You can click on the word there, for a definition if you like, But, Y'all come back now, ya hear?

You back?


So, anyway, as you have possibly read (or already know), it can be nasty stuff. Looks innocent enough, but a bomb can look innocent until it goes off.

I had my own nasty encounter with it, and man, it really messes with your head & body. Created things like depression, physical weakness, breathing issues and more. Went from being quite fit to getting winded going up a single flight of stairs. I wasn't able to lift things I had no trouble lifting a few months earlier. I find I am now really sensitive to it, and can tell there is some in any building I go into, just by my body's reactions.

I won't bother going into further details, as there is enough info online as to what it can do to you. Your imagination can take it from there.

So, get familiar with it, and if you are involved in a situation where it is growing, especially in abundance, wear a respirator type mask that can filter out the spores.

NO, one of those cheap WalMart dust masks won't cut it.

Plus, when you bring items into your home, storage, etc, that is from a building where that mold is, you are bringing spores into your own space.

I don't want to create paranoia, as it is going to happen in this business, it is just a fact. But, you can take steps to prevent excess exposure. Sealing items in a bag prior to putting them in your vehicle, washing them well, DRYING them well, etc before your bring them into your shop, house, storage, etc will all help.

There is all sorts of info on what kills mold and what doesn't. The information I found is that bleach actually isn't strong enough to eradicate it. The company who cleaned the mold from the building I was renting, which was the source of my problems at the time, used a product called Benefect. It was actually safer to humans than bleach (you could drink it without ill effects), but deadly to mold.

They also filled the place with ozone, which kills everything.

I have no idea what long term effects the exposure will have on my health. I guess we'll see. I know it has affected my lungs, and has increased my sensitivity to dust and other things.

SO, if you are out picking or just exploring old buildings, take my advice, and wear a decent mask into those damp basements, buildings, etc. Will be cheaper to buy a decent mask than pay for the long term effects the stuff could have on your health.

Another thing that concerns me as of late, with the interest in picking brought out by the popularity of the TV program American Pickers (History Channel), is the issue of private property.

Just because a building is alone, unattended, looks abandoned, etc, etc, DOES NOT mean it is not valued, ripe for raiding, etc.

I go to great lengths to find out who owns the buildings that I am interested in digging through.

There is actually a couple reasons for this, and one that you are likely unaware of, or have not thought of.

One is that I can legitimately be there, without any concern about looking up into a rifle barrel as rise up from picking something up, or perhaps a shotgun blast of buckshot or rock salt peppering my body, or being pulled over by the police later and charged with theft.

I will buy the items I want, (or occasionally I will be told to take what I want, but I always try to pay them something if there is anything good) and thus have no worries.

Another reason to get permission is that they will know you are rescue you from the cellar when the stairs collapse, you get stuck in the hole you stepped through in the floor of the attic, etc.

Or, at least, they will know where to generally look for your body.

Scary, yes, but factual. It CAN happen. Even seasoned pickers sometimes get into what could be dangerous situations, and ones that, while they make good stories (like the one you will read below) they could have had very different endings.

And that story?

I checked out a barn, with old field stone foundation, and stalls that were made of more field stone and concrete, and an old concrete floor.

Was magnificent in its day, for sure. Likely the creation of a wealthy farmer, circa 1890.

It had a huge lower portion, and a split level loft.

The half with the upper portion of the loft had not been used for a much longer time than the rest of the barn, and thus, the roof over this portion had been neglected longer. There was light streaming through the boards on the roof, shingles long gone. The walls also had sunlight streaming through them, their once tight joints opened by years of wind & dust, then dampness & rot.

I viewed this picturesque sight through a door about 3' off the floor of the lower section of the split level loft.

It was pretty much empty, save for a few scattered planks..and a lone crock, about 20 feet away from where I stood.

It was a 2, maybe a 3 gallon; that I could tell by its size. A whitish glaze, so, in this area of the country, it was quite likely a Red Wing.

But, I could not tell if it was a birch leaf, had a printing variation, was an advertising crock or was just blank.

I'd have to turn it around to check for those things. There was no chance of climbing up the other side of the walls and peer through the boards, it was just way too high up.

The reason I was not about to just hop into the loft and walk across the floor was the fact that there was not a chance in Hades that the floor would hold me.

I suspected they were barely holding the weight of the crock. The once tight floor boards now had about a 1/2" of space between them, like the walls, except more extreme.

I could clearly see the 2' thick field stone stalls, the tops of which were easily 12 or more feet below me.

Yes, this barn was HUGE.

The fact that I could not see the other side of the crock annoyed me, and I soon figured out that the beams were essentially solid, being that they were very thick, and only had a small amount of surface rot on the tops. There looked like there were a few planks within reach of the door, and a few further out, between the crock and myself, that I could create a bridge to crawl over.

So, I grabbed the first board within reach....and set it down, across the closest beams...and then quickly rejected the didn't seem very solid either. I grabbed a much wider and solid one, and put it down beside the reject.

The start of my bridge!

I lifted myself carefully through the door, and onto the first board.

I reached out, and grabbed another plank nearby.

Hmmm..the end of the other planks within easy reach. No problem, I would just grab the first one, and put it in front of the other one.

I then repeated the process.

I then managed to grab another nearby board, then another, and another.

The crock was finally within reach! A TRIUMPH!

I reached over, keeping myself steady on the boards, being ever so careful, and grabbed the crock.

To my dismay, the bottom of the crock stayed right where it was. It had had water in it form the rain, frozen, then cracked it.


It was an error crock, but Mother Nature had rendered it worthless with her powers.

Well, I had come all this way across the gap toothed floor...and a Red Wing crock would look good in my garden....and I wouldn't have to worry about the bottom popping out of it in the winter now, would I? And, I wouldn't have to actually water the plant I put in it, either...with the access it would have to the ground. Genius!

So, I carefully turned around, walking on my knees and hands, and carefully made my way back towards the door. I moved the boards in reverse order, using only two for most of the last half of my knee splintered journey.

Nearing the door, I, for some unknown reason, stood up.

No, I didn't go through the floor....

Well, not until I stepped forward towards the door, on the reject board.


I suddenly had one leg dangling in the air above the rock and concrete stalls far below, and my crotch was resting on the floor, with one leg splayed out, angling the rest of my body awkwardly on the floor of the loft.

My thought was: "Now that was stupid."

I waited a minute for my heart to go back to my chest, from its position in my throat. I then carefully assessed the situation.

I was still holding the crock in one hand.

More importantly, I was basically straddling a beam.


That's a relief.....wasn't about to fall right through, as long as my earlier assessment of the beams was accurate, and it wasn't rotten, also.

I carefully set the crock down, reached back, and grabbed the piece of wood I had stepped off of into my near death (or at least a near foray into extreme injury), set down alongside me. I positioned it so that the one end was near the door, as I still had to have something to stand on to exit the loft.

I also made sure the plank was carefully angled across a couple beams, with the ends resting on beams. Got to make sure I wasn't making a see-saw of death.

Leaning on it, I gingerly pulled my leg up through the hole, and positioned myself on the plank.

I took a deep breath of relief, and shakily got out of the loft, trying to softly land on the floor of the lower loft, lest the floor gave way.

I then turned around, and grabbed the "prize" I had just risked my neck for.

I still have it, though it is now for sale....price: $5...makes a great planter!

Hmmm...come to think of it, it might be more valuable as a little reminder....

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

More Hoarders & Collectors

A number of years ago, I got a call to come and buy stuff from an estate a couple had inherited.

Seems to me the fellow had been their distant uncle, a friend of the family, or something...or maybe they had bought the place, I am not sure anymore.

Regardless, the estate had been in limbo for awhile, and it was a rural property.

The fellow had most certainly been a collector turned hoarder.

You see, there was mostly vintage items...sheds and sheds of them.

But, he had started to save things like the ashes from his wood stove, which he stacked around his house in a boxes. He also had jars of mercury from thermometers, mercury switches, thermostats, etc.

Now, normally this would be a wonderful find, sheds and sheds of vintage items....

But, there were 2 little snags....

Seeing as the estate was in limbo for so long, the property vacant and unguarded, the fellow's neighbors took/stole a fair bit from the buildings, which were anywhere from waist high with stuff, to 6 & 7 feet high stacked with stuff.

Normally, that doesn't really mean the place has nothing of value left, but, this place was pretty tough to find much of value. Some of the buildings were open to the weather some, and there was this one other little issue....

The fellow was a tad paranoid about his stuff getting stolen.

So, his solution was to take items apart, and put the parts in different buildings!

A lightning rod's copper tube in one building, the tip in another, the stand in another and the ball in another....

A radio's case in one building, the chassis in another, and the knobs in another....

You get the picture?

So, with items being stolen over the years, who knows if the parts you were missing from that lightning rod where even still there....and which of the many sheds would the parts be in?

I had brought a fellow dealer friend with me, but, he found little, as he isn't into really "digging." He has a real good eye for the weird & wonderful, and is quite knowledgeable in a number of areas. He scans the top of piles, looks in drawers, that sort of thing, but that is pretty much it. I, on the other hand am a real digger....

I burrow.

In my search for worthwhile items to buy, I happened to be digging in one particular shed....moving from front to back...taking an item out from in front of me, and putting it behind me....and repeating that process....

I heard him calling my name, wanting to find out how close I was to being done searching.

I peered over the pile, which was about 6 feet high....

He was standing in front of the shed.

I called out to him, to let him know I was there.

I watched, amused, as he looked around, dumbfounded & confused. It was not a look I had ever seen on his face before that.

It was actually darn entertaining....!

All he could see was a pile of stuff....took him a few minutes to figure out that the voice WAS actually coming from the pile...the back of the pile, against the wall.

He was, well, quite surprised....

Anyway, that is how I tend to pick those sorts of places....really dig. Just because the top has been picked over doesn't mean there is not treasure beneath that top layer or two, you know? I did dig up a few neat things at that place, but most of them were, of course, PARTS of things...

I used to do (set up at) antique shows "out west" Alberta & British Columbia. I tended to leave a week before most of the dealers I see, I have a little takes me forever to go somewhere like that...I like to stop and smell the roses...

Or, I guess more accurately, the dust of attics, and the damp of basements.

A little town on the map, or a sign pointing to a town NOT shown on the map intrigues me.

Side roads beckon, grain elevators in the distance call to me.

On one trip out to Alberta to do some antique shows, I hit a side road, just on a gut feeling...turned off #1 Highway, Canada's main highway, with thousands of cars passing this particular road, daily.

One thing you should know about Alberta is that it is an oil rich province. They have a pretty healthy economy, generally, as a result of the oil beneath their soil...and the provincial government owns it all. So, there are far fewer gravel roads in Alberta than in places like Saskatchewan, Manitoba, BC, and many US states. Most of the roads that they have are paved with asphalt.

So, I headed down this road for a ways...not really knowing where or why I was headed down it, I just figured I'd drive, and see where it took me. I had time to kill, and three quarters of a tank of gas.

I kept driving, and to my surprise, the road turned to gravel...which means it was a real back road by Alberta standards. It continued as gravel for a bit...and then it turned to pretty much dirt...and I could see an old farm site with stuff scattered about...and fresh tire tracks into the property, but not out.

Cool...unless the tracks didn't belong to the owner....Oh, wait, there was a tractor tooling around the yard.

So, I drove in, got the fellow's attention, and told him what kind of stuff I was after.

As it turned out, he was the 3rd owner of the property, and the 2nd owner of it that year.

The previous fellow who owned it, had bought it for the scrap that remained on the property. He had hauled off so much scrap metal that he had made quite a bit of money, and eventually tired of hauling metal, and sold it to the fellow I was talking to.

There was enough metal left on the property that he was going to easily double his money as well. It was an estate, and one that had been tied up in the courts with all sorts of legal issues for many years.

The owner had been an eccentric inventor, who was into all sorts of things, including wind-power, as he had some home made turbines at one point, and had an old city bus full of 12Volt batteries all wired together.

The house had all sorts of military surplus electronic equipment, of which I knew little about at the time, and I passed on it. I did buy a box full of interesting items, but nothing that sticks out in my mind. What does stick out, however, is one of the things that this fellow told me had apparently been in the property when the eccentric inventor had passed away.

Three, still in the crates, WW2, army surplus Harley Davidson motorcycles.

The inventor had been buying WW2 surplus items when they were plentiful, in the late 40s and 50s...which admittedly does go well with that sort of inventor personality.

Unfortunately, they had been stolen, one by one, over a few years. Who knows where they went.

Anyway, in this case, was this fellow a hoarder, or simply eccentric? He accumulated stuff, but much of it seemed to be for use in his inventions...his "raw material," or his "palette", if you think in artist's terms.

I got their too late, and really don't have enough details to determine if he was a true hoarder or not.

So, if we "hoard" items, like antiques or collectibles, are we really "hoarders"? In the broadest term, maybe. But, we all have an innate, built in urge to "save" things...stands to reason, if we are "animals, per say. I don't wish to get into a debate on religion with this, of course, but if we have evolved from a 'lower life form", it is possible there are left-over "hoarding" instincts in us all.

For animals, it is part of survival. Squirrels need to hoard food for winter, as do mice, and other animals.

Maybe collectors are simply satisfying this natural urge.

Perhaps this instinct is some how triggered to drop into extreme overdrive in hoarders who have saved things we deem as trash, waste, excrement, etc....

Something to think about, I suppose.

Hoarding has saved many items from being lost forever, preserving history, and entertains folks like me.

I got a call from a friend one day, who was working for an auction house. He had to clean out an estate, and his regular worker was unavailable. With nothing to do that day, I said I could give him a hand. It also gave me a chance to see the items that were going into the auction, first.

We ended up in the basement, and I spotted an old narrow door, so, of course I had to check it out. Turned out it was the "cold room", where preserves and such are usually kept, essentially store room.

On the shelves were boxes measuring roughly 8" x 6", and were as high as a book of matches is wide...and that is exactly what they were...boxes of book matches....and plastic bags of book matches...thousands of them.

That is a little strange in itself, I suppose. But hang on, it gets stranger.

Each and every matchbook was individually wrapped in aluminum foil!

It was a little obsession this particular lady had, I guess.

It was weird, but I thought that it was also the foil would have preserved them extra well....if they were collectible ones, this would be a cool find!

Sadly, they were all generic ones, boring, and essentially worth only what any usable book of matches is worth.

Oh well. Gave me another weird story to relate, and made life a little more puzzling, but interesting. Made me think, wonder about the person who wrapped all those matchbooks, so painstakingly, so carefully. What triggered the obsession? Experiencing a house fire, perhaps? Or was it something out of left field, an obsession even the person themselves did not understand?

I have run across (and still run across), weird, wonderful and bizarre things, places, people, events, and situations. Perhaps these stories are more valuable than the items I have bought and sold along the way. It is those experiences that have molded me into who I am. They have made me think, contemplate, consider, be aware. These random occurrences have opened my eyes; caused me to deal with my own life differently, adjust my own habits, made me aware of "obsessions" of my own, seeing what the future could hold if things were to get out of control, or if I were to follow a certain path. I have learned much in this business. Not just about "stuff"...but about "life" and its many facets. It is something you can't really say about many jobs.

I guess it is a good thing.

I have had some experiences in this business that, at the time, were not pleasant, but they certainly were experiences....Yes, I will be blogging about most of them!

Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes, laugh at the follies, and get inspired by the finds.