3+ days of Peace, Love, and Tools

I’m happy to report my 5 day vacation, tool auction, and vee dub trip turned out be another great adventure with good memories and a few good saws. I know for many the idea of sleeping in a van for 5 days and traveling over 1000 miles may not sound like fun, but done correctly, it’s a blast. Sadly, I’m not sure for how many more years road tips will be viable as petrol rises daily, but thankfully the memories last a lifetime.

This like all my trips started by loosely planning the route weeks before and packing the van with food supplies in the day leading up. The day of the trip as always was a struggle at work. Like many, I’m just a cog in the wheel till vacation day, and then magically I’m the center of the universe. Lucky for me I’m used to this and the misguided guilt is easily shrugged off as I headed out the door for my commute home.

Once there I did a mental last minute rundown, grabbed some last minute items, and was out the door.  The excitement helped push through the always frustration and congestion of the route through New England. I arrived around 10:30 into the quiet parking lot just outside downtown Nashua, New Hampshire.  Since bed is in my backseat I quickly got situated, set my alarm, and was down for the night.

I’ve been going to tool auctions for a little over a year but the idea of buying just one thing really seems to stick in people’s minds and I’ve quickly become known as “the saw guy.”. . . As in, “Hey, you’re the saw guy, right?” or just “Hey, saw guy!” However what I really like to hear is, “Next show I’ll put the saws aside for you; come find me and I’ll give you first look.”

Now for those of you new to the world of tailgate sales, or for the UK readers, “boot sales,” they take place the day before or morning of the main auction.  Setup can be as simple as selling from a truck to elaborate trailers and tents.  I liken them to the parking lot before a Dead show. It’s a prelude to the main event but also a micro event in and of itself.

The right of first pick I’m sure harkens back to the Middle Ages, but I’ll leave that idea for now and get back to my point— it has some real advantages. You get the cream of the crop, an expression that I’m sure predates the 1969 album by Diana Ross & the Supremes. Either way, you’re getting the best stuff and hopefully building ties for future deals.

The downside is you forfeit your right to haggle; plus, remember my reference to the Dead show, the wolves are at your heels. It’s not the easiest time to make a deal and often you rush in checking things. I try heeding the guide, “The smart man buys what he knows and passes on the rest.”

That said, I was honored to have first pick from three of the sellers I’ve bought from in the past and yielded 3 nice saws. One gabby handed picker tried to pull a fast one by pulling one out of my pile but the seller and I quickly had words with him and finished up. I’ll add that although at times it seems like the Wild, Wild West, provided you’re over the age of 8, you’re expected to know right from wrong.

Sellers come in waves. This is especially true on weekdays due to job restrictions and travel. You have the early birds getting there before sunrise, then thing slow down as sellers show up slowly the remainder of the day.  Having some experience, once things settled I walked back to the van with my haul, made some coffee and nosh, and made room for the saws; experience has taught me that sleeping next to saws leaves marks.  . . .Coffee in hand, I took some time to shake hands and catch up with buyers and sellers  Most of the big names were in attendance and it’s always interesting to see what others are buying and selling.

By this time Josh Clark, whom you may remember from my Avoca adventure, was setting out to sell a treasure trove of tools and other goodies collected from various box lots and other finds throughout the year. His display system consisted of blue tarps and bins upended while people scurried around making piles. The sound of popping lids draws in the buyers like moths to a flame.  Not wanting to get trampled in the frenzy I socialized on the fringe with Freddy Roman, fellow tool lover and all around craftsman aficionado. Freddy was also nice enough to help with Josh’s organized madness. Later we all went to the local brew-pub that’s become a pre-preview ritual to the Friday auction.

Once back at the hotel we gathered our things and started checking the Friday auction lots of interest. The word “lot” can be a little vague; they use low-sided boxes like the ones used for a case of soda cans and the item or items are placed inside. On the outside there is a label with item number, picture, and short description. In the event the item is too large, a placeholder in the form of a laminated card is used. These larger items are generally placed out of the way and all together. Lucky for me just being interested in the saws, I quickly looked through the 20 or so lots I was interested in. Once done I followed along with Josh and Freddy, trying not to annoy them while still getting answers to the dozens of tools I had no idea what they do. They were both good sports about it and by 10PM I was dead on my feet and retired back to the van for the night.

Friday I set the alarm for 6AM and decided to sleep in, then poked around the tailgate just to see any new vendors. In general as the weekend wears on, the quality drops as things are picked over. That said, I still found some very nice saws; then with my coffers about full, I made a quick trip to the auction. There were a few lots that interested me. As it would turn out I bought one that contained a really nice D100.

Saws in hand, I whispered my goodbye to Josh and friends inside the auction, walked over to settle up, then made a quick trip through the vendors to shake hands and say more goodbyes.

The highlights for me are always seeing the cool tools and the conversations I have with other buyers and sellers. I don’t have a local club so I welcome the opportunity to talk shop with other like-minded people. I met Don Rosebrook,  the author of American Levels and Their Makers, in the parking lot and found out that he is also a closet collector of saws. He had brought some perfect examples that were a real treat to see and take a few pictures of.  Among them were 2 Disston eagle-head saws and many other rare low production models, including 3 different types of star saws. Although not quite in the class of an eagle-head saw, I did pick up really nice examples of a new 16 and 120. There was also one of the nicest No 12’s I’ve ever seen.

I should point out that the following day, Saturday, is the main day at the auction when most of the higher end items are listed. My interest in saws tends to center around usable examples over the collector; so, although I enjoy looking and watching, it’s not the best use of my time.

The drive to Watkins Glen was far but mostly highway and uneventful. However not content with the simplicity, I complicated things by leaving my laptop plugged in back at the auction; so a 1.5 hour detour was added. The additional time got me into the campground after dark but I was sharing a site with friends so I passed the gate and parked.

Getting in around 10 made for a long day but I figured I walk the loop and briefly stop by some of the fires to say my hello’s to the Westies at Watkins. It’s normally one of the largest gatherings I make these days and it can exceed over 100.  Joel, who tirelessly organizes it, does a great job of blending some structure but at the same time leaving people to do their own thing. The gathering over the years has also become a popular event for our Canadian friends. I, for one, love seeing many of the models never sold in the US, like the Westfalia Joker High-top Campervan and transporter doka.

Saturday mornings are always reserved for the communal breakfast burritos. Everyone brings something to share and it doubles as a meet and greet.  Not being much of a breakfast person I slept in, then made coffee in bed! Something I LOVE to do! Then I chilled out while checking emails and organizing things in the van. Living in a van for 5 days with over 40 saws can get a little sticky if you don’t organize! The rest of Saturday was spent visiting with friends and seeing some sights in the area. Saturday night was a potluck, 50/50, and raffle. Joel does a great job of getting donations and insuring there are enough for everyone.

With the sun setting I met up with my homies at fireside to catch up on their summer adventures. I seriously think the world’s troubles could be solved around a campfire. Night rolled into day and Sunday everyone was packing up for their trips home.

A few of us were staying through Sunday and decided to go hike the gorge trail, which is a nice hike from the campground. Afterwards I met up with my college roommate who lives in the area. Mind you, it’s been 20 years since we last shook hands so it was great seeing him. Facebook is great for the kids but I like meeting up, old school. Living locally and having a rental property he invited us to stay there, just outside Naples Valley.  As the name suggests the area contains a number of wineries and vineyards. Driving through the town I saw everyone was busy getting ready for the annual grape festival the following week.

The next day we packed up. My friend Bob Mac, newly retired, was making his way home via the back roads, so we decided to forget the oatmeal and head into town for a proper breakfast. First step start the vans. Oh wait, key in, turn, nothing. Grabbed a hammer, tapped the starter and she turned right over. Note to self…time for a new starter.

After breakfast we both headed in different directions. My heading westerly turned out to be one long Kodak moment and made up for lack of views traveling into the area on Friday night from the auction. The views of the Finger Lakes in the fall are some of the best NY has to offer. What looked like miles of vineyard led into beautiful views of the lakes. As I headed closer to Rochester the farms gave way to a small town and I knew once I passed under Interstate 90 I was close. The town of Williamson was established in 1802; driving through many of the farms and buildings, downtown looked to be original, just the type of place to find some great saws, plus fresh apples from the many roadside stands.

My van kind of stuck but as I pulled in, David met me in front of his shop with his chow mix in tow. Like many of the collectors and sellers I meet, he walked me over to a table of saws and said, “Start here.” Happily I looked through what I would call an eclectic selection of the very old, mixed with off beat makers. I didn’t find a lot of good users but did find a few interesting early saws, possibly American but more likely English. Once settled up, we exchanged info and I was itching to get started on the long trip home. It was only possible for me to swing a few days off so the following day it was back to work.

The trip home was largely uneventful. The starter in the van remained working and I’ve since had it replaced. Once home I left the van packed, gathered clothes, and cleaned out the fridge in the van. I couldn’t resist taking a few saws to my apartment to get a better look at the etchings.

The rest of the week turned out quite busy at my day job so it wasn’t until the following week I found the time to empty the van properly and find storage. As I’m sure you can imagine it’s almost impossible not to get distracted as things catch your eye.  In the end I was quite happy with the new additions to the restoration pile, as well as a few for my collections.

In the next week I’m heading out to meet the sheriff of saws on eBay and heavy collector and historian of early American saw makers, Mike Stimple.

Thanks for visiting

Joe Federici
Consigliere of Sawtown

2 thoughts on “3+ days of Peace, Love, and Tools

  1. Hi Joe,
    I just descovered your blog today and enjoyed it all. Was stationed at Lakehurst for four years and sadened by the devistation of Seaside Hights. I love old tools and commend you for your resteration of them. It sounds like you also make your own saws? Keep up the good work.

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