Chapter 2: The Antiquarian’s 15 Year Journey of Self Discovery

In Chapter 1, my antiquarian life was focused almost exclusively on woodworking.  However Chapter 2, a period lasting from 2000-2015, is really of journey of self discovery (desired or not) and eventual self actualization.  This fifteen year journey paved the way for Chapter 3, the era covered in pages of this blog.  The saga continues:

The Antiquarian’s First Home

After finishing college and getting a real job, I purchased my first house.  It was a small “starter home” that had no basement or workshop.  While my interests in history grew during this period, most of my energies were put into fixing up our new home.  We bought it as a “fixer-upper” knowing that it needed a lot of work.  We replaced the siding, shutters, roof, gutters, appliances, kitchen counters, carpet, every switch and outlet, nearly all light fixtures, door knobs and hinges, re-routed dryer exhaust piping, installed attic stairs, installed chair rail and other molding, and patched/painted everything.  We remodeled the guest bathroom and almost completely replaced the HVAC system.  We also removed the decorative porch railing, took down the dilapidated picket fence, cut down most of the trees, and filled many holes in the yard.  It might be easier to describe what we didn’t do:  we didn’t change the foundation or framing structure, the insulation, the plumbing (significantly), the kitchen cabinets (though I moved a couple), the main electrical, the ceilings, or replace the majority of the roof decking.  Our son will remember the house as it was when we left in late 2015:


I enjoyed learning about and installing decorative molding.  The master bedroom in particular got special treatment:


The Driveway Workshop

I no longer had a workshop, so I worked out of my garage.  Although I tried to organize my hand tools a couple of times, I never really got set up for production.  My tools collected dust, so I packed them away for protection.

The boxes stored under the workbench in the middle picture were absolutely full of tools.  The right picture shows the contents of one of those boxes.  While this was a sad condition, I was employed and for the first time and experienced the unusual condition of having more money than time.  This afforded me the ability to buy new tools and antiques and start more expensive projects.  To be honest, the garage was rather cramped and most of the work was done in the driveway.  The stand for my machine lathe is one such driveway project.

My knees took a beating kneeling on the driveway while using my power miter saw and other tools.  I didn’t have the time, space, or good weather to do much work on projects, so this wasn’t an especially productive period for me.  Even so, I never stopped learning and continued to grow in preparation for future projects.

Home Inspecting

I was a home inspector from 2001-2010.  In the USA, home inspectors are hired privately by home buyers to inspect/investigate the home that they are considering purchasing and to generate a list of deficiencies that need to be addressed.  Each home inspection required a minimum of four hours to complete the inspection and generate a report on site.  I worked completely alone during that four hour window while I explored every nook and cranny of each house.  I took untold numbers of pictures on the fly to support my findings and typed and published my summary of findings before meeting the home buyers for a face to face walk through of the report.

Final Home Inspection Report Given to Each Client at the End of Each Inspection

Final Home Inspection Report Given to Each Client at the End of Each Inspection

I enjoyed my work and averaged 250 inspections each year.  I’m a bit of a loner and given the choice between going out on the town with friends or staying in and working on projects  … well, I think you know which I would choose.  Admittedly, working so many years alone with my own thoughts began to wear on me, so I branched out into photography to transition out of home inspections.

Real Estate Photography

As part of the process of listing a house for sale, the agent posts pictures of the house and its sales information on a real estate web-based listing system.  I love photography and noticed that agents didn’t take particularly good pictures of the houses they were listing for sale, so in 2007, I decided to go into business taking pictures for real estate agents.  I worked with my friends at BusyBrain to create a web-based portal for agents to log into and access their pictures online.

Hero Picture of the Antiquarian Photographer

Hero Picture of the Antiquarian Photographer

I understand camera mechanics but I’m not tremendously artistically inclined.  Thus it gives me a sense of pride that one of my listing pictures ended up on the cover of a local real estate magazine.  Unfortunately, the photography business was short lived because the economy was about to take a turn for the worse.

The Second Great Depression

In 2008, the real estate market crashed and increasingly took down much the nation’s economy.  I didn’t feel the complete effect until mid-2010 when I walked out my front door to go to work and realized the two vacant houses across the street were boarded up.  There were eight houses on our street and only three were still occupied.  It was surreal.  The stories of the Great Depression repeated by my grandfather finally sunk in.  For the first time, I was seeing the devastation through his eyes, and it was very depressing.

My great grandfather, bottom left, repaired machinery in the cotton mill in Oxford, Alabama.

Mill Turned Antique Mall in Oxford, Alabama, 1998

Mill Turned Antique Mall in Oxford, Alabama, 1998

He was employed throughout the Great Depression and my grandfather, while still poor, didn’t feel the full effect of the economic hardships.  I inherited Homer’s pocket watch, shown above right, and his straight razor, mechanic’s tools, and toolbox.  The irony is that I too worked through the recent depression as a mechanic who maintained commercial building systems.  Not only did I make a few job changes during this period, but I steadily rose through the ranks earning more with each promotion.  I was very fortunate, and we lived well in our little starter home, insulated as we were from the depressing hardships that surrounded us.

Brakes Applied

In November of 2012 at the peak of my building maintenance career, I had elective surgery and paid dearly for it.  I dedicated an entire post to this topic in an effort to dissuade others from suffering needlessly for the rest of their lives.

I won’t rehash the post here, but I will say it threw the brakes on my life for almost three years while I underwent three additional surgeries to alleviate the pain.

Looking Ahead

As a rule, my posts are always positive, but there is no way to avoid some of the negative truths of this part of the story.  For 15 years, I struggled to make our first home work for us.  I spent countless hours upgrading the house, trying to do my projects in the driveway, and vacillating between moving to a new house or staying put and building a large workshop.  My grandparents who started me on this path and a number of the aging antique tool collectors passed away while we lived there.  It was a period troubled with the decline of our town and school system, national economic hardship, seven job changes, and unspeakably painful medical issues.

But there was a bright side.  I was truly coming of age and, by making connections within a growing amount of knowledge, my skills and abilities grew at an exponential rate.  During this time, I purchased a number of modern tools and camera equipment (that I previously couldn’t afford), expanded my historical interests, acquired many new types of antiques in many new fields, nearly completed my antique bucket list, started this blog, and most importantly welcomed my son into the world.  With the declining school system being the motivating factor, we moved to a new house and began a new chapter in our lives.

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