One day my cousin emailed me and said that her best friend's dad lived in Knoxville (about 3 hours from where I live). He was getting up there in years and was getting ready to sell his 40 year collection and move to Cincinnati to be closer to his daughter. He only wanted to sell everything as a lot. He didn't want to be cherry picked for the good items, leaving him left with the not so good items. Also, I would have to meet him on a Saturday morning and have everything loaded and out of there by that evening. Sounded like a plan. I knew he had quite a few old tools but that was the extent of what I knew about his collection.
During the next 3 weeks I was both giddy and nervous with anticipation. I went to a Barnes and Noble and found a pocket price guide on tools. These little pocket books are great for a quick reference. They can teach you what to look for between the true gems and the average item. I studied this book quite a bit leading up to that Saturday. I also studied "completed item" sales on eBay. It was all I knew to do because I really didn't have a clue about tools. I also didn't have any idea what else this gentleman had in his collection. Looking back, even though I thought I had a good idea of what to look for in tools and in their values, I knew nothing. I was as green a newbie as they come. This has taught me that it takes years of hands-on experience to become even somewhat familiar with any specialty, whether it's glass, sports memorabilia, or civil war artifacts.
Leading up to the pick, I knew I might need more money than I had. So it was time to find an investor. Not only an investor, but someone willing to take a chance on me. I had only a few months of buying and selling items under my belt. I had a really good, but short, track record. After talking to the seller's family I determined I needed about $5,000. This was at a time when the most expensive item I had purchased was about a hundred bucks. What could possibly go wrong with this situation??? My wife thought her dad might be interested so I talked to him about it. He was all for it. He sent me the money. We came up with a repayment plan and percentages of profit that we'd split. When I withdrew the money I felt like throwing up. I was in WAY over my head. Shhhhhh. Don't tell him I said this.
The Friday night before the mega-pick my wife, son, and I drove to my step-daughters house to spend the night. She lives in Knoxville and was close to the seller's home. I had my truck and trailer in-tow. At least i didn't have to rent a box truck. I hardly slept that night. Both my nerves and excitement were getting the best of me. 9 a.m. couldn't come fast enough.
Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! I finally fell asleep just a little bit before I had to get up. My alarm was not my friend. I wanted to throw it out the window. I quickly realized why it was going off and the nerves were back. I got ready and headed to the seller's home. It was a few miles out a country road. That got me excited. Really excited. I finally found the house and pulled up. It was a pretty old house and looked like it was in pretty bad need of repairs. All of the bushes had started to overgrow the house. You couldn't really get an idea of what the house even looked like. My excitement quickly turned to disappointment. "Surely there can't be anything too good in this old house", I thought to myself. Then after a short introduction with the son-in-law we stepped inside.
Have you ever watch "Hoarders" on television? This house wouldn't qualify to get on the show but it sure was an aspiring candidate. Boxes. Tons of boxes. Mountains of boxes. I was going to need a u-haul. A really big u-haul. The living room had a path to the front door, kitchen, and bedroom. Other than this 2 foot wide path, there were boxes. Anywhere from knee to chest high. There were lots of items not even in boxes....just piled up on top of one another. The floors had even started to cave in from the weight of everything. I recognized old lanterns, signage, crates, books, and more. The vast majority of items were tools. Some I had seen. The vast majority I hadn't. However, everything looked old. Very old. So I knew there had to be a market for it. There was no way I could go through everything to get an idea of value. So it was time to wing it. Wing it with $5,000 of someone else's money. Yeah...nothing could go wrong with this. I asked the gentleman how much he wanted for everything. He said $6,000. My heart sank and I felt sick all over again. I'm sure I was sweating. This was my first huge negotiation. I had seen American Pickers. I knew I had to haggle. I started talking about expenses, u-hauls, storage I was going to have to pay while I tried to sell everything. I came back with $4,000. He countered with $5,000. I countered with $4,500. After a long pause, he agreed. I was the proud new owner of a lot of stuff. I was super excited.
Quickly the honeymoon phase was over. "Okay...now what", I thought. To make a long story short, I had two huge things go in my favor. I was allowed to just pile up the trash and items I didn't want in a room. They would take care of it. That was great because I had to be out of there that night. There was no way I could get it all in a day...or in one 27' truck. The seller's son-in-law also had connections at a local college to get me some cheap college labor. Big blessing there too. I called my wife and tried to explain what had just transpired and frantically told her I needed her to drive over to the house. We needed a u-haul, boxes, tape, etc. I had 4 college boys showing up soon and we had a ton to do. I think I lost her somewhere between u-haul and hired labor. Last she knew, it was all fitting in my truck and 8 foot trailer. Not so my dear. Not so.
The look on her face when she walked in to that dilapidated house was priceless. I wish I had captured it on camera. Luckily the college kids showed up at about the same time. That probably saved my life from a quick gruesome strangling from my wife. The next 8 hours were a blur. Somehow we rented a truck, bought a lot of boxes and tape, and packed the truck. I told the college kids to fill the boxes as quick as they could. There were hundreds of items that I didn't even see until unpacking that particular box back at home. A few hours in I was realizing how quick we were filling the truck and how many items we still had in the house. I started moving ahead of the college kids and began consolidating boxes to make as much room as possible. In the end, I would have loved to have gone back to see what we left when I was rested and had fresh eyes. In the end, we had packed a 27' box truck, my full size pickup, and an 8' trailer and were able to leave that evening. It was such a long exhilarating day...but the fun was just beginning. In one of my future blogs I will talk about my first few weeks with all of my new finds and what I've learned about vintage and antique tools.