Junk collectors

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Farm Forum

In days of yore on slow winter Sunday afternoons, my dad would announce it was garage cleaning time.

Our dirt floor garage was heated by an old wood burner that accepted garage combustibles like old shoes, bird’s nests, clothing, lumber scraps, newspapers, tired-out gunny sacks and you name its.

The stove was awakened only on cleaning days, when it would work its way up to red hot while we admired and re-stacked dad’s assortment of stuff, except the oversized paraphernalia stored under the front porch with our dog, who slept with it all.

Dad couldn’t bring himself to throw anything away. “It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it,” he’d say.

I grew up a saver of “stuff.”

Among my favorite “stuff” stops now is the “New To You” store in Iroquois, but that’s another column for another time.

The world champion stuff collector of all time was Martin Tusia, the retired former clerk in the little town of Egan in Moody County.

When I met Martin he’d retired after a lifetime of serving as Egan’s clerk, mayor, street superintendent or whatever official the town might have needed at the time.

He didn’t believe in file cabinets, so all of Egan’s century of records were disheveled and in stacks on chairs, window sills, tables, shelves, benches, on Martin’s desk and the floor.

Every item ever created in Egan or that ever arrived at his feed and seed office by pony express, packet thrown from a passing train, left at the door on purpose or by accident, or that which the wind may have pushed under the transom, was there in Martin’s little office.

It appeared a muddled mess to me, but Martin seemed comfortable with it all. One day as a test I asked him about the city water consumption in July of 1932.

Martin ambled over to a dusty pile, reached about halfway down the stack and fished out the yellowed and faded 1932 water consumption report.

Another collector I feel akin to is Marv Steinback, a welder who is trying to retire. He lives with his wife Marilyn on an acreage northwest of Brookings within sight of the farm where he was born more than seven decades ago.

I recently got the royal tour of his spread of storage sheds, lean-tos, cattle trailers, semi trailers and a little building he built from scraps of lumber that has a nice floor made from the old Bruce High School basketball court.

Marv’s interests come down hardest on items of iron. He’s a welder, and an iron expert.

He’s a whiz at solving metal problems, Marv is especially impressed with the occasional, unusual tool, maybe something dreamed up and fabricated by an inventive farmer-craftsman. “Think of the planning that went into that,” he says as he admires a special drill or unique wrench.

If the world had more Paul Cecils, New to Yous, Martin Tusias, and Marv Steinbacks we’d never be in need of anything, because somewhere in that pile over there, or under that stack down below that whatca-ma-call-it, or on the dusty shelf next to that left-handed pump handle, is just what the world needs.

Write to the author at cfcecil@swiftel.net.