I grew up around an appreciation for old stuff.
My dad collected barber chairs and crank telephones. He went as far as to buy an old hotel in coastal Alaska just to pull the valuable items and hold on to them and make sure they didn't get destroyed. And then he destroyed the hotel and salvaged the copper and other metals.
The guy has a crippling foresight when it comes to preserving the past. He's been horse-trading and making deals for as long as I can remember, and has all kinds of cool collectible stuff to show for it. He actually had to purchase an adjacent parcel of land to accommodate his collections. But he's really not into restoring any of it; he secures the pieces, which in his mind keeps it from getting demolished.
Growing up around all this old stuff gave me an appreciation for the coolness of old things. The stories they tell that always stop me in my tracks. Where they came from. The people behind them.
I still remember the first time my appreciation of old stuff led me to doing one of those stupid things you do growing up. It was an old sailboat purchased with my student loans in college. I intended to restore that old boat because I was into sailing at the time, and my plan was to sand it in front of my dormitory. I won’t go into the details, but I will tell you that I broke even on that project. I didn't lose my ass on it. It's hilarious looking back, but even then I knew there was more to this passion that I hadn’t quite uncovered.
I didn’t really explore my appreciation of old stuff much beyond that sailboat because I just didn’t have any money. Plus I was busy with college and figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. You see I come from a multi-generational insurance agent family, and I fought that job for as long as I could.
I flew airplanes, collected skydives and hurt myself BASE jumping. I traveled. A year in Japan and six months in Australia; I was out in the world and definitely not restricted to the island of Ketchikan where I grew up. I had all kinds of cool worldly experiences.
But that desire to find, preserve and restore the vintage items that shaped history was always in the back of my mind.
Now that I have a career and a fantastic family, I’ve finally started to explore my appreciation of old stuff in earnest.
Specifically my fascination with motorcycles.
I grew up without motorcycles, without jet skis and ATV's, or anything else that was deemed risky. But once grew up and stumbled into my own identity, I realized I wasn't the same person as my dad. I was my own man. So I thought to myself, "You know what? I'm going to buy a motorcycle because that appeals to me." I live ten minutes from my office, so a motorcycle would be a great commute.
That vintage motorcycle was just the start of this hobby of finding, preserving and restoring old stuff. But you know the best part of all of this is meeting the people behind old things, networking to find cool pieces, and preserving and telling the story behind it all. Whether it’s a motorcycle or juke box. And if it's not for me, I'm sure it's for a friend or somebody else I know.
I should say the best part of this hobby of mine is jumping on a vintage motorcycle and scaring myself. But a close second are the people that you meet behind all the stuff that you uncover.
What’s unique about Alaska is that the people behind the stuff you uncover are essential to discovering this valuable old stuff in the first place. You read about graveyards in dry states that have all these amazing things just sitting outside. But if it’s sitting outside in Alaska, it's going to rot. It's going to die. It's going to deteriorate really fast left out in the elements. You have to build relationships and network with people to find vintage items in Alaska.
Vintage items worth saving in Alaska are going to be in a shed or garage; someplace not exposed to the elements. So if you network and you meet with the right people that help you uncover the cool stuff then guaranteed, that cool stuff is probably going to be on the good side of what it is. It's going to have a unique story. It's going to be in great shape or it's going to be a cool item in its own right.
Over the years I’ve met some truly unique Alaskan characters that have helped me uncover some pretty cool stuff. Only some of which is now getting preserved and restored in my garage. And with my kids out of diapers and actually involved in the hands-on work of restoring iconic pieces of the past, I’m hoping that they, like me, grow up with an appreciation of old stuff. What they do with that appreciation and the life lessons learned in the garage with dad, only time will tell.