Grandson uses creativity to keep Farmer Brown’s Trading Post thriving
February 15, 2013
Toby McNeeley has junk in his veins. His father Larry had it, as did his grandfather Donald, or Farmer Brown as he was known to many. McNeeley has taken the reins of Farmer Brown's Trading Post, an appliance repair shop and secondhand store his grandfather bought back in 1982 in Rough and Ready. And just as his grandfather's services and wares evolved with the times, McNeeley is creating his own niche in what may best be described as custom-made antiques. "I'm taking it back to what it was originally. When my grandparents bought it, it was secondhand store, but it has always been much more," McNeeley said. "I want to take it back to what it was 50 years ago – vintage, antique, unique."
While the trading post is quaintly cluttered with goods from nearly every decade of the 20th century, McNeeley devotes most of his time to making new items, all with a vintage feel and mostly created with salvaged items from his family's property.
"I was born into a world of junk," he said while handling an obscure brass item he says will be ideal for a steampunk project. "My dad and my grandfather owned a bicycle shop when I was born called Recycled Cycles in Huntington Beach. It's been a theme of my family. They were into fixing up old stuff and making it new again, so I just came along in that line making stuff."
McNeeley recently created a custom-made theatrical vending cart in steampunk fashion with wrought iron handles, describing it as an "artful, creative, and funky project that was different, but fun." He designed a bottle tree at the ol' Republic Brewery and was contacted by a store in Truckee that had him take three ski lift chairs from the '60s, paint them and put legs on them for benches. The funky patio at Diego's was also the work of Toby and as he notes, "was all done from junk.
"The brick and rock came from my friends' backyards. The mosaics were made from plates from a thrift store and the silverware was just a bunch that the owner, Diane, had," McNeeley
With a background in landscape construction (along with his father), the young McNeeley's focus used to be on garden sculptures, waterfalls, birdhouses, and small porch projects, that were eclectic and "not for everybody." But about five months ago he was asked to fabricate a three-foot arrow sign for a customer. He called on his friend Rory Rundle, who has a background in sheet metal, and the two have been steadily creating signs ever since. They recently sold 10 to an antique shop in Truckee.
The signs have a retro feel with a weathered, vintage quality and glow with electricity rather than neon.
"People wanted that old look, but with quality," McNeeley said.
"They also seem to like the old, carnival-looking stuff," Rundle, who also builds antique-styled Harley Davidsons, added.
The pair are still figuring out the market and the pricing and trying to get their foot in the door. Off the beaten path, the Trading Post mainly sees a handful of regular customers with an uptick in tourists in the summer, but McNeeley is hopeful the custom-orders will continue to come in, and that they'll potentially find the right retail outlet.
"The biggest point about these is that they're literally being made the old-school way, correctly," McNeeley said. "They're not a reproduction – they're a re-creation. Hand-formed, hand-painted. It's really a lost art."
Farmer Brown's Trading Post, where one can find vintage clothing, antiques, curios, odds and ends, as will as the vintage signs, is located at 13901 Rough and Ready Highway, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. everyday but Monday. For information, call 530-273-9774.
Katrina Paz is a freelance writer in Grass Valley.
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