Happy treasure hunting, matey! | TheUnion.com

Happy treasure hunting, matey!

Dave Schmall

I've been watching too much TV lately. I usually turn it on when I get home from work but never really pay too much attention to it, as it's more background noise while I'm doing something more constructive, like the dishes.

When I was a kid, I liked to play pirate, pillaging and plundering until I found treasures or until my mother called me home for dinner, whichever came first. Perhaps that's why I'm hooked on Pawn Stars and American Pickers on the History Channel. I'm not only fascinated by the odd array of items people carry into a pawn shop to sell or pawn but also the haggle over the prices. 

I also can appreciate that two grown men, called pickers, basically go garage sale shopping for a living. They travel the countryside to find hoarders and collectors who have stored collectibles, antiques and, in many cases, plain old junk in their homes, barns or, as in one episode, an "Old West" town a guy built in his backyard just to have a place to stockpile all of it. Then the pickers attempt to buy the stuff low and resell it higher.

I want that job.

I love the recurring stories like the guy who bought a baseball card at a garage sale for a dollar, and it turns out to be worth $1,000. Or the man who found the steam gauge off a 1902 Stanley Steamer automobile in the garage of the house he just bought. Instead of tossing it in the trash, he sold it for $300. My favorite is the guy who bought a painting for $4 and then discovered it was a Frank Zappa original worth thousands.

I was on the opposite end of that situation when I was 15 and decided I no longer needed my baseball card collection that I kept in a shoebox under my bed. I sold the whole enchilada, a few hundred cards, for a grand total of $5. Yes, I'm still regretting it to this day. And yes, I'm crying as I type.

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It wasn't just the full set of the 1969 Chicago Cubs team that, while being in first place for 155 days, recorded one of the most astounding late-season collapses, losing 17 of their last 25 games. It was that five of the cards in that set were of Cubs players that became Hall-of-Famers. It wasn't just the Roger Maris or Mickey Mantle cards that my dad had somehow acquired and passed down. It was the Babe Ruth card that broke my heart most. I'm not kidding. But somewhere out there, there's another guy telling a story about buying this shoebox of baseball cards for a fin and selling them for hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars.

But I digress. And sniffle.

I recently got a wild hair on a typical drive down Rough and Ready Highway as I readied to sail past Farmer Brown's Trading Post for the 98th time. I'm not sure if it was the chair shaped like a human hand or the giant, 8-foot yellow arrow sign out front that seemed to pull me in. I had never before thought about stopping for a look-see, but I suddenly slowed my car just enough to look both ways before making a bat turn into the parking lot.

In that moment, I was convinced I was about to find my own, one-of-a-kind Frank Zappa painting that would make me rich.

As I began to peruse all of the cool findings inside, each one with its own story, I found my way to the side yard where owner Toby and his friend, Rory, were creating vintage tin signs from scratch. I was amazed at the techniques they described in their art that starts with a simple pair of tin snips and ends up looking like an authentic piece of Americana.

Toby and I talked for almost an hour as we rummaged through items in each corner of the store, and as we meandered, he shared stories of items acquired. I could detect a sense of sorrow as he explained about the rodents that chewed through the hundreds of wires housed in an antique shooting gallery game he used to play when he was a kid. He said it would take him years to repair it, but at least he still had it to look at and wax sentimental over his childhood. My shoebox of baseball cards was gone forever.

As I left, I didn't go away without a treasure. I bought the chair shaped like a human hand. I'm not sure why, other than it makes me smile. Sometimes, that has to be good enough. Aarghh. Happy treasure hunting, matey!

Dave Schmall is publisher of The Union. Contact him at dschmall@theunion.com or by phone at 530-477-4299.

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