Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Port Huron Rendezvous

A few months ago I had a sleigh to get to Canada for a client. We thought Port Huron, Michigan would be a good meeting point and he could take it across the border. I had never been to PHMI so I thought it would be a fun little trip. I came away feeling pretty good about the Port and the view of Sarnia across the St. Clair River.

I’m kind of a sap for cruising around whenever I enter a town I’ve never been. So was the case with Port Huron and of course I headed straight downtown. I can always find something of interest in an old downtown. Doesn’t matter big or small, thriving or diving there is always something interesting in the old business districts. I always find myself driving around blocks in every little podunk town I travel through.

OK, maybe not going to win any awards with this project but I really liked the way this particular building was treated. I would give it some kind of award. Frugal and trendy all at the same time.

If you look closely at the top photo you can see numerous bricked up windows and doors. The contemporary windows were obviously placed at some point for the layout of the interior of the building. I love the original signage still intact. So often the first train of thought is to unblock the windows and bring everything back to original. Pretty cool the way that they left the industrial simplicity of the bad renovations in place and added the new entrance in grandiose fashion. The other obvious new addition is the French doors at the second floor loading dock. Great project and I would have really liked a look at the inside.

This property was right behind the first and looking at details I’m guessing is by the same owner. Here we have a much more traditional and symmetrical facade. Once again a really beautifully completed restoration. A great contrast of colors, finishes and the greenery is the finishing touch.

I find this entrance to be so inviting. Duffy Studios. I have no idea what that is but they really know how to make a business present itself. One of those nice little old commercial buildings that I wished I could just pick up and take home with me.

What a classic Art Deco façade. Looks to me like a much earlier building that was converted more than likely in the 30’s. This building is a great project and I hope someone latches onto it soon. It could be so much fun to bring it back to life to be a centerpiece in what was the middle of downtown. I could have a blast with this one.

Oh and lookie here. Planters, trees and benches in nice little groupings. They had a nice little streetscape plan that was in keeping with a city of it’s size. Obviously this was all pretty new so the downtown must have been recently ripped apart. I liked the scale of the larger gardens rather than smaller planters. All trimmed out in pavers and such it was a pretty attractive pedestrian way.

We concluded the trip with breakfast at an outstanding coffee shop/café across the street. Take an historic building, strip out the crap, pick out classic striking colors, crisp contemporary furniture, colorful artwork for the walls, slam out some one of a kind food and you'll have a winner. I’ll go back to Port Huron just for breakfast.

Have a great Wednesday!


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Snapshots of History

Being in my business I’m often thinking about people. Not just the carriages but the people that rode along. It was not all that long ago that the carriages we restore were transportation for someone. One hundred years ago or so. To put it into perspective The Brady Bunch first aired on September, 26th, 1969. Just over 40 years ago. Seems like yesterday.

Another snapshot in time. Downtown Columbus on a busy day. Notice the diagonal parking. Who are all of these people and what are they doing? How do they relate to the Columbus of today? All of this bustle. People coming and going and what is thier story today. Who knows. It’s a snapshot of time in the busy life of a small town.

Our Brewster Sleigh project continues to move forward. Bob sprayed primer on the runners today so that portion is continuing to move along.

The body is removed but it is yet to be stripped. As slow as that process was on the dash I have a hunch that the boy’s are not too excited about that part.

All of the iron parts have been blasted and primed as of this morning as well. This primer coat will fill in any voids and pits in the metal parts and once sanded it will be ready for a shiny coat of paint.

The Brewster Tub Cart also moves closer to the door. The shafts have been installed and now Dale is getting the axle and springs ready to mount.

The rear door is installed but one of our problems is having only half of a latch. We have the one portion installed but I’m not sure what we will be doing about the rest at this point. Being that it is completely unique we will probably be making up a custom part for the door portion of the latch.

Have a great Tuesday!


Friday, December 11, 2009

OK I’m Kind of Hooked on Old Time Columbus

Sorry carriage people but I’m stuck in a rut. I have a bunch of cool old Columbus postcards and I’m having fun putting them out there on the blog. Columbus is a very old Midwest community. When this little town was established it was a prosperous community so for a small town there are some pretty interesting structures.

I love this shot of the train depot. I can’t see a date on this card but there are horse drawn vehicles in the background and an old steam train. Probably late 1800’s. back in those days I’m guessing the train depot was a busy hub of activity in Columbus. This train depot is still in operation as one of only a few Amtrak stops in Wisconsin.

I nice shot of the Kurth Brewery. Back in the day the Brewery was a huge complex consuming most of a city block. If you look closely on the left you can see the original stone office building which still remains today. Beyond that you can see a little red barn that must have been a farm that remained on the edge of town at that time. Today the brewery is open a couple of nights a week and is still owned and operated by the Kurth family. It is one of the really unique little gems of this community.

I have never seen this view of the canning factory before. Quite the complex when it was up and running. The building still remains and it is now the Columbus Antiques Mall which is the largest in the State of Wisconsin. The Amato family has operated the Antique Mall in the canning factory building for I’m guessing twenty years. Columbus is fortunate to have promoters like the Dan Amato who attracts thousands of visitors to Columbus annually.

Here we have the infamous Udey Dam. The Dam was originally build to power a mill in Columbus. The mill is long gone but the dam remains as a hot topic of conversation yet today. For the last few years the dam has been a political hot potato. Some people want it removed. Some want it to remain but it is in need of substantial repair to comply with modern DNR regulation. As it stands today the City has committed to repair the dam.

A nice shot of James Street looking South. In the forefront you can see the Farmers and Merchants Union Bank on the right. The former bank building is on the left which is now the State Farm insurance office. Beyond the State Farm office is the Bellack’s Clothing Store. When I was a kid it was a men’s clothing store and I can recall shopping there on many occasions. We are the current owners of that property and we are fortunate enough to still have the original sales counter from Bellack’s.

Had a nice little run/walk this morning but a little on the nippy side…

Have a great Friday!


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Old Time Columbus

Seeing I spent the better part of yesterday moving snow around I don’t really have any fresh blog material so we’re doing something different. I love old postcards. Especially of Columbus. Being I’ve grown up in Columbus I can remember a number of changes that have happened over the years. I find it pretty entertaining to see what this little town looked like 100 years ago.

This is an interesting shot of an early automobile parked in downtown Columbus. The car is parked in front of the Sharrow Drug Store which is still in business with the same family all these years later. Road races with these early cars passed through Columbus on a regular basis. The manufacturers would race against each other from Milwaukee to Minneapolis to test the speed and durability of these early cars. There was actually an automobile manufacturer in Columbus called the Badger. They lasted three or four years and I actually have quite a bit of history on them. Sounds like a blog.

Here is a shot of our City Hall. Must have been taken sometime in the 40’s. The garage doors on the far left of City Hall are the former Fire Station. On the far right there are some fire trucks parked in the middle of the boulevard which is basically in front of our showroom. I’m guessing they had more trucks than they had space.

Years ago photographers would doctor photos of small towns to make them look more cosmopolitan. Here is a good example. We never had streetcars in Columbus but they put one in to make it look like a big city. On the left you can see the Whitney Hotel which is still the prominent building in the downtown.

I’m guessing this is also an early example of Photoshop. This is Ludington Street looking toward the four corners with an airplane flying overhead. Maybe the airplane was flying around like that but if I had to venture a guess I doubt it. Judging from the poles it's probably tangled in the wires if it's flying.

Not Columbus but a cool photo. It is a shot of a fire department with their Waterous Fire Pumper. I had one just like this at one time. It was the next generation fire pumper after the steam boilers. This had a gasoline fired engine on the pump but was a horse drawn vehicle. Was not long and the engine moved the vehicle as well.

Have a great Thursday!


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It’s A Blizzard!

I was out and about last night until around seven in the evening. By the time I returned home the snow was coming down pretty hard and the road visibility was getting rather poor. At that point we maybe had 3 or 4 inches of snow but it was coming down hard and covering the roads about as fast as they were plowed.

It sounds like we had about 15” of new snow last night and by looking out the door I would guess that to be pretty close. It’s nice and wet and heavy but that’s about to change. Much colder temps are on the way and the winds are about to kick it up a few notches to 30 - 40 mph.

Breakfast with the boys was still on this morning but relocated to the Apple Tree Restaurant. I opted out on the breakfast today figuring it might be tough to get out of the driveway. With a storm like this it’s not unusual to have four foot drifts in our driveway.

This is some really sticky snow. The evergreen trees are just loaded. BTW my buddy Rod Melotte was in the showroom on Monday taking photos. Rod is an outstanding photographer/artist. You can check out his work at Favorite Links to your left - Melotte Photo Imagery. Check out his photos of the Wisconsin State Capital. Stunning.

We are lucky to have an attractive yard just about any time of year. It looks pretty with a coat of fresh snow too.

The shops and the barns are pretty loaded up with snow. With the high winds coming in today it doesn’t pay to get too excited about plowing. I’ll probably let it blow around a bit first.

Here we have a new arrival. It’s an original Portland Cutter built by Owosso Carriage & Sleigh in Owosso MI. The original paint and mohair upholstery are in excellent condition for its age. We have cleaned and detailed the sleigh and it’s all ready for display or use. A nice rare and unique item for $1,595.

Have a great Wednesday!


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Go Pack!

I’m pretty into the Packers this year. Had a fun time watching the game last night. I have great respect for a quarterback that used to be a Packer but by the same token I don’t miss him one bit. Brett was fun to watch but I think Rodgers is probably going to be better. The guy is incredible and in reality he‘s still a rookie. Will he last as long as Brett? Probably not but ol Brett is just a force of nature. I couldn’t be happier with the decision to stick with Rodgers and it’s getting to the point where people should be able to see why.

I was moving some sleighs around last night. Had a new arrival to move into the showroom. It was a nice evening for it. A little cold but calm winds and clear skies. Just a pretty winter night in Wisconsin. It appears that we will be leveled by this time tomorrow. Massive, powerful winter storm headed right for Columbus, Wisconsin. It’s going to be a blizzard! Woohoo!

Our Brewster Sleigh project is in pieces. The runners are apart and the body has been removed. The body is in waiting to be stripped.

Bob has been working on the runners and they are pretty well stripped other than the dash. Some pretty tough paint on the dash that has been difficult to strip. There is a big difference in the finishes used back in the day. High end manufacturers like Brewster put a whole lot more paint on than most of the mass production factories producing the run of the mill vehicles.

While Bob is working on the runners, Dale is starting assembly of the Brewster Tub Cart. The spring mounts are now fastened to the body as well as the dash. It is really looking nice.

The seat backs for that vehicle have assembled and cleared. Ryanne has them at the downtown shop ready to start on upholstery. She has been working on the flat cushions which should be done in a few more days. The original cushion stuffing is really in beautiful condition so she is re-using the innerds. Sorry about that but when was the last time your saw the word innerds?

Can’t wait to see what things look like tomorrow. I’m planning the Blizzard Blog already. As much as I’m really not looking forward to cleaning it up you have to admit being in the heart of a blizzard is pretty cool.

Have a great Tuesday!


Monday, December 7, 2009

Winter Has Arrived In Wisconsin

Sooner or later it had to happen. It snowed a couple of inches last night. Not only that but now the forecast calls for up to a foot Tuesday night and Wednesday. I’m trying to embrace it but I just don’t think I’m quite ready after the last couple of winters. One of my New Year's resolutions that I began back in November was to get into shape again. So I’m walking every morning along with mixing in a little running.

These old fashioned winters make it a little tough to get out running and walking. A few years ago I ran every morning through the winter. Never missed a one. Snow, below zero, wind, whatever. Actually had a blast doing it but the winter cooperated a little bit more than the last two which helped. These big snows lead to big icy patches along the route. Not so fun then. Maybe I need to find some spikes…

We are diving into the restoration of an early Brewster Sleigh. Like I have said in the past Brewster built some very unique sleighs. They tend to have such a distinctive look that you can spot them from a mile away. I’ve just never seen sleighs by other manufacturers that look like this.

All in all it is in really nice and solid condition. The original snow screen is in good condition and it appears that we will be able to clean it up without replacing the screens. The dash is nicely shaped and in good condition. There are a few minor cracks in the body but all in all a good place to start.

We take numerous detailed photos like this to have a record of finishes and striping. Most of the paint is off the runners but the body is pretty intact. The runners were originally painted red and the body black. I can’t find enough paint anywhere on the runners to determine a striping color. If you look closely you can see the remains of red stripes outlining the raised trim on the body.

The upholstery work is very elegant. Beautiful tufted seat in blue broadcloth trimmed in a heavy cord fabric. In this photo you can see the pleated falls on the fronts of the seats. The original leather seat back is also in place. That is a pretty unique detail.

I guess I better get outside and start moving some snow around. Also need to get prepared for the blizzard on Tuesday night. They are saying blizzard conditions so that usually means it will miss us completely. Nonetheless better stock up on diesel fuel for the skid loader, check the oil, get things ready to battle the drifts.

Have a great Monday!


Friday, December 4, 2009

Thanks Tiger

Good thing for Tiger Woods. Had it not been for him we would still be up to our ears in the John and Kate separation story. It’s really a good thing that famous people are constantly splitting up and getting into trouble so the top news stories can rotate a little bit. I would assume there might be a few other things happening on the plant but a person wouldn’t know about it by watching the news.

Yesterday the shop crew started restoration of an early Brewster Four Passenger Sleigh. It is classic Brewster through and through. Brewster sleighs tend to be very unique and always seem to look like they are going fast. Bob started on the project yesterday so we will have some progress photos over the next few days.

Another project going through the shop right now is the Brewster Tub Cart Restoration. This is a natural finish vehicle. It has been a long time since we have not painted a carriage so this is a fun change of pace. Here you can see the wheels. They are stripped, sanded and ready for the rubber tire installation.

The seat backs and fenders have been stripped, stained and cleared first coat. They are now fine sanded and ready for finish coat. We used a medium walnut stain which has a warm vintage appearance, nice on a vehicle of this type.

The body is done and ready for assembly. As the iron frame parts are finished they will be mounted and the body will head in for upholstery. Ryanne has started the loose cushions and the body will be ready for upholstery next week. Click photo for a closer look.

In this photo you can see the serial number 25782. In a quick search of the Brewster records the carriage was ordered April 27th, 1908 by a John J. Pratt. Brewster referred to the vehicle as a Cart, French Two Wheel. This number was stamped on the body just under the seat cushion which is a typical location.

The really cool thing about Brewster carriages is that every part is stamped with the serial number. Here we are looking at a body spring mount also stamped 25782. On the metal parts the numbers are stamped in areas that are covered after assembly. In the background you can see a few of the numerous chassis parts currently hanging in the booth. Dale shot the base coat black yesterday afternoon and is shooting clear this morning.

Big snow in southern Wisconsin last evening. It just missed us which is just ducky in my book. I’m still not ready to shovel. Maybe by March I’ll be more prepared.

Have a great Friday!


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Holiday Pops Tradition

Take that Mrs. Johnson. She was my 3rd grade English teacher. Remember my essay entitled “How to Light a Really Big Fire“? So boldly you placed that “D” on top of the page. Then you had the nerve to write “Don’t play with matches” in red at the bottom of the page. As I recall that didn’t fly too well back home. Well now Mrs. Johnson, the tables have turned. I have people waiting in anticipation of my next written word. Mrs. J must be rolling in her grave as I type these words. My poor teachers…

We’ve been very busy here creating a ton of new blog material so we will do our best to keep posting on a regular basis. We participated in our annual holiday tradition over the last weekend. The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra performs a Holiday Pops Concert every year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. For the last five or six years we have supplied the WCO with restored sleighs for their concert displays.

Not that I have any ability to critique music (Mrs. Jones can attest to that) but I thought the concert this year was excellent. Some years are better than others. This one was very well done. Of course every year Director Andrew Sewell wraps up the show with a traditional rendition of “Sleigh Ride”. As you may recall the crack of the whip plays a big part in this piece of music. Mr. Sewell leads the audience to clap at just the right time. As usual every one of my claps was two seconds too late.

We just finished up a Door Cutter, sometimes referred to as a Comfort Cutter. This sleigh made it's debut at the Holiday Pops Concert this year. This one was built locally in Janesville by Wisconsin Carriage Company. I picked this sleigh up a few years back. It has been working it’s way through the restoration process a little here and there until we finally wrapped it up.

Here you can see the detail of the little door and handle. The top sill plate on the doors was typically natural finished wood which was a nice little touch on these sleighs. The originals were pretty well beat so Bob made up some new sill plates of cherry lumber.

The seat is what we would refer to as an “auto seat”. This particular one is made of wood but the style is reminiscent of the early automobile seats which basically followed the style of carriage seats. Kind of the chicken and egg dealio.

The upholstery was done in a green wool broadcloth. This fabric along with mohair was traditional to horse drawn sleighs. For a little cutter project these take some time. The doors and the springs on the chassis both add time to the restoration process. This beautiful sleigh is now available for purchase and is priced at $8,995.

Thank you for following my blog. It’s really nice to hear from people that miss it. Tomorrow we will touch on the Brewster Tub Cart project. We are also just beginning a Brewster Sleigh restoration so we might post a couple before shots of that as well. Brewster built really interesting and distinctive sleighs. This one is an early model with classic Brewster lines.

Have a great Thursday!