“I’m a lock picker, I’ve been in jail and I’m a minister” my grandfather told a shocked congregation. Grandpa is the most down to earth creative person that I have ever met. His hands are scarred and blistered from years of taking some else’s scraps and molding life into them once again. He is the original dumpster diver gleaning materials, for everything from a “dog” or firewood holder made from old railroad tracks to a set of home made lock picks from scraps from the RJ Reynolds dumpster. Today he uses random scraps found in his garage to complete his various projects ranging from beautiful jewelry boxes to hats made from stretched tires to protects his lanterns from the vicious acorns. ( I have realized my tendency to collect craft supplies in my ever bloated craft box is very much like his Aladdin’s cave like garage filled with neat piles of tools and leftovers that will one day come in handy.)
Grandpa said he began using recycled objects and transforming them into something new when he was nineteen and newly married to my Grandma. He discovered that he “liked to make things, to change things” when he scavenged enough wood from the old bench that three or four of his brothers and sisters used to crowd around their old breakfast table to make a oak top for his new kitchen table. Grandpa searched his parent’s old log shed to find the wood that he chiseled into four legs. He used the leftovers to make my Grandma a nightstand. ” I don’t know how I put that thing together like I did with a rip saw, a draw knife and a plane,” he said. Grandpa and his brother Bill created several other pieces of furniture from scraps including a beautiful china cabinet and two gun cabinets. Grandpa also transformed Granny Allen’s (my great-great grandma’s) 150+ year old wash stand into a beautiful cabinet with oak he gathered from the RJ Reynold’s dumpster.
Grandpa’s favorite repurposed creation is a set of two little anvils that once were a part of the Winston Salem Trolley tracks that he melded to become the perfect size for a set of matching bookends. He also enjoyed creating several WW2 model airplanes made from pine boards that he whittled with a pocket knife. He spent hours whittling the detail work on the stars and emblems on the planes and outlining the cockpit. Grandma said that sometimes Grandpa starts a project because “he was bored and sees something a decides to try it.” This is how Grandpa started whittling little easter baskets for the family out of walnuts and how they ended up with a personalized “dog” that holds their logs in the fireplace with two beautiful engraved monograms and their own set of fireplace tools.
To set the record straight my Grandpa was never a master thief, although he could have been. At RJ Reynolds he was known as a man who could figure out how to break into any lock using the tools that he had fashioned out of scraps that he found in the dumpster. At “the time I was in the machine shop supply department and I would sit and attempt to unlock locks while waiting.” This came in handy when one day RJ Reynolds found themselves locked out of a very important safe filled with silver dollars. A man crossed the street and asked grandpa if he would attempt to unlock the safe even though it was supposedly an “unlock able security lock.” Grandpa took a small bit of metal and blackened it and put it in the key hole and rubbed it a little. He worked on potential fits for hours until on his last try the safe popped open. He was later asked by a member of his congregation, “Kermit, what where you before you became a minister?”
Like the lock picks, Grandpa has made or refurbished many of the tools that he uses for his projects. He is also constantly updating his tools with new parts and brightly colored paint. One day he was sharpening a lawn mower’s blades and pain began to plague his knees. The next day he covered a cushion with plastic and attached it to four runners so he could comfortably work on his “lawn mower stool” without knee pain and without spending a dime. He made an anvil to sharpen his tools from scraps from the railroad. He also used the anvil to crack his walnuts and hickory nuts. In order to repair his infamous lantern bulbs with “caps” he created a tool to hold the lantern bulbs in place. True ingenuity is seeing a problem and working to fix it no matter the obstacles. Grandpa faces what most people would say is impossible with stride and is happy to search a dumpster or the back of his garage to find or create whatever tools he deems necessary.