According to the calendar and the scenery surrounding us, winter has arrived in my neighborhood near Helix.
Because I am fortunate enough to have a warm, dry place to sleep and am well-fed, I enjoy many aspects of the season. Christmas music on the radio, breaking ice on the water trough, chopping wood and traveling to watch daughter Annie and her schoolmates play basketball are a few of my favorite things. (By the way, I’d be interested to know the opinion of my neighbors and friends as to whose rendition of “My Favorite Things” is their favorite. My top three are by Tony Bennett, Julie Andrews and John Coltrane.)
On a recent jaunt to watch basketball in Wallowa, my wife’s car was out of washer fluid and the road grime accumulating on the windshield made it hard for her to see the road and difficult for me to scan the countryside for old trucks, tractors and farm implements. This situation was easily remedied by a quick stop at one of my all-time favorite places of business — the local hardware store. From the time I was but a wee lad accompanying my father to the family-owned and operated hardware concern in Stanfield to buy a couple of pounds of sixteen-penny sinkers out of the bulk nail bin, I have been enthralled by these important and sometimes under-appreciated supply houses without whom America could not have been built and certainly could not be repaired.
Pendleton is blessed with one of the finest hardware stores (on south Main Street) I’ve ever frequented and its no-nonsense approach, incredibly broad inventory selection and knowledgeable staff who actually care about the customer serve as a fine example that, in my opinion, is too seldom emulated by the “big box-store” competition. Like many other hardware stores, it is also a great place to visit with other folks who have been DIYer’s since way before it became a fad.
One of my most unique hardware store experiences occurred in the town of Union. Located just down the street from a beautiful old Carnegie library is a combination hardware and liquor store. I purchased a prybar and a bottle of Peach Schnapps.
Our little town of Helix had a hardware store from at least as early as 1895 when a Mr. Sones (either Pete or Fred, further research required) set up shop. The Norvell family became proprietors around 1905 and for many years sold farm implements, including P&O and, later, Oliver plows. We have one such plow purchased in the thirties in our collection. John Freeman Young bought out Norvells in the early 1950’s and was also an insurance agent. For a time, he was also a dealer in Calkins farm equipment. I have a receipt for a rod-weeder purchased by my grandfather for $388.50. When I moved to Helix in 1993, Bob Fowler was the proprietor and still had the best selection of carriage-bolts in Umatilla County.
Most of the windmills in our area were either sold through or shipped to local hardware stores. Flint & Waling, Fairbanks-Morse, and the ubiquitous Aeromotor were some of the brands marketed locally and brought in by rail to long-forgotten sidings such as Ring Station, Warren, and Hillsdale. We have in our supply a new-in-the crate Fairbanks Morse Model 40 mill that was shipped to the hardware department of Touchet Valley Grain Growers.
It may appear foolish to some (thankfully, not including my wife) that I would possess a “new old stock” windmill, but you never know when you might have a need for one. The same can be said for 9 ladders, 7 cordless drills, 11 hammers, 8 sawhorses, 4 large boxes of electrical supplies, 6 coffee cans filled with plumbing fittings, 3 bolt bins, and a pair of pliers and a shovel in all 7 pick-ups on the place. Nearly all of the aforementioned came from hardware stores and help satisfy my primal urge to be surrounded by tools.
I see the Powerball jackpot is at $400 million now. If I win, I think I’ll head back over the mountain—there was a “business for sale” sign in the window of the combination hardware/auto parts store in Wallowa.
Matt Wood is his son’s hired man and his daughter’s biggest fan. He lives on a farm near Helix, where he collects antiques and friends.