HOFFSTEDT: Downsizing starts with a yard sale

Now, where do I begin? I looked around my office — books, posters; not much of value to be seen there.
Jun 11, 2013


Then I spotted it — the drawer in an old desk filled with the tools of my trade. Drafting supplies, things that I used for a half-century as a tool and die designer.

There were special pencils with three jaw chucks to hold a variety of leads, from soft to hard. Staedtler Mars was my favorite brand with 12 leads to a plastic case that may not be used again. The computer took care of that. 

There was a special sharpener for those special leads that fit on the end of an electric eraser. That was in there, too. 

An electric eraser, the epitome of a labor-saving device. No more pushing around those old wedge-shaped Pick Pearl erasers by hand. That special sharpener collected all that fine graphite that had to be carefully emptied without ruining an almost-finished design. 

I held those pencils and wondered if anyone would find any use for them anymore. 

Then I picked up countless compasses and dividers. There was even a drop bow compass that could draw circles of 1/16 of an inch in diameter. A beam compass that could draw arcs with a 3-foot radius. All worn with years of use. Some were made from fine brass with a patina from fingers touching their metal surfaces day in and day out. 

There were about 40 plastic templates. About half were for drawing ellipses; the rest were for circles, squares, triangles and many other geometric shapes. Some were for socket-head cap screws, machine bolts, nuts and other special hardware. All used so much that their sizes and designations had been rubbed off from use. 

There were a variety of templates that I had made myself for special purchased items such as micro-switches and other safety devices. There were rulers, measuring tapes and French curves. Plotting an ellipse with a French curve was a work of art. 

There were charts and graphs for every conceivable drafting problem. Trig formulas and ways to use the quadratic equation. They were all there, in that drawer, waiting to be used.

But no more. The computer had made all of these items obsolete. Museum pieces.

They were old friends. I was so comfortable with them. I made my living with them, 50 years with a pencil in my hand, but they had to go. Everything has to go; nothing lasts forever.

I gathered them for the yard sale. Would anyone be interested? Who knows?

I put them in a prominent place with one price for the whole lot. The day wore on. People came and went. Some looked at them and moved on. I didn’t think that they would go. 

In early afternoon, a boy about 10 came by with his dad. The boy looked them over, picked them up and put them back.

I went over to talk to him because he looked confused. I told him my story of how I made my living with them. His dad came and said, “It’s time to go, son.” 

They both walked down to the street and got in their car. The car didn’t move.

Eventually, the father got out of the car and came back to where I stood by my old friends. He asked what I wanted for the whole box. We settled on a price, he picked up the box and headed back down to his car. 

Over his shoulder, I heard him say, “My son liked your story and wanted to have these instruments.” 

— By Richard Hoffstedt, Tribune community columnist


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