How a country garage sale earned more than a few bucks

A wooden box and several tool chests full of old and vintage mechanics' tools.
The first step in the Rusty Metal Farm garage sale was figuring out what various and sundry tools actually were. | Photo by Julia Bayly

Hold a garage sale, they said. It will be fun, they said. You’ll make a few bucks, they said. 

One of these days, I am going to track down “they” and have a few words about what’s fun and what’s not. 

But in the meantime, I can say that, while not exactly fun, the first Rusty Metal Farm garage sale was productive — and, yeah, I made a few bucks.

Lord knows it was time. Probably long past time to weed out the tools, parts, equipment and stuff that filled my late husband Patrick’s giant shop and even larger garage. I just had no idea exactly how much I was dealing with.

Awhile back I wrote about all the rusty bolts that were stashed in various outbuildings here on Rusty Metal Farm, but that was just the tip of a very large, and very rusty iceberg.

Turned out, every shelf, every cabinet, every drawer and much of the floor space in those buildings was taken up with something having to do with Patrick’s love of vintage farm machinery restoration and machinist fabrication. Much of it I had not looked at, much less used or needed in the 12 years since his passing. 

This was pointed out by my friend Kim when I showed her the four sets of transmission pullers in the shop and told her I probably did not need all four. She looked at me and said, “You really do not need one.”

Not long after that, the culling began. With a lot of help from some very good friends. Because, well, when it comes to sorting tools and rusty widgets, it takes a village.

The first challenge was figuring out just what the heck some of this stuff even was. Luckily, there are plenty of folks out there who know the difference between a bushing-puller and a piston reamer. I, however, am not one of them. 

The next challenge was sorting. And trying to figure out why anyone needs multiple sets of drill bits, wrenches, sockets, screwdrivers and Allen wrenches.

I mean, I get replacing a broken or lost drill bit. But can someone please tell me why that means buying an entire new set of bits, not just the one missing or broken? The result is, of course, multiple sets with the same bit broken or missing from each one.

Same story with the wrenches and sockets, but I did manage to cobble together complete sets of each from what I found in the tool cabinets. Ditto the screwdrivers. 

As for the dozens of Allen wrenches and metal punches? All I can imagine is they somehow reproduce on their own in the dark draws of tool chests.

There was more, lots more. Fancy looking old gauges to test engine compression. Strange medieval looking devices I was told were used to press bearings. And yes, plenty of nuts, bolts and screws — some brand new, others rust coated.

Given that this was my first go at a garage sale, there were several details I had not considered. This is again where good friends stepped in to assist or take over things like pricing items, making sure I had enough small bills and coins to make change and that signs were placed in strategic locations to attract customers all the way to Rusty Metal Farm.

Also helpful was having these friends on hand for the sale — Deb and Matt from my university days and Meg, a friend and former fellow journalist. It was also a gorgeous, sunny day and there are worse ways to spend a day in northern Maine than sitting on your deck and talking to people who come up the driveway.

Which brings me to my next big challenge. 

Sure, I was reconciled to selling things, but what was tough was resisting the urge to provide every single detail about an item’s history, use, quirks and what Patrick did with it over the years. Just because the hosts on Antiques Roadshow like to hear the provenance of a specific object does not mean so, too, do garage sale folk.

Tools and related gear set up on tables in front of a large garage with open bay doors.
Once everything was on tables, it was hard to imagine how it had fit in the shop and garage in the first place. | Photo by Julia Bayly

Luckily, I had a pretty good distraction in the form of my final challenge. Reggie the cat — Rusty Metal Farm’s elder statesman. There was no way he was going to be left out of the garage sale action or let anything leave without his observing and commenting. Friendly, social and ever-so-nosey, Reggie greeted every person who came up the driveway, followed some around as they looked over what was for sale, hopped up on tables to get a better look for himself and allowed some people to pet him and even pick him up.

He was so involved in all of this that at one point I spotted him sauntering by with a price tag stuck to his whiskers. 

As for the challenge he presented — that was making sure he did not end up in someone’s car and driven away. I am happy to report that did not happen.

Tiny Rusty Metal Farm dog Chiclet did not have that option. Given as tiny and fast-moving as she is, I did not want to risk her getting stepped on or run over. But that did not mean she missed out on the excitement. At least two people who I had never met before specifically asked for her by name so they could meet her. Apparently her fame precedes her.

By the end of the sale, a lot of stuff had left the farm, even though a great deal more remains. But it’s a start and even the biggest, rustiest of icebergs can only be reduced in size over time. 

In the meantime, if you see me buying drill bits, please stop me.

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