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The other day I was building shelves for my office. I clamped two boards together with two c clamps. These clamps were my father’s. They’re as good now as they were the day he bought them. C clamps don’t break. In fact, looking at these heavy duty clamps, I’m not sure I could break them.
My dad used them.
I use them.
My kids use (well, play with) them.
My grandkid’s grandkids will use them.
An Old School Rule sited here is “Buy the best and you only cry once.” Here’s a slight variation.
Buy stuff that lasts forever and you and your descendants only buy once.
I actually became a little sentimental looking at, of all things, these heavy, clunky c clamps. I thought of my late dad and then I looked at over at my eldest son, the grandson he never met. I watched Junior play with one of the clamps. He was trying to figure out which way to turn it to make it close, just like I must have when I was his age. Perhaps with that exact clamp.
There’s much to be said for the sentimental emotional side of purchases that last forever — or even pretty close to it. It is a feeling, a shadow of immortality that we just don’t get that often this side of of death.
Then there’s the money side. When you buy something with long lasting value, it can be like getting it for free. Look at a 6 inch c clamp. Today it costs about $11. I have c clamps just like it that are at least 60 years old. That works to about one and a half cents a month. That’s about as close to free as I need to get. I must have, if bought new, at least $150 worth of them. They will never wear out. And, unlike some more modern alternatives, they always work. The more frugal side of my nature likes that I’ll never have to buy one. Like my Saddleback Leather wallet — Guaranteed for 100 years — it’s going to be around a long, long time.
Finally, if you’re not throwing away as much stuff, you might get to meet former veep Al Gore. He might even give you a ride in a private jet or one of his huge homes.
15 Forever Purchases
With this in mind, here’s a list of fifteen purchases that last forever, or at least pretty darn close. In this list you’ll repeatedly see a qualifying term, “good”. Junky tools are junk the day you buy them. They usually prove that fairly soon. Good tools keep proving they’re good for decades. Some of the items need a certain amount of maintenance to retain their value, but an Old School Man doesn’t hold that against them, because he knows he needs a certain amount of maintenance himself.
#1 Good quality handtools (C clamps included) Hammers, chisels, crowbars, shovels, wrenches, vise grips, vises, levels, Alabama left-handed monkey wizzles, post diggers — all of these can last generations. “Not leaving them out in the rain” is about the only maintenance they need. If you started to google Alabama left-handed monkey wizzles, please administer a face palm.
#2 A double-edge safety razor Unlike it’s disposable, multi-blade descendants, a good safety razor, like my 1959 Gillette Fatboy, will work as well today as it did over FIFTY years ago when it was made. (While this will be covered in a future post, the quality & experience of the shave is better, too.)
#3 Land Before we moved to our current home, we looked at a place with a hundred acres. To get there we got off the interstate, then went on a state road, then a country road, then a back road, then a dirt road, then an “Is this actually a road?” to the top of a hill. While I was interested in the property, the Smokin’ Hot Wife started to get nervous when I entered “grocery store” into the GPS and smoke started coming out of it. Apparently the nearest “civilization” was about an hour away. So we ended up on a much smaller homestead with civilization about ten minutes away. But even with the real world that close, we still have a wooded hillside, a pond, a stream, room for chickens and (hopefully) a cow or two, and a huge backyard — which will functionally become a moderate sized backyard if we get the cows.What I’m getting at is the value of land and the space that comes with it. Not the market value. (To put that in perspective, our mortgage is less than the average rent of a Manhattan apartment.) I’m talking about life value. This morning two of my boys went out in the woods and shot their new toy bow and arrows. Apparently our woods are infested with imaginary bears. They loved it. That’s the value I’m talking about. That’s a value that can last from generation to generation.
#4 Good books Unless you toss a book in the rain, a moldy basement or a fireplace, they can last forever. I could offer my own words on this, but frankly C.S. Lewis did it much better
“I am a product […of] endless books. My father bought all the books he read and never got rid of any of them. There were books in the study, books in the drawing room, books in the cloakroom, books (two deep) in the great bookcase on the landing, books in a bedroom, books piled as high as my shoulder in the cistern attic, books of all kinds reflecting every transient stage of my parents’ interest, books readable and unreadable, books suitable for a child and books most emphatically not. Nothing was forbidden me. In the seemingly endless rainy afternoons I took volume after volume from the shelves. I had always the same certainty of finding a book that was new to me as a man who walks into a field has of finding a new blade of grass.”
“If one has to choose between reading the new books and reading the old, one must choose the old: not because they are necessarily better but because they contain precisely those truths of which our own age is neglectful.”
Substitute coffee for tea and I’m with him on this last one.
“You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.”
#5 Good jewelry I once had to sit through an acquaintance telling me about every one of the 27-1/2 functions his new watch had. Apparently the only thing this watch couldn’t do was sound an alarm the moment I wanted him to stop. Boredom, it’s the other white meet. On another occasion a friend gestured to his watch and said, “This was my grandpap’s watch,” and I was immediately interested.
#7 A good thermos Not much to say about this, other than my Univac thermos I fill most days is about fifty years old and still keeps the coffee hot. Plus the thing looks manly. You could club an elephant seal with this thing, well… not that you would want to, but… if you ever wanted a caffeine fix AND you needed to take out the world’s largest land carnivore… you know.
#8 A tree You want walnuts? I got your walnuts. Barring thunder strikes or overly ambitious packs of squirrels, I’ll have walnuts on my property for a long time. The walnut trees will be here long after I’m gone. A little pruning, a little maintenance and care and we’ll have walnuts for generations.
#9 Zippo lighters The Zippo Guarantee sums it up. “It works or we fix it for free.”
#10 The right car OK, this doesn’t include the minivan my wife and I haul our kids around in. Another entry on my personal bucket list is, “When the boys are the right age, restore a classic car together.”
#11 Old School Kitchen tools Good knives, cast iron skillets, once you got’em, you got’em forever. Think copper, iron, aluminum. Don’t think
#12 Good firearms I will write more about this, but right now I’m watching this cool TV show where men are shooting 100 year old Colt Peacemakers. I’ll have to get back to you on this.
#13 Barbells and similar Old School fitness equipment Here’s something you might now know, but once you know it will seem very obvious. I’m listening to a marketing consultant discuss exercise equipment sold in infomercials. He says,“Did you ever notice nearly all of them are able to fold up and slide underneath a bed? Here’s why: this dramatically reduces the number of returns.” But barbells and squat racks? They don’t fold up but they don’t break, either.
Right now in my office/den/mancave I am three feet from a York Olympic barbell set and a squat rack. They just don’t go bad. It is as useable as the day I bought it thirty years ago. Getting me to use them more often is a different story, so here’s the story: When we moved into our new home about a dozen folks from our new church came to help us move in. (Gotta love that in a church.) Previous to them coming I had set up the squat rack and barbell in the office. It was surrounded my dozens of yet unpacked boxes. Aaron, my pastor, comes and sees the squat rack and asks, “Chris, is that a prop you use for work?” (My work involves giving presentations, frequently with large props.) I look at him and think, “Wow. I am out of shape. Aaron sees the barbell. Aaron sees the barbell plates. Aaron sees the squat rack. But Aaron sees me and thinks, “No, that can’t be workout equipment.”
He may have a point.
#14 A Bowling ball OK, maybe not a serious entry, but Jim Gaffigan’s hilarious routine about bowling mentions how they never wear out. You can see him make the point, along with the entire routine, here.
#15 A jar of beets When I was in second grade our class went on a field trip to a far. While there we were allowed to can some produce. I canned a jar of beets. Fast forward about twenty-five years.
I’m visiting my parents and I’m in the section of our basement where Mom kept the canned goods. Amongst the cans of beans, peas, mixed vegetable and bottles of Dad’s homemade wine I see… this decades old jar of beets.
I am Indiana Jones meets Mother Earth News.
I immediately asked Mom about it and she said in a semi-embarrassed, semi-sentimental tone, “Well, when you came home with it from the farm you were so excited. I just couldn’t throw it away.”
And now sitting in my home and (hopefully) the homes of one of my kids someday, is not a jar of beets, but a quirky, funny reminder of a unique family story and a testament that a mother’s affection can express itself in the oddest of ways.
So what did I forget to put on the list? Tell me in the comments.
Keep it Old School, my friend
The Old Man, Chris Dixon
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