|By Nancy Kelly
KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Wouldn’t it be fun to create your own alternative world, a reality that you had full control over and could visit and work on just for the enjoyment of it? A very special gentleman enjoyed that sort of project for decades. With the knowledge of an amateur historian, the skills of a craftsman, the heart of a nature lover, and the 100 acres to pursue his labor of love, he enjoyed decades of creating a miniature settlement called Tamarack, located near Delton, Mich.
He cleared some of the land and left the rest wooded, he built cabins, shops, a motel, and a nature center. He equipped it with late 1800s-early 1900s primitive tools and implements. Any homesteader would have been delighted to take up residence in this community. However, as he approached his 90s, it became evident that it was time to downsize and find a new owner for Tamarack. He made a generous donation to the Valley Family Church, and the facility was renamed Tamarack Valley Camp. The church planned activities for August 2017, for their youth groups, but there was one small problem.
The accumulation of vintage treasures had to go in order to make room for the campers. Jim Pierce of Pierce Auctions received the call that the church needed his help in clearing out the buildings, and Pierce put his energy and knowledge to work. The variety and quality of the items made this a very interesting auction, and at times even auctioneer Jim Pierce would say “I don’t have any idea what this is”. Usually someone in the crowd would call out the identity of the mystery piece and everyone would nod in appreciation.
On the day of the sale, it was necessary to run two rings, so Pierce was assisted by auctioneer Alvin Yoder.
The Tamarack collection had been carefully curated to represent a period in history when tools were manual and skilled labor was required, both in the workshop and in the kitchen. It felt like each artifact had a purpose in the theme. Located in the center of the auction barn were the horse-drawn items. Towering above the rest was the handsome black doctor’s buggy which had been restored and housed indoors. Measuring approximately 8 feet tall, Pierce assured the bidders that the top was removeable for transporting. As the serious bidders stepped up, the process began and the final bid of $300 claimed this treasure. Alongside the doctor’s buggy was a cutter (a small sleigh-type vehicle) in excellent condition featuring a wooden box painted dark green with neat white detailing on the side. The metal runners and sturdy shafts made it ready for a dash through the snow. An older couple nearly danced with joy when their high bid of $100 procured their purchase. A more utilitarian vehicle was a wooden, two-wheeled hay wagon or cart that looked well-worn but was still in very usable condition. It left for a new job with a high bid of $145. Individual wheels also proved popular, whether they were to be used as spares, or as decorative lawn art. A single, 4-foot tall wooden wheel left with a high bid of $45, while a pair of steel wheels, perhaps from a horse-drawn hay rake, were claimed with a high bid of $40 for the pair.
Numerous massive, sturdy wooden oxen yokes were offered, and proved to be popular. The auctioneer declined to hold them up for consideration, as they were much too heavy for a human to lift. In excellent condition, they were ready to take on a strenuous workload, or hang as a decoration in a lodge or cabin. The most massive one drew a $75 bid, and others left for $45-65 each. There was a partially-carved one, looking like it might have been a work in progress, as well as a much smaller yoke for a person to wear across the back of their neck to haul buckets of water that sold for $10.
Hand-carved items, 100-year-old furnishings, and authentic useful devices proved to be the most in demand. A wooden cupboard with two shelves and a single door that stood about 4-feet tall was painted pale yellow, but it was revealed that it was constructed of mahogany wood, including two large boards that made up the back. It was unclear if it would remain intact, or be taken apart for the valuable wood to be reclaimed and repurposed. Either way, it proved to be highly desirable, with a final bid of $200 taking it home. An open tool tray with a carved handle showcased workmanship of an earlier time, and was eagerly taken with a bid of $25. Another larger, rustic wooden toolbox with a hinged lid crossed the block with a final bid of $40.
There might have been a shop or barn on the original property that served as a museum to introduce those who visited to the ways of the past. A large wooden sign at the sale proudly bore the slogan “The power that cleared the land.” One could imagine the numerous tools seen at this sale displayed with explanations and examples of their uses. For example, there was a one-person cross cut saw that closed at $30 while a pair of rustic frame saws sold for $8 each. A very simple but effective bench with a locking wooden vise apparatus controlled by a foot pedal provided a very stable method for performing draw shaving. Pierce took time to explain its function before selling it for a high bid of $25.
A very primitive wooden harness mending bench and attached tool was claimed with a high bid of $50 and a large, single wooden wheeled seeder finished at $35. In the same area, a hand-cranked McCormick cream separator with an extra centrifuge closed with a high bid of $40.
The nature center featured a sort of bird sanctuary, and the owner showed his creativity and skills as he had constructed several hand-made bird cages, along with large, commercially-produced options for holding large populations or large individual birds. One particularly unusual, eye-catching cage stood about 4-feet tall and was designed in the shape of a lighthouse. This popular option was claimed with a high bid of $55. There was also an educational model that showed six numbered bird nests inside the cage and a set of corresponding cards to identify what bird made what nest.
Of course, there are always items that are hidden in among the inventory that jump out when the bidding begins to take off. One such item was a small, roughly 10-inch tall, Mail Pouch Tobacco thermometer. It required a final bid of $140 to take it home. Quietly hanging on a rack behind other items there lurked a full-length coat made of bear hide. When held up for consideration, many people remarked at how unusual it was. The high bidder smiled as he claimed his purchase for $45. Several beaded purses were housed in a display case until it was their time to emerge. The most desirable one left with a high bid of $50, while others sold for slightly less. A box containing old photographs and newspaper clipping was firmly clutched by the successful high bidder who won it with a $50 bid, while two pairs of Victorian leather shoes in very good condition found a new home for $23 per pair. Several old bottles were offered on this day, but the one earning the most attention was the 12-inch tall Anheuser Busch clear glass lock-top bottle with the words “Do Not Sell” embossed on the side that finished with a high bid of $60. Among the stoneware crocks and jugs, a J. C. Bernhardt’s Sons whiskey jug with cork drew the highest final bid at $45.
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