Hoarder or collector; it’s a matter of semantics

“It’s not really hoarding if it’s cool stuff.” 

—Poster seen on Pinterest

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“Thank God for the hoarders,“ proclaimed Terry McKenzie at Chrome Reflections Motorcars in Longview last week. 

That moment of appreciation was realized as we discussed a rarely seen vintage piece of automotive service equipment displayed on the coffee table in the classic and collectible vehicle dealership lobby. The metal frame supporting an inverted glass bottle with a small tube extending downward through the lid, to me, more closely resembled a barnyard chicken watering device than anything automotive.

“It was for adding water to car batteries,” Terry explained. “A gentleman with a large collection of items saved from his father’s service stations that closed many years ago brought it in.” While we admired the antique auto piece, we also marveled at old things considered junk and lost to time that survive and are resurrected from someone’s hoarded collection—moments in life that are near to my heart.

At one time 30-plus years ago, I ran newspaper ads wanting to buy old records, signs, and car parts. My conversation with Terry reminded me of one such call years ago. “I bought some property down south of Shreveport,” the caller said. “It has an old country store and auto shop that’s been closed for decades. I need to tear it down and will make someone a deal on these old car parts.” Statements like that always start my motor to revving. “Gimme three hours,” was my eager reply. “Wait, make it two.”

I returned to Center late that night with a truckload of dust-covered Ford parts from the 1950s still in their aged boxes. I’ve since used, sold, or given away many of those parts. Yet, a good-sized portion of that hoarded find remains in my shop today, along with other auto-related “stuff” collected for who knows how many years.

Terry and I laughed at his newly minted, “Thank God for the hoarders,” saying last week. But, the thought later occurred to me: “Could I be a hoarder?” 

“Heaven forbid—if you organize it, it’s not hoarding,” I assured myself. “I’m a collector.” Prompted by that panicky rationalization, I started to take stock of my collections, those in my garage and beyond. Things like a library of books dating to my college textbooks from 1967 through 1971 sharing several bookcases in my home office (recently dubbed “The Relic’s Room”) that houses hundreds of publications on a variety of subjects. Psychology, American automobiles, Texas history, Biblical topics, journalism, aviation, to name a few. Not to mention a prized first edition copy of “The Specialist” by Chic Sales that my mother’s father gave my dad some 75 years ago.

Other shelves are lined with phonograph records dating to their inception 100 years ago. Despite advances in technology, to my ears, there is no substitute for enjoying the music while watching their colorful labels spin. Once an extensive collection, I’ve downsized in recent years to something in the neighborhood of 2,500 or so … if you count storage areas and closets around my house. That does not count, however, what was once the linen closet. That is reserved for an extensive assortment of automotive magazines spanning 60 years, plus a first edition copy of Life, the magazine’s premiere issue dated November 23, 1936.

I never thought of myself as a hoarder, long ago convinced that collecting things is just a part of who I am. When my kids were young, daughter Robin was doing her best to help by tugging at a box of books during a move. “Dad,” she exclaimed. “Why don’t you collect something like butterflies or stamps.”

“I did collect stamps when I was in high school,” I told her. “Still have them. They’re in that box we just loaded. Or, maybe they’re in one of those boxes stacked over there by the wall.”

After deciding my collections are cool stuff, for the time being, I’m secure in the knowledge that I’m not a hoarder. It’s all a matter of semantics, and should that change, I’ll just call Terry up, and he will remind me, “Thank God for the hoarders.”

—Leon Aldridge

(Photo at top of page—One just never knows when they might need a harmonic balancer pulley for a 50s or 60s high performance Chevrolet engine, or a vacuum heater valve assembly, headlamp trim, or glove box lock and key set for a mid-50s Ford. Therefore, I’ve kept these new old stock original parts still in the boxes, and lots more like them, for about 35 years, or is it 40?)

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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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