Chris Schwarz's Blog

Woodworking Legends (or Myths)

Our tale starts at Mike Ditka’s restaurant in Chicago during a tool show. Someone at our table had just spilled red wine on Bill Krier (editor of WOOD magazine) and the place was swirling with waiters trying pat him down and clean up the mess.

That’s when the guy across the table caught my eye and lowered his voice. “Say, have you ever heard about the tool vault at Stanley?” he asked.

The guy had been a product manager at Stanley several years before and he said that Stanley had a vault where they kept one new-in-the-box item of everything the company had produced. I said he was pulling my leg. He swore it was true.

Imagine, he said, a new No. 1 plane in the box, still fresh from the factory floor. New 750 chisels still in the wrappers. Even the much-hated fiberboard planes had to be worth something if they had never touched fiberboard, right?

During the last 10 years, I’ve made a few inquires at Stanley and sent interns to check out the story. Nobody knew what I was talking about.

Fast-forward to a few years later when our magazine staff is hosting a dinner with some officials from Porter-Cable and Delta Machinery. Somehow the topic came up about how there are all these great woodshops on military bases.

One of the Delta guys said the military was a good customer. In fact, they had bought hundreds of table saws, sealed them up and buried them in the desert. Why? In the event of a nuclear holocaust, there would be functioning table saws that could be used to rebuild the country.

Believe it?

And our last “Tale from the Wood” for the week comes from reader Bill Taggart:

In my previous career, I used to travel a lot all over the continental United States. I was at a Cracker Barrel somewhere out in the Midwest one time and saw a couple of pretty nice tools on the wall.  I called the manager over and asked him if I might buy them.  He said that they had people ask that once in a while, but they weren’t allowed to sell them because they belonged to the restaurant. Then he said words that, to this day, make me feel more than slightly nauseated.

He said that Cracker Barrel corporate had people whose job it was to seek out and find all the artifacts on display in the restaurants.  He said they had a big warehouse in Kentucky with about 10,000 items in it that they used to stock the restaurants.

He did say that some things were reproductions, though.  I think those are mostly the advertising signs and such.  But you can tell that the tools are mostly the real deal.

Next time I go to a Cracker Barrel I’m taking my Milwaukee impact driver. Think anyone will notice?

– Christopher Schwarz

9 thoughts on “Woodworking Legends (or Myths)

  1. Rick Yochim

    Look, as a retired military guy and woodworker BEFORE I went into the Army (and so paid attention to these things in my travels) I think I need to step in here.

    Every single military base around the world has woodshops. Of 2 kinds. One is for the the facilities engineers people to keep the post, base, camp or station in good repair, and the other is for the use of the military folks and their families for recreational purposes. That’s a lot of woodworking machinery to buy, maintain (usually poorly) and/or replace. DoD is the largest (by far) of all the federal agencies with, obviously, the largest budget. So they buy things. Some of it gets stored and then sold off on occasion becasue procurement mistakes happen, bases close, and requirements change, but most of it is put to use.

    And…

    That which is not sold off or otherwise washed out of the system is sent, a guy once told me, to Roswell NM and kept in super secret underground vaults so that when World War III comes those left behind can make tools and weapons and stuff and get ready for the alien invasion which is bound to follow and we need these things because all the Cracker Barrels will have been destroyed and there’ll be no more old tools and stuff left and that’s the truth.

    Rick Yochim
    Purcelville VA

    Who believes just about everything he reads and hears.

  2. Anonymous

    Anonymous Stanley employee says: The Stanley Vault is real. I’ve been it it. It’s very dusty and fairly unorganized, but it exists!

  3. Jason Wood

    I don’t know about stockpiling for a nuclear holocaust, but I do know that the military does stockpile woodworking equipment for use at later dates. I have talked with Jeff Mahacheck at the Northfield Foundry which still makes a full line of industrial woodworking machines. He has told me that he has sent out many orders to the military that he knows will be stockpiled for later use.

    In fact he told me a story of a guy that called him up and ordered six 36" bandsaw tables. Jeff asked him why just the tables. The guy said that he bought a large crate at a government auction for $1200.00 with out even looking inside and knowing what he was buying. Once he had time to open it up he found out he had purchased six 36" Northfield bandsaws with out tables. Jef then told him to look in the crate for a false bottom because when Northfield sends out an order like that they pack the tables in the bottom of the crate. Sure enough all six tables were in the false bottom.

    So here is an example of the military buying equipment, storing it, and then selling it because they never used it. Believe it or not.

    Jason Wood

  4. John Gray

    Chris if you really want the have the 2 planes you saw at Cracker Barrel take pictures of them and find junk planes that look similar and do a switcheroo. Take a brace and bit I think your impact driver would draw lots of attention. LOL

  5. Bill

    Well since it was my story, I figured I’d finally research it a bit. From Cracker Barrel’s website:

    "Folks visiting any Cracker Barrel Old Country Store® location may find themselves looking at things that can be found in a real old country store — old advertising signs, farm equipment, early kitchen appliances, photos, and more.

    Most folks are surprised to learn all the old toys, tools, utensils, signs, and advertisements are original. Since the artifacts in every store are unique, we like to think of every Cracker Barrel Old Country Store location as a museum of Americana.

    If you want to know more about these artifacts, check out the links below.

    Cracker Barrel Décor – Just who finds all those antiques in every location?"

    I clicked on the link as they suggest, which yielded this:

    "A profile of Larry Singleton: Manager of Cracker Barrel’s Décor Warehouse

    Few people realize every artifact at their local Cracker Barrel Old Country Store® location is authentic. When the first Cracker Barrel opened in 1969, Co-founder Danny Evins asked some friends to help him find enough artifacts to put in that first store. Danny turned to Don and Kathleen Singleton, owners of an antique store in Lebanon. Danny asked them to find the antiques that people would expect to see in the old country stores.

    So off they went. Don and Kathleen would visit antique stores, flea markets, estate sales, and auctions. Their eight-year-old son Larry would often go along for the ride. As a youngster, he recalls how Dad loved to collect marbles and how Mom would always look for beaded purses. Larry had fun on these "hunts." He never thought he would end up doing it for a living.

    By 1977, Cracker Barrel had opened 13 locations in Tennessee and Georgia. Don and Kathleen were very busy trying to find artifacts to put in these new locations. At this point, Larry was a teenager working in construction. Many of the decorations in his home were artifacts his mother sent him. In 1980, Larry left his construction job and started working for Cracker Barrel. His parents wanted to slow down so they persuaded Larry to take over the role of finding artifacts.

    As Cracker Barrel expanded across the country, Larry understood how his role was changing. He was responsible for finding all the furnishings for these new locations.

    Cracker Barrel now operates 570 stores in 41 states. Not only has Larry purchased the artifact for each store, he’s collected more than 100,000 additional artifacts that are currently stored in the décor warehouse."

    Oops. My memory failed me – it was 100,000, not merely 10,000.

    Now I feel even more nauseated.

    There’s more to read, but I didn’t want to paste it all. Read it for yourself at
    http://www.crackerbarrel.com/mediaroom-ourdecor.cfm?doc_id=790

  6. Chris C

    I don’t find story number 1 that far fetched other than
    the "secret vault" part. Most companies who have been
    around a long time do keep historical artifacts, but they
    tend to be on display not in secret vaults.

    The military saving table saws in case of a nuclear holocaust
    is absurd. As if that would be a concern at that point or
    even a reasonable place to start.

    And number 3: I don’t even see why this is in the same
    category since it seems perfectly plausible. They get them
    somewhere because you’ve seen them yourself. Why not from
    a warehouse that they operate?

    But I did know this one guy who went to New Orleans,
    drank too much and woke up missing a kidney. What happened
    was…oh never mind! :->

    cc

  7. Jeff Moorse

    The first 2 may be myths, but the third is probably not. I’ve seen a business case study of at least one national company that’s in the business of supplying "antiques" for use as decorations in restaurants and bars. They range from toys and kitchen utensils to farming and woodworking tools. I suspect that’s why I had so much trouble finding a good cast iron saw vise.

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