by Harry L. Rinker
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference
From: “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost
Linda and I stopped for the morning in Gillsville, Georgia, during a journey to take our newly acquired 2013 VW Beetle convertible down to our condo in Altamonte Springs, Florida. Linda finally retired on July 15, 2019. We now plan to spend late fall, winter and early spring in Florida and return to Michigan for late spring, summer and early fall. A two car-family, we decided we needed a “Florida” car. The 2013 VW Beetle convertible fit the bill.
We spent the night at a Holiday Inn Express in Commerce, Georgia, before heading to Gillsville. As we traveled along the backcountry roads, I was remined of one of my favorite poems – Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken. Thanks to the inspiration I received from this poem, I made it a point to take less traveled roads. Collecting made, and continues to make, this possible.
[Author’s Aside: I will reveal why Linda and I went to Gillsville at the end of this column. If you cannot stand the suspense, do an Internet search.]
When individuals ask me where I have traveled, my stock answer is “all 50 states, most of Europe, parts of Central and South American and Australia.” Come to think about it, a plane on which I was flying once landed in Reykjavik, Iceland. We disembarked briefly. I do not think I should really count that on my country list.
When I ask individuals where they have visited, they usually offer up a list of cities—Berlin, Brussels, Chicago, London, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Paris, Rome, Seattle and Sidney. Been there. Visited them all—most more than once. The tendency is to talk about places with which others can identify. There also is the issue of bragging rights. Make a list and check it twice. Hello, fellow world traveler; I am one, too.
If I answered Herrnhut or Seiffen, Germany; Knightstown, Indiana; Dyersville, Iowa; Berea, Kentucky; Smith Island, Maryland; Seagrove, North Carolina; Piqua, Ohio; or Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania; most individuals would have a blank look on their face. I know what they are thinking: “What the heck is he talking about?” While these individuals have no idea of the adventures they missed, I accept their “why should we care” response. Indeed, why should they?
In the 21st century, a great deal of emphasis is placed by younger generations on the need to experience adventures. Most of these adventures actually are standard ho-hum vacation packages—trips to exotic places where hundreds, thousands and even millions of people travel. These are not the less traveled roads. Less traveled roads are not included in prepaid tours.
I prefer the Star Trek approach—go where no man has gone before. My adventures are individualistic. I admit that others have gone before me to most of the locations. I prefer to think each traveler personalized his/her visit to the location, making every visit an individual one to the person making it.
In the weeks spent deciding how to approach this column, I found myself making a mental list of the less taken roads that impacted who and what I became. Although most roads were collecting-related, some were not. The other less traveled roads provided adventures of historical discovery and satisfied my curiosity.
The first less traveled roads I took were local. During my junior and senior years at Hellertown-Lower Saucon (PA) Joint Junior-Senior High School, I worked with Robert Hoppes, a science teacher, to document the remaining one-room schoolhouses in Northampton County’s Lower Saucon Township. Hoppes approached the task as a grand adventure as we traveled the intricate maze of country roads. At the time, I did not realize that I would travel these same roads and their surrounds when searching for the Bucks and Northampton County cemeteries where my German ancestors were buried.
In high school and through my first three years of college, I worked as a guide at Lost River Caverns, owned by the Gilman family and located in Hellertown, Pennsylvania. As I gained experience, Pop and later Bob Gilman assigned me the task of delivering promotional flyers for the cave to other Pennsylvania caves, historic sites, hotels, motels, tourist sites and restaurants within a 50-mile radius. I was encouraged to visit the caves and historic sites and I did, picking up a souvenir or two at most of them.
In 1966, representatives of the New York Canal Society visited Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to do the advanced preparation for a tour of the Lehigh Canal. Representatives stopped at Historic Bethlehem, where I worked as the Director of Archival Research, to ask if someone on the staff could go with them to help them find the location of the locks and dams. I was assigned to accompany them. When the actual tour ended, I was the first president of the newly formed Pennsylvania Canal Society. No one questioned how little I knew about the American canal system. It was up to me to correct this.
I learned in a hurry. I took a threefold approach: 1) travel the length of each American canal; 2) build a reference library; and, 3) collect canal memorabilia. For the next 10 years, I discovered parts of America I never knew existed. With a few exceptions, most of the canal aqueducts, dams, locks and tunnels had fallen into disrepair or vanished. My travels took me for a walk on the towpath through the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal’s Paw Paw tunnel and through the dark, hazardous spillway tunnel of the No. 10 West inclined plane on the Morris Canal. I spent time exploring Canadian, English and German canals. My car still stops along the road when I spot a canal ditch.
Of course, the greatest number of less traveled roads is associated with my collecting. Collecting is one of the most rewarding adventures a person can experience. There are multiple levels. The first is the visit to the sources—not the New York City auction houses such as Bonham’s, Christie’s, and Sotheby’s but Alderfer’s in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, and Garth’s in Delaware, Oho. Antiques malls and shows took me to Adamstown and Kutztown, Pennsylvania; Brimfield, Massachusetts; Kane County, Illinois; Long Beach and Pasadena, California; and Portland Expo, Oregon. I antiqued my way across America multiple times.
The second set of less traveled collecting roads involved travel to the locations where things I collected, or in which I was interested, were made. I visited Williamstown, West Virginia, where I met the members of the Fenton family. I went to Dyersville, Iowa, to visit the Ertl factory but ended the day by running the bases at “The Field of Dreams.”
In the course of my professional career, I have been privileged to visit hundreds of collectors in the United States and abroad. Estelle Zalkin invited me to her Treasure Island, Florida, home to see her collection of over 10,000 thimbles. I stayed overnight. A day’s viewing did not do justice to the collection.
The same holds true for authors and editors. Don Raycraft, an author of several books on country collectibles, and his wife entertained me in their Bloomington, Illinois, home. I visited Kyle Husefloen at his Grecian Revival home in Galena, Illinois. The afternoon I spent with George Michaels in his Merrimack, New Hampshire, home is one of my most cherished memories. Also, high on the list are the evenings spent with Jeff Hill, editor of the Antique Journal, in his California living room discussing the immediate and long-term future of the antiques and collectibles business.
I wish I had kept a detailed record of the locations where I was invited to do a personal appearance, lecture or teach. The list would include Dothan, Alabama; Butte, Montana; and Beaumont, Texas.
Collectors cherish the roads less traveled they have taken. Each has a personal story associated with it. If readers would like to share some of their favorite roads less traveled stories with me, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Who knows? If I receive enough, I will share them in a future “Rinker on Collectibles” column.
Oops, I almost forgot. I promised to tell you why Linda and I visited Gillsville, Georgia. The purpose was to spend time with Dal Batchaell, Billy Joe Cowan, Savannah Creighton, Dwayne Crocker, and Sandra Hewell. Who are they? All will be revealed in a future “Rinker on Collectibles’ column.
Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Selected letters will be answered in this column. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Photos and other material submitted cannot be returned. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Point Court SE, Kentwood, MI 49512. You also can e-mail your questions to email@example.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered. Copyright © Harry L. Rinker, LLC 2019