Rescuing a Piece of History

Have you ever had one of those moments in life when you wanted to be a blessing to someone but in the process you actually felt like you were the one that was blessed? That’s how it happened in this story. It actually almost didn’t happen except for what I believe was “divine intervention”.

My husband and I decided we wanted to buy an antique cash register. We just loved the artistry and the detailed craftsmanship. We found one on Craig’s List and made arrangements to meet and purchase it. Only to find out when we arrived that the seller had already sold it to someone else who had come earlier. At the moment we were angry at the injustice, but turned back to Craig’s List in search of another.

Enter our friend into the story. A dear friend we would have never met had we not been double crossed by a creeper on Craig’s List. As it turned out, our friend worked his whole life for National Cash Register Company, as a cash register repairman. And as a side business, also restored and sold these beautiful registers. At one point in his career, he had an inventory of 900 antique cash registers.

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Our very first cash register

For some reason that day that we went to pick ours up, we became fast friends. Preserving and restoring pieces of machinery such as these is a dying art. Our friend is one of the few left with that ability. And there are virtually none in our generation  with the knowledge to continue on preserving it.

We soon realized the vast amount of work he had in his shop, which even at almost 80 he still enjoyed doing. And this dying art was something that we wanted to help preserve, so we became his apprentices. Every few weeks, we would drive up to his shop and help him with projects, and try to learn just a little bit about restoring these beautiful pieces of early 1900s history.

As we got to know him more, I discovered that he needed help updating his website. He showed me an estimate from a company that wanted to charge him $1000s to create a simple website – highway robbery! I knew I could create a website for a fraction of that price. My payment? This gorgeous 3 drawer cash register base that I plan on turning into an end table. One I will never sell because it reminds me of him. (read ahead to see how I’ve turned other bases into furniture!)

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Even though we won’t be able to fully carry on restoring entire cash registers, I began to envision a way to rescue the antique cash register parts and create all kinds of beautiful pieces! I created trinket shelves out of the drawers, cleaned the brass to make ornate shelf decor and even made “bouquets” out of the cash register flags.

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I even built tables out of the wooden drawer bases.

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Recently we found out that our dear friend is retiring from the cash register restoration business. He is moving to a smaller house and all his remaining registers will be sold at auction. It was a bittersweet day for us as we realized soon we will not longer be able to come and help our friend in his workshop. But happy for him that he can move on to a new stage in his life. But our friendship goes beyond working in the shop; we will continue to visit him often!

Here’s what I’ve learned from this amazing experience:

  • I wish more of the younger generation would take the time to learn from the older.
  • I wish I had done it more in my life than I have.
  • I wish we would interact more face to face, get our hands dirty, and learn new things instead of staring down at a screen.
  • I wish we would step outside our comfort zones more, and interact with people that we have less in common with.
  • I wish we would step outside of our comfort zone so we can see and meet the needs around us.
  • I wish we would stop being so engrossed in our own lives, get to know others and in turn become better human beings and more well-rounded people.
  • We always find so much to disagree on (mostly from behind a screen). Maybe we’d get along better if we did the above things.

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