From time to time, my wife, Tonya, and I travel around the Pacific Northwest taking our time and stopping where our whims take us. This past weekend, they took us to Aurora, Oregon, a town widely known for it's historic buildings and antique shops. What we didn't know about this quaint, little township is that it started out as a Christian communal settlement. Yes, they were Communists! As were the original Church "members" so many years ago in Palestine. But, I digress.
Originally, this little town was a western offshoot of a group based in Bethel, Missouri. Like the Latter Day Saints in nearby Nauvoo, Illinois, they sought greater religious freedom by trekking west to establish a settlement that would allow them to practice their particular brand of Christianity. Fortunately, they landed in the Oregon Territory as the Aurora Colony and the rest is, as they say, history.
We roamed around town visiting many nice antique shops with a wide range of old stuff, including this nice, little No. 3 hand plane for only $20!
Yes, this was a great find, but I can say with complete candor that most of the other planes, scrapers, marking tools, and rulers I found throughout the little town were covered with that typically fine, invisible sheen of 22k gold that one expects when the word "antique" is bantered about and everything is priced accordingly. What we did not expect to find was one of the most pleasant, carefully curated museums we've ever had the pleasure of frequenting - the Old Aurora Colony Historical Museum.
After watching a short video on the history of the group and loitering about, Cool Volunteer Guy directed us to "the courtyard." What we found there was astonishing - at least for me. Outside in various barns and buildings were woodworking tools of all shapes and sizes. And by sizes, I mean they had everything from small hand planes to a barn-sized treadle lathe - all set up and in fair working condition! The first barn we hit held several seat clamps (not really sure what they're called) for hand scraping with a spokeshave.
This is where they work with children to create their own pegs. Cool Volunteer Guy said they see 4,000+ kids go through the hands-on experience every year. Amazing! Next, we observed the barn-sized treadle lathe.
Imagine having to work this thing with your leg while maintaining the accuracy of your cuts. Next, we stood just a few inches from a workbench that looked strikingly familiar.
See that leg vice? That's how the Old Guys used to make them. There's neither an end vice nor a deadman on this one - they simply drilled dogholes into the edge of the bench. Very cool - and just what I would have done. Finally, we took a peek inside a workshop that makes mine look clean and organized.
Cool Volunteer Guy told us that they have hundreds, if not thousands, of old timey hand planes in storage. Heck, I thought they had them all on display. Of course a real workshop would have been better organized with a more historically accurate workbench, but I still enjoyed this one enormously. What an experience!
Until next time...