New Quotes I Live My Life By

Anybody who knows me knows that I am big on self-improvement. I pick up a lot from the lessons of Freemasonry. I also listen to a lot of Podcasts. Some of them are light podcasts on historical topics, but a lot of them are  self-improvement (Art of Manliness, Tim Ferris Show, Art of Charm) and real estate education (Get Rich Education, Real Estate Guys, Bigger Pockets) and I pull a lot of platitudes from them that seem to stick. I posted about a bunch of them 2 years ago So, here are some of my more recently adopted maxims.

“Do the math and the math will tell you what to do.” Russel Gray of The Real Estate Guys

This is one that I get from the Real Estate Guys and also my good friend and mentor, Charles, who dropped some knowledge on me recently. This applies to any negotiation or deal, but I apply it to a BRRR (Buy, Rehab, Rent, Refinance) real estate strategy. When examining a deal, you have to plug numbers into your Bigger Pockets calculator (or other calculation device) to see how much to pay for the property for based on how much it will cost to do the rehab and how much you can safely pull out of it once the rehab is done. And don’t pay a penny more.

If you have taken the time to work all of these numbers out and you get to the bargaining table and the price goes beyond that point, you should just walk away.

Of course it’s not always that easy because there’s a lot of emotion involved, there’s the myth of sunken costs of time invested, and a whole host of distractions.

A good example of this was given to me by Charlie via anecdote. He was in a meeting with his client who was trying to sell his business. The client had carefully examined the books and the business, and had formulated a valuation of how much he thought the company was worth. When negotiations started, he saw his client getting caught up in the moment and was edging toward taking less money than his valuation. Charlie pulled his client aside and said (I paraphrase) “What about your calculations have changed from before this meeting to now?”

Boom.

His client was ignoring the math screaming out to him to walk and if not for Charlie’s wise counsel, would have walked away from the table feeling pretty bad about taking less than his company was worth.

“Overestimate your costs and underestimate your profit.” Charlie

I’m sure this concept was not coined by my mentor and Masonic Brother Charlie, but he put it  so succinctly that I felt I should use that phrasing. This is such a simple concept. Sometimes when analyzing a deal, it is so tempting to give your calculations slim enough margins to try to make the deal work on paper. “Oh, well, I can shave $4k off the budget if the roof ends up being fine for another couple of years,” or estimating that you will receive the high end of the rent range for that market. (I know, I’ve done this.)

Do not do that. Avoid this line of reasoning at all costs.

If you use conservative estimates for your deal and it’s still a good deal, then if the worst case scenario happens you are still profiting. And when the best case scenario happens, you are all the more in profit.

“Be Willing to Walk Away”

This one is hard for me. How do you just walk away from something that you really want? I’ve definitely made boneheaded concessions because I wanted something so bad. Then there’s the flip side. There’s something that you don’t want all that much, but are kind of interested in, so you make a super low, almost ludicrously low (but still somewhat reasonable) offer and when they push back you just walk away.

Then, as you’re walking away, they say either they’ll take your price or counter-back at what is still a screaming deal… for something that you could have lived without in the first place. So you got a great deal!

The point isn’t to offer on things you don’t want, but to go ahead and make the low ball offer on something that you only want at really low price even if you don’t think they’ll take it.

So, to apply this to something that you do want, you just have to convince yourself that you can do without it. That will give you leverage at the negotiating table.

“Don’t count on motivation; count on discipline.” – Jocko Willink

I was listening to the Tim Ferris podcast while hanging blinds in one of the rentals and the guest was a ex-Navy Seal Jocko Willink (who is a super-human, FYI). One of the people who wrote into the show with questions asked how he stays “motivated.” To which he responded:

“Don’t count of motivation, count on discipline.”

And this totally rocked my world because we always see things about getting motivated and staying motivated, but “not being motivated” is just an excuse to be lazy or put off something hard or that you don’t want to do, but need to. It needs to get done, so you need discipline to hunker down and do it.

 

 

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Misadventures in DIY: Closet Organization/Conversion

(Disclaimer: I’m no handy man. I hope I can inspire other people who are complete DIY novices to try, even if it’s not perfect. That’s why I always mention my terrible errors and sloppiness.)

One of the things about humble beginnings is making them more livable: case in point, our duplex. One of the other complaints that Melanie and I have lobbed is the super crowded closet. Our bedroom closet is 64″ wide with a 30″ opening and it’s only 22″ deep. Melanie couldn’t even reach all the way inside the closet to grab some of her clothes because one of the sides of the closet went back so deep. The crowded, cramped clothes jutted out of the entrance, making it hard to close the closet door. It had this terrible Lowes metal wire shelving that was poorly installed. I understand why the previous Owner did this, because it was a rental unit, and we usually don’t spend too much time making those super nice.

But when Melanie casually mentions that something is inconvenient, I, of course, go to work on a plan that is way more than is necessary to cure the ill by hacking and screwing wood that would make most home improvement professionals cringe.

Onward!

Forgot to take a true before pic, so this one after I got the first part up. FYI: I know these photos suck… I may need some photography classes if I’m gong to keep doing these blog posts.

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I Googled solutions and I came upon an idea to make 2 levels of perpendicular clothing racks and went to work designing it. The plan was to use 1x4s to make strips around the perimeter of the closet to attached the clothing bars to. This would also give me a way to put wood shelving in the top of the closet for storage.

Step 1: I took measurements and drew up a plan

Closet Plan Front003 Closet Plan Side003

Materials:

  • 32′ of yellow pine 1×4 (2 at 16′ lengths)
  • 8′ of round closet rod
  • 1 4’x8′ A/C Plywood
  • 5 Wood closet rod holders (I like the look of wood more)
  • 2-1/2″ Square drive screws
  • 1-1/2″ nails
  • 5 #20 Joiner Biscuits
  • Wood glue
  • Scrap 2×4

All of my lumber was purchased from Siewers Lumber & Millworks, my employer’s supplier here in Richmond, VA. Siewers is a local, family-owned business since 1888 and their lumber is infinitely better than the crap you have to dig through to find only slightly less crappy lumber at Lowes.

Also, I only needed 4 closet rod holders, but I messed one up when I split it in half trying to hammer a nail on it to hold the rod on. Thus, I had to buy another.

Tools:

  • Measuring Tape
  • Pencil
  • Speed Square
  • Level
  • Circular-saw
  • Electric drill/driver
  • Hammer
  • Chop saw
  • Table saw
  • “F” Clamps
  • Saw horses
  • Plate joiner
  • Headlamp

I had access to my employer’s workshop and thus nicer tools than most novices, but a skil-saw can do what any of these saws that I used can do, it just takes longer because of all the steps to make sure you don’t mess up.

Step 2: Cut the 1×4 support band

I cut the 1x4s to the appropriate lengths. To do this, I used the chop saw at the shop.  (I took pictures after the fact, so yes, that is not a 1×4, that is a piece of plywood.)

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Step 3: Installing the band around the perimeter.

First, I used my trusty stud detector and found the studs around the closet.

Once that was done, the first problem that came up is that (like it is all over the house) the walls and floor were uneven, the floor was not level, and the doorway was crooked. None of it uniformly so. With Melanie’s help (and patience) I did the best I could to give a sense of balance and symmetry to the thing.

IMG_20151213_104132[1]So, with sort of a weird un-level, but straight base line using the doorway and floor as a guide, I began screwing (with 2-1/2″ square drive screws) the upper and lower bands around the closet. I had to toe-screw some of these 1×4’s in place to be able to reach the stud. I’m not sure if that’s suppose to be done or not, but I did it anyway because it seemed right!

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I used that shelf to try to make the bands even and contiguous for when I put the top closet shelf in.

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A skilled carpenter would have mitered the corners, or made some other joint to lock the 1×4’s together, but skilled carpenter doesn’t describe me, and the project needed to get done without spending 10 hours and 30 extra linear ft. of 1×4 to finagle a half-decent joint of some kind.

Step 4: Closet Rods

Next was the closet rods. I opted for wood ones, because I feel that they look nicer. I cut the rods to length (and re-cut when I screwed up twice) and then installed the brackets.

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In order to make sure the closet rod didn’t come out when clothes were pulled off it, I hammered a small nail into the bracket to hold it in.

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Step 5. Melanie’s lower closet bar leaving room for longer articles of clothing to hang

The other issue that I had to find a solution for was mounting the clothing rod for the lower level of of the closet while leaving some space for the longer articles of clothing (dresses) to hang down freely from the top bar. The solution was a (shoddily) homemade bracket using a piece of the plywood for the shelving and a 2×4 ripped in half to be a 1×1.

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That 90 degree line right there was to notch it so that it fit around the 1×4 band.

I didn’t have a jig saw, or any fine woodworking tools really, so I just had to make due with my circular saw and coping saw leftover from trimming out my water heater closet…..which is why it looks so sloppy. (1st photo)

I split a 2×4 into two then, once again, use a circular saw to cut a notch for the band. (2nd Photo)

Then I hammered a nail through both sides to attach the 1×1 flanges to the plywood. Ignore my messy nightstand. (3rd Photo)

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It’s bulky, ugly, and, yes, I didn’t make the plywood wide enough and had to add another, wider piece of ply to make the clothing rod mounting bracket line up with the other one, but I didn’t have to spend money on any extra materials; which I consider a minor victory.

Yes, the rod is slightly tilted. It’s an…um…err….  aesthetic choice….

For the other side, I actually found a better method for making the bracket.

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I added a shelf in case we need it for whatever reason. I used 1-1/2″ trim nails to make sure it doesn’t go anywhere.

I actually should have done the upper closet shelves before we put Melanie’s clothes in the closet, but I didn’t want her to have to leave her clothes in the living room closet and on the couch while I waited until the next week to finish the closet.

Step 6. Closet Shelves

The next order of business (before installing my clothing racks) was getting a shelf in the top of the closet. this was made immensely difficult by uneven walls, and studs making drywall subtly bulge out.

The thought was that I could use the 1×4 band as support for the shelves. The only problem was that I had to make the shelves in 3 parts to make a “C” shape and one corner would be unsupported.

So I used the table saw in the shop to cut 3 boards (one all the way across, and 2 smaller panels to go in the sides of the closet):

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Now, how to join the 3 boards? Our cabinetry subcontractor (Joshua Cooley Fine Carpentry) and I were talking about this one day during work and he showed me how to use biscuits, a plate joiner, and wood glue to make it into one unit. (These illustrative photos are actually of two scrap boards because I had already joined my shelving and was waiting for the glue to dry.) Descriptions are in creepy Silence of the Lambs speak for my own entertainment.

Photo 1: It lines up the two boards that it wants to join and draws a line (hopefully more straight than mine).

Photo 2: It clamps the board to its work bench/surface/precariously placed saw horses, lines up the plate joiner and makes the hole on both boards.

Photo 3: The hole

Photo 4: The #20 biscuit

Photo 5 & 6: It puts wood glue in the hole and then puts the biscuit in the hole on both boards. It also glues the surfaces of the boards that will be touching.

Photo 7: It uses “F” clamps to hold the boards to the table and flat, and also to hold the boards together.

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Then I put the boards in the closet, and hacked, cut, and maimed the sides so they fit into the uneven closet. Because I’m a jack-leg I used a hammer to tap the corners down to get the shelves flush.

That dividing line in the side and the main shelf is because I didn’t glue them well and the joint started to come out, but I had no glue at the house, so I just said screw it and left it. The biscuits will hold it together enough to hold towels and pillows and stuff that will be up there. The other side stayed together perfectly.

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Step 7: My lower rod (get your mind out of the gutter)

The final piece of the puzzle was to make a lower bar for me using a panel, rather than a bracket (you know, to hide old shoes and stuff behind) as well as to leave room for longer articles of clothing.

First, I notched the board to accommodate the 1×4 band and the trim at the bottom. I also had to cut the bottom side at an angle to account for the slope of the floor.

Next, I made a new and improved bracket by nailing a piece of 1×4 to the plywood panel and then nailing that to the band. It looks much better than the 1×1 flange type thing that I used on the other side. I did the same at the bottom.

I also put a shelf there which I forgot to take a picture of.

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And voia-la! An ugly bit of closet customization that is nonetheless effective at making it so we can access all of our clothing, as well as reduce crowding of clothing. I only put a pic of my side, since I don’t know if Melanie would be too thrilled with me displaying her wardrobe on the internet.

Also, the answer is yes, that is my red suit with gold trim and buttons, custom made in Hoi An, Vietnam.
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There’s a bunch of empty space in the middle of the closet now, so we’re thinking we can put some hooks to hang stuff from, and maybe some sort of shoe cubby.

My workstation set up on the front porch when I do these projects along with the most important tools of the trade: measuring tape, square, and pencil. Along with my cheap, plastic saw horses that have served me well over 3 projects.

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and my Skil-saw (that is actually Skil brand).

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Thinking that my next project (aside from covering squirrel holes around the roof line) will be a rail for this front porch.

I hope you enjoyed fuddling my way through this project!

 

Good Coffee, DIY , Wedding Planning, WWE, and other musings

Since I feel like writing a blog post, this one will be filled with random thoughts and observations.

Wedding Planning

Planning a wedding is a lot of work. I’m lucky that my fiancee is really taking the lead on a lot of this stuff; her mom has been a big help in keeping us on track and task. We’ve got a date, photographer, location, DJ, Caterer, bridal party, almost flowers, and a bride and groom.

So much goes into a wedding. When I started getting asked about table centerpieces I was like “Wait, that’s a thing I have to decide?” Or whether or not to give away custom chocolate bars at the reception. How about: where to have the rehearsal dinner? How about planning for out of town relatives? I suppose I should get to work on an itinerary; being that almost everyone is coming from out of town.

But, I am looking forward to spending the rest of my life with the woman I’m about to marry, and I’ve heard the wedding is one of the best days of your life and I can’t wait!

Good Coffee

I largely quit drinking coffee (except on weekends) because it gave me terrible acid reflux and stomach pains. I will have the occasional cup of Cafe Bustelo at work, but for the most part I don’t drink it during the week. The coffee that I have at home is basically store-brand coffee. It’s serviceable, I suppose.

So, my friend Greg and his girlfriend came to visit Melanie and I a couple of week ago. They both work at Starbucks and brought us a couple bags of Starbucks coffee: an Ethiopian blend and a Guatemala coffee. We ran out of coffee in the office, so I got one of the bags ground, put it in the Mr Coffee and tasted it and just as I had feared:

It was awesome…. and my taste buds have been forever spoiled by the smooth, rich tastiness of good coffee and I won’t be able to experience the savings of drinking Kroger brand coffee at home ever again.

Do-It-Yourself

Since we purchased the Duplex, and it was not renovated with great precision back whenever it was renovated (2009, I believe) there are some quirky things which I have been doing around there. One is masking the water heater in the kitchen corner with a closet which was the subject of my last post. The other project was an 11″ x 7′, 2.5 foot deep recess in the bathroom wall. We lacked cabinet space, so we purchased a thin cabinet from the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store and put that in.

It’s pretty satisfying building something, even if it isn’t perfect ( and lord knows it isn’t), but by trying to do things on this future rental property, I can learn and be much more well equipped to do things on our settle-down house.

The rough part about all this is that we keep having to buy new tools. Many of these are pretty basic, so we need to have them anywa: circular saw, plumb bob, drill/screw driver bits, framing square, speed square, saw horses, pry-bar, paint supplies, nails, screws, stud-detector, coping saw, clamps, etc. Then there’s the yard work stuff, lawnmower, weed wacker, rake, etc. We have spent more money at Lowes in the past 2 months or so than I have in my previous 29 years. We’ve still got a few more basics to acquire, but the bleed of money toward tools and equipment has slowly clotted.

But what about these nails, screws, etc.? You can’t buy them by the pound anymore, you have to spend $6-9 on a box of fasteners when you only need like 6 of them. So now, we have to figure out where to store this stuff in our small apartment.

My upcoming projects (after the wall) will be cleaning up the yard and trimming back the growth, cleaning out the shed (which was full of old building materials, spider-webs, and spiders) and putting a floor down (simple, 4×4’s and plywood), and building a handrail for the front porch.

Thoughts on WWE

Seth Rollins is out for 6-9 months and one of the best parts of WWE TV is gone. Shaemus is the champion and it really couldn’t be more lame. Roman Reigns is a very mediocre flag bearer. Randy Orton is out having shoulder surgery. John Cena is out to host a reality show.

It’s pretty bad.

And the lowest raw-ratings since 1996 illustrates this.

Kevin Owens is great on the mic and in the ring, but he’s not established enough to carry the company.

Dean Ambrose is awesome, over, and way, way, way under-used. How is this guy not the main guy for WWE? He always gets the biggest reactions.

NXT is almost always awesome. The women’ division is lacking a bit at the top since Charlotte, Lynch, and Banks left, but otherwise has a good crop of wrestlers coming up.

I like Finn Balor as a champion. He acts and carries himself like a Champion should… a true professional. It’s like he brings that Japanese “we take this sport seriously” aspect. And he has great matches. Main roster material? I’m not so sure…

Samoa Joe is not very over with the NXT crowd.

Currently Reading

The Book on Real Estate Investing With No and Low Money Down by Brandon Turner  It sounds like some cheesey sales pitch, but he’s pretty realistic in what to expect from these efforts. this is the guy who co-hosts the Bigger Pockets Podcast.

Stories From The Road: How I Got the Nickname “Cowboy” in Cambodia

Chillin at Utopia, where I worked for 6 Week in Cambodia.

Chillin at Utopia, where I worked for 6 Weeks in Cambodia.

My nickname while I worked at Utopia in Sihanoukville, Cambodia was… “Cowboy.”

There was a stray cowboy hat that said “Cambodia” across it that was laying around at Utopia, the hostel/bar I worked at in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. I picked it up, washed it and started wearing it.

Every day.

All of the time.

Because I’m from the United States, wore the hat, and used Snuss (chewing tobacco, which I have long since given up), Europeans, Aussies, and Brits started calling me “Cowboy” (mostly because they couldn’t remember my name, but remembered the hat). It is, by far, the coolest nick name that I’ve ever received.

The nickname doesn’t fit at all. Yeah I might be Libertarian leaning, but I grew up in the Bay Area, California. Though, I did live in Reno, NV for about 7 years which is the Wild West…so I guess there’s a bit of Cowboy connection.

My friend ("Buddha") invited me to join their table because they liked the hat. He wore it. A true privelege

My friend (“Buddha”) invited me to join their table because they liked the hat. He wore it. A true privelege

Anyway, I lost it at a bus-ride rest stop somewhere between Mui Ne and Hoi An, Vietnam. I genuinely felt a sense of loss. I had grown very attached to that hat. Since I was in the middle of a harrowing, fiasco-filled 24 hour bus experience and had already read all of 1984 by George Orwell, I decided to write about it in my travel journal. This is not masterful prose by any stretch of the imagination, but a pondering of why I felt such a sense of loss. It is also a journal entry, so it is not proofread.

“I lost my hat. My Cambodia hat. It has been with me for only one month but it has been with me through so much. I will never own a hat quite like that again. It gave me an identity, a recognition, a “look,” impressed the ladies, gotten me goodwill from foreigners and the locals alike, shielded me from the sun (both asleep and awake), and was my prized souvenir of my travels.

I left it at a rest stop in Vietnam. I hope that hat is found, worn, and treasured by someone. Perhaps it will shield them from the sun preventing sunburns or skin cancer. Maybe it will help another guy with the ladies. Maybe a local will pick it up, have a good laugh with his friends, and toss it aside to be left as garbage. That hat has passed between 3 people, and my hope is that it continues to be picked up and passed on living on in other people’s photos; forever a part of their trek through South East Asia. It’s a magical hat of sorts. It’s a symbol of freedom from the drudgeries of daily life, and a symbol of joys and hardships experienced on the road.

Maybe it’s that as my trip comes to a close, that I’m ready to part with a life on the road in which that hat represents. Perhaps it’s a sign that I need a new hat to adventure with until that is too lost and passed on to the next worthy wearer. A symbolism of shedding one phase and moving to the next.

If that hat represents freedom does that mean that I’ve lost the freedom that the road has given me? NO! I’m always free in my own way.

Or maybe my hat just blew away and is thrown in the trash…”

My friend from Spain who I met on the bus and later kicked it with in Hoi An, Vietnam said “I don’t get it. Why don’t you just buy a new hat?”

He just… didn’t…understand….

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Tuan who I met in Da Lat, Vietnam and brought me to his friend’s house for a Tet party

 

In Mui Ne, Vietnam

In Mui Ne, Vietnam

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

At the Elephant Waterfall in Da Lat, Vietnam

At the Elephant Waterfall in Da Lat, Vietnam

Hey! That's not what cowboys ride!

Hey! That’s not what cowboys ride!

Historical Hobbies: Antique Bottle Collecting

Through my job at Restoration Builders of Virginia, I meet a lot of fellow history enthusiasts of all stripes. One day, a gentleman named Ty called the office to ask if we ever found old bottles and mentioned that he would to buy them.

My interest was piqued.

And while our lead carpenter wants to hold onto her treasures that she has found during our jobs, I decided to go check out the meeting of the Richmond Area Bottle Collector’s Association. It also gave me a chance to flirt with my passing interest in journalism that has surfaced since learning more about my Dad’s life as a newspaper man.

This post originally appeared on my blog over at my tour company website: Richmond Tour Guys:

One man’s trash from 100 years ago, is another man’s treasure today. Today’s topic is antique bottle collecting as a hobby.

Richmond has a deep history. This history is preserved and bequeathed by official entities such as university historians, museums, historic sites, and preservation organizations. Also filling this role are several layperson historians, antiquarians, bloggers, and (of course) tour guides. One of the most important but often overlooked players in this endeavor are the amateur archaeologists and antique collectors who recover, store, and track old rubbish. Refuse from 100 years ago can reveal much about the history of the City of Richmond.

A few nights ago I attended a meeting of the Richmond Area Bottle Collector’s Association. I learned a lot about bottles, the hobby of bottle collecting, and what this refuse can tell us about the history of Richmond.

What Bottles Reveal About the Past

Bottles come in all different shapes and sizes: cathedral, slug plate, whiskey flask, bitter bottles, medicine flasks, ink bottles, and many, many more. Some hold miracle tonics, elixirs, and medicine. One such product on display at the Association meeting was “Celery and Caffeine,” a potent elixir to fill the imbiber with vim and vigor, no doubt! One of the more famous quack medicines from Richmond was “Valentine’s Meat Juice” a Beef Extract that claimed to treat a range of ailments and was prescribed by doctors into the 1950s.

Rooney’s Malt Whiskey by Straus, Gunst, & Co.

Of course, many of these bottles contained alcohol. In many instances, these bottles are the remnants of Richmond distilleries that have long since disappeared. Most of these are such unexceptional aspects of Richmond history that many people have never heard of them. If not for these bottles, their names might be lost to history. One such distillery was Strauss, Gunst, & Co., a Richmond distillery that operated from 1866 until 1919 (Prohibition) that produced multiple whiskeys; including the Rooney’s Malt Whiskey pictured here.  Another distillery was the Phil G Kelly Company that operated in Richmond from 1905 to 1915 and sold many variations of whiskey using the label “Straight Whiskey” and was sold largely through mail order. The “straight” label was there to differentiate themselves from watered-down fake whiskeys that were passed off as real whiskey by unscrupulous distilleries that sought to con consumers.

Phil G. Kelly, Co. Straight Whiskey

Phil G. Kelly, Co. Straight Whiskey

Fun fact: some whiskey bottles look like medicine. That’s because during Prohibition, distillers often sold their whiskeys as “for medical use” and you could still obtain whiskey via a doctor’s prescription.

The Hobby

The hobby itself is like any other hobby. You like something and think it is neat, so you collect it. This creates a demand and thus a market of buyers and sellers. Collectors range in age from teenagers on up to retirees.

Most collectors that I asked started collecting any old bottles and then at one point narrowed it down to specific types of bottles that they especially fancied, so that their collection didn’t get out of hand. One gentleman I met specializes in collecting local Coke bottles. Another collects Pepsi bottles.

They don’t seem to have any sort of feud going.

One gentleman specializes in early 20th Century bottles for German bitters. The president of the club, Bruce, specializes in bottles featuring Cowboys and Native Americans. There are some folks that collect bottles of certain shapes. Bruce’s wife, who showed me around and explained a bit to me about the hobby, collects cathedral bottles. These are ornately shaped bottles made to hold pickles. The gentleman I contacted about the club initially, Ed, collects ink bottles. Some collectors specialize in bottles from a certain geographic area such as Baltimore, San Francisco, and of course, Richmond.

Christo, another Richmond, Va manufacturer

Christo, another Richmond, Va manufacturer

A few of these collectors may be experts on their bottle type and have written books on the subject. Ed Faulkner, the gentleman that I originally contacted, had written a book on antique ink bottles with his wife. One of the other gentlemen mentioned that they wrote a book on Coke Bottles.

Amateur Archaeology

The most compelling part of this hobby is the “treasure hunting” or amateur archaeology aspect. One gentleman, Tom, invited me to a privy dig. It is exactly what it sounds like… you find an old toilet hole and dig in the area where the excrement would have gone. These often doubled as trash cans. Everything organic (ie: the poop) has decomposed and turned into dirt while everything inorganic, such as metal and glass, are artifacts waiting to be discovered by the adventurous digger. Said diggers may keep them, turn them over to a museum, or sell them for profit. Often the digger will strike a deal with a property owner to split the booty in exchange for the right to dig.

Treasure hunting does not take place only in toilets. One teenage bottle collector shared what he found when he went digging down by a creek bed. Not only did he find bottles, but he found an old pipe and some arrow heads. Another way that treasure-hunters score booty is digging through people’s barns and sheds in rural areas. People often have junk lying around that they are happy to let people pick through. Some of these everyday items to the history enthusiast are treasures.

As evidenced above, bottle collecting also tends to cross over with other antiquing. A gentleman named Craig brought a giant iron skillet that he found while cleaning out under a ladies house for her to display at the meeting. Another collector brought a 1923 Shockoe Creek Sewer System bond that he purchased at an estate auction. I also saw some old soda and beer signs.

Richmond Area Bottle Collector's Association Meeting - Show & Tell

Richmond Area Bottle Collector’s Association Meeting – Show & Tell

Clubs

Most Geographic areas have a Bottle Collector’s Association. The one that I visited was the Richmond Area Bottle Collector’s Association which has been around since 1970.

People come from all over the region as far as Virginia Beach to come to this meeting every month. The meetings contain a show & tell where people show off recent finds, collectors put out bottles for sale, and of course: club business such as finances and newsletters and what not. At every meeting there is a different program. The particular night I was there, they were voting in a competition with categories such as “Best Find,” “Best Richmond Bottle,” “Best Dig Find,” and “Best Non-Bottle,” among others. It’s a place where like-minded treasure hunters can come together and share their findings.

Each club will usually host a show once per year and bring in vendors from around the country to buy and sell bottles. It’s also a good chance to have a bit camaraderie between collectors, a chance to find that one bottle that you need to add to a collection, and maybe make a bit of coin.

Table With Good For Sale

Goods for sale at the meeting


The Bottle Market Place

Apparently, bottle collecting can be a pretty lucrative or at least self- sustaining hobby. In the antique bottles marketplace, one can buy and sell at one of several aforementioned bottle shows and expos that are held around the U.S., on-line, or at auctions. Some bottles sell for thousands of dollars. If one digs something up under an old house, it may be worth $100 or so.

That’s a pretty good profit margin.

In my conversation with Bruce, the club President of several years, he mentioned that the hobby is self-sustaining for him, as it is with many others. He doesn’t pay bills with the hobby, but on the whole doesn’t have to spend any of his income to keep the hobby going. A revenue neutral hobby is not always easy to come by.

The value of the bottles depends on a myriad of factors. One is location. Years ago there may have been towns right next to each other that had their own bottling plants. For example, Coke and Pepsi were bottled in Richmond, Petersburg, Norfolk, and several other cities that were within a relatively close distance to each other. The location was stamped very prominently on the bottle. A Richmond bottle from 1903 may be worth more than a Petersburg bottle from 1903 because Petersburg produced less of them.

Color is also a factor in the value of the bottles

Color is also a factor in the value of the bottles

Another factor in the value of the bottles is when it was made. My biggest question was: “Without dates on the bottles, how can you tell the age?” I was informed by Cliff that it is quite easy to tell. Pre-1845, bottles were often made hand before complicated machining processes came about and you can tell by the rough nature of the bottle. Certain methods of producing bottles would come in and then out of fashion as new processes were invented. One could also figure out the age of bottles by who produced it. If you know that our old friend, the “Phil G. Kelly Company” only produced whiskey from 1905 to 1913, the bottles would be from that time frame.

Color is also a factor. A green 1904 Richmond Coke bottle might be worth more than a clear 1904 Richmond Coke Bottle.

Bottles may be valued as low as $2. At the meeting that I attended, one Petersburg Pepsi Bottle purchased for $10 at a flea market was appraised at $500-$600.

I was told that some bottles go for as much as $15,000… that’s not a typo. This is potentially big business for something that was dug out an old toilet.

As valuable as some of these bottles may be monetarily, the true value lies in the preservation of Richmond’s history through these every day treasure-hunters.

What Are Freemasons? and Why I Am One

mason logoI am a Freemason.

When people find out that I’m a Freemason, I mostly get the question “What is that?” Although sometimes I get jokes about world domination and a couple times, fear. There are a lot of misconceptions about Freemasonry, so before I get into why I’m a Freemason, let me define it a little and talk a bit about what Freemasonry is.

Freemasonry is the world’s oldest Fraternity. Wikipedia sums it up pretty well:

Freemasonry is a Beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. The symbolism of freemasonry is found throughout the Masonic Lodge, and contains many of the working tools of a medieval or renaissance stonemason. The whole system is transmitted to initiates through the medium of Masonic ritual, which consists of lectures and allegorical plays.”

The ritual, despite what some may believe, is nothing evil or scandalous, and does not involve any sacrifices or goats.

How to become one? Simply ask. If you know a Mason, or even just happen to meet somebody who is one, ask him to become a Mason. You then fill out an application. The one you ask can probably describe the process to you.

What are the requirements? Be over 18 (a man), belief in a higher power (there is no specific higher power that you have to believe in), be recommended by two Master Masons (have a coffee with a couple of them and get to know them), and be a good person.

Brotherhood

Masonry is a worldwide brotherhood. If two Masons meet each other, there is an automatic connection. You are both in the same club and have a lot to talk about. Sometimes people who are already your friends join and sometimes you make new friends. You can chat and hang out before, during, and after the meetings. All Masons are considered equals. In the 19th Century, English Princes (including a few future kings) sat side-by-side in Lodge with every day Joes. John farmer from down the street might have been sitting in lodge with George Washington or John Marshall.

Trust

A part of this brotherhood is trust. I would trust doing business with a fellow Mason before a non-Mason. For example: I had a Realtor try to rush me into purchasing a duplex that would have been a terrible investment. She didn’t care about that, as long as she got her commission. Luckily I ended up not buying. Then I joined a Lodge and met JJ Ballard of  Ballard Company, my current Realtor whose company also manages the property for me. You know what? No pressure and honest opinions on properties and viability as an investment. This wasn’t simply because I am his brother, it is because men can’t become Masons if they are of ill repute. I know I can trust a fellow Mason because if he is not trustworthy, he wouldn’t be a Mason.

Mentors

The brotherhood of Freemasonry is also a rich source of mentors. Freemasons are of all ages. From men in their twilight years to men in college. One of the things that anybody who has had success will tell you is that they have had mentors. (Check out this Art of Manliness Article on the topic).

A part of the process of becoming a Master Mason is memorization of a ritual that is passed down by word of mouth. You learn this ritual from an older more experienced Mason. Its not just the ritual that is discussed, however. You also get to know your mentors and become good friends. The amount of knowledge from a life of experiences is invaluable. I had two different teachers for my 3 degrees and both had different lives. You can get a perspective on things that you might not otherwise get from simply hanging out with your peers. This is especially true for me as I lost my father when I was 21 as I was just getting old enough to appreciate the wisdom that he could provide.

Moving To A New Place

In the summer of 2012, on a whim, I took a position as an Americorps VISTA in Amelia County, Virginia. Amelia is about 2600 miles from my then home Reno, NV. I knew nobody. I had no friends. Making friends in a new place is one of the hardest things to do. I found the local Lodge and started going to meetings there (you can be a member of multiple lodges, or simply switch affiliations). Between monthly pancake breakfast fundraisers, selling food out of our truck at community events, family days, ladies nights (where Masons and their significant others get together), visits to other Lodges, work days on the Lodge, meetings, and degree work; I had a group of people to hang out with. Until I met my current girlfriend, Masonry was my primary, if not only form of social interaction at the time. And all I had to do was show up.

Now, in my new home of Henrico, I’ve joined a new lodge, Westhampton 302.

Traveling As A Mason

The other aspect of the brotherhood of Freemasonry that I have enjoyed is that of travel.

My first experience of this was visiting a Lodge in St. Louis, MO. I arrived and upon proving that I was a Mason (and even before) I was readily accepted in the group. I ate dinner with them, sat in Lodge, and then got a couple of drinks afterwards. These guys had never met me before but we ended up hanging out like we had been friends for years.

The next instance of this occurred in Memphis. On my move to Virginia, I made a nice road trip out of it. I arrived in the city and hopped on the rail to go to Beal Street (yeah its stereotypical, but there’s a reason its popular). I was asking people on the train how to get there and a random gentleman offered to show me and walked me there. We ended up talking and it turns out that he was a Freemason. After exchanging the words and grips of Masons, there was an automatic comfort level. We ended up hanging out most of the time I was there as he showed me around the city. We were two different people and, odds are, would have never otherwise hung out.

Then there is international travel. Freemasons are in most countries. I was in the small town of Tamazula, Jalisco, Mexico for my friend’s wedding in 2012. I came in from the pool to buy a beer at the bar and the bartender recognized the square and compass (the main symbol of Freemasonry) that is tattooed on my arm (tattoo’s aren’t a requirement, by the way) and we started talking. My Spanish wasn’t so great at the time, so it was very superficial, but it was great experiencing that connection..

In Granada, Spain, I ended up attending a lodge there. It was completely different and I couldn’t really understand what was going on, but it was fun hanging out and joking around with this random group of guys who I had never met before in my life. I learned all about Spanish Freemasonry.

I also visited the Grand Lodge of Scotland and the Grand Lodge of England. Both had impressive buildings, cool museums, and I got a tours of the lodges. Lodges there don’t meet in July or August, so I sadly did not get to attend lodge. I did end up having lunch with two of the Scottish Masons who were visiting on that particular day as well.

Personal Development

Moral and Psychological

The other aspect of Freemasonry is personal development. I mentioned earlier that Freemasonry is a system of morals (mostly based on Christian morality). Most of it’s pretty straightforward stuff. Help out a brother in need. Be charitable. Be an upright man in society. Don’t screw over other people, especially a fellow Mason. Have fun, but don’t overindulge in things such as alcohol (Ie: You can drink, but don’t get p*** drunk). Don’t be consumed by riches and greed. Continue to improve yourself by reading and learning new information and skills. This is all stuff that most people know, but by committing them to memory and making an obligation to hold true to these teachings, there is a constant reminder to act in such a way. Every meeting is a reminder to live this way, as these tenets are often repeated.

Aside from the moral improvement aspect, there is an intellectual improvement to be attained from Freemasonry. Freemasonry was founded in a age when knowledge was both precious and feared by the people in power. Freemasonry encouraged free thought and its lessons were very much a product of Enlightenment ideas. Men like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington were influenced by these enlightened principles. We still study these today and there are often philosophical discussions among Freemasons regarding Masonic tradition and the ideas that we were founded upon.

Practical Skills

A more practical aspect is that the consistent memorization of rituals exercises the mind and keeps it sharp. There are 90 year old men who can remember word-for-word every aspect of every ritual in Freemasonry. It’s darned impressive.

Masons also learn rhetoric and public speaking. When you hold position in the lodge and you have a certain part of the ritual to recite. This is also the case when you are proving your degrees (proving is reciting from memory the process of initiation that one went through before officially being moved to the next higher degree). It is important to be able to have at least some speaking acumen in front of a crowd and this ritual work helps a lot with that.

Masons know how to work as a team. Because a Lodge is also a functioning entity, it requires teamwork to perform the ritual, run the lodge finances, organize events, and raise money for various charitable causes. I organized an event for the first time as a part of my lodge. Surely enough, that task fell to me at a job that I had some time later.

It’s Darn Cool

Honestly, the main reason that I initially joined the Freemasons was because so many important men in history that I admired were Freemason’s. These include: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, John Marshall,  and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle among countless others. The links to the American Revolution intrigued me.  The rights of Initiation, Passing, and Raising that I went through were almost exactly the same experience that people like Ben Franklin, Teddy Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson went through.

Now that’s good company to be in!