About two miles south of Fairlee on Route 5 there used to be a general store. The building is still there but it’s no longer open for business. Now it’s a meeting and display place for the Connecticut River Antique Collectors Klub.
Kenny Driscoll’s family bought the former gathering place and attached residence about twenty years ago, when he was about ten. He still lives here.
With a shaved head, earrings, and tattoos, he may not look like what you’d expect in an antiquarian. But he loves collecting stuff and giving public tours, starting in his front yard, where a 1924 oil field engine still chugs away.
"This engine ran 363 days a year, 24 hours a day, (it was) down for two days a year for maintenance. "And what this was used for was pumping water down oil fields in Pennsylvania," Dricoll explained.
"When we got it, it was basically all rusted up in one piece and the club has worked on it over a period of years getting it running. It’s just a neat piece of equipment. We actually got it out of northern Vermont, there’s a collector up there who had it, and we just shipped it down here and it’s been a focal point of our collection ever since."
This collection is hardly in the mold of the more scholarly Shelburne Museum or Old Sturbridge Village. It’s more a monument to New England collectors and tinkerers who just love to figure out how to make things work.
That’s what club vice president Dave Newhall was doing up the hill in a lean-to. Newhall feeds cedar planks through a shingle mill. They’re cut in the Northeast Kingdom and milled by a saw that’s over a hundred years old.
A slightly grizzled Newhall grinned as he worked.
"You can tell the boys by the size of their toys," he said. "Well, these are our toys."
A half dozen wringer washing machines flank the front door of the white frame building that now serves as the Klub’s meeting house.
"And this was the general store," Driscoll said. "When we bought the place in 1991, it still had the shelving and coolers and everything else. It hadn’t been in operation since the seventies."
A vintage cash register still sits on a counter, and the old wood stove still heats the place for monthly meetings, when they show off their treasures and even swap a few.
The store is crammed with often overlooked artifacts of rural life-bedpans, milk bottles, maple syrup cans, butter churns…
"So what we’ve tried to do is, in this building, is keep little pieces of stuff, I guess you’d call it," Driscoll said. "I don’t know how to describe this building cause there’s a little bit of everything in here, kind of the odd stuff that people wouldn’t necessarily think of keeping."
Like bells, for example.
"My mother started collecting bells," Driscoll recalled. "She found one, liked the sound of it, then Dad started going nuts buying bells for her. And some of these, like this one here came out of Africa."
Driscoll is an unemployed carpenter and mechanic, so maintaining this place for the club isn’t easy. But he and about 20 club members-some from other states-are trying to do what his father taught him-to preserve the past for the future.
"We live in a throwaway society," he said. "And unfortunately, a lot of this old stuff, a lot of people see it, don’t know what it is and they say, ‘Might as well throw it to the dump.’ So we try and rescue as much as we possibly can."
And so the Connecticut River Antique Collectors Klub-the acronym is CRACK–endures and preserves its own version of the past.