Transforming scraps into things of beauty
There's an art to taking scrap items and turning them into something impressive and useful.
Dan Markell has been doing just that for many years during his antique restoration projects. But it was a dilapidated Hoosier cabinet that he recently got his hands on that has been his current challenging project.
"I'm not sure yet what I'm going to do with it when I'm done restoring it," he laughed. "These types of cabinets remind me of when my grandmother making pastries on hers, so I wanted to restore it. It was in really, really bad shape when I got it. I have put a lot of time into it already and probably have 50 hours more work to go."
A Hoosier cabinet is an archaic but classy piece of furniture, popular in the early 1900s. A typical Hoosier cabinet has three sections, including a base with several doors and a shelf, a narrow top section with small to medium storage compartments and a wide center with a sliding counter top. Though not commonly manufactured in this day and age, some manufacturers still design cabinets in the classic Hoosier style, and antique Hoosier cabinets can be found in many homes.
The one Markell has is over 100 years old and includes a bread drawer and built-in cooling rack. Most of the original parts were salvageable except for a few hardware pieces.
The recently retired life insurance sales representative for Catholic United Financial and his wife Arlene have been married 49 years. Arlene is a retired Marshall school teacher. They live in a beautiful country home five miles northeast of Ghent with Cooper, their faithful Golden Retriever.
Markell restores various items in his heated shop that was once a grain shed on the farmsite. He has both modern and antique tools in the shop. He also has a leather shop in his basement.
It's an art where he can make something out of ... well, basically nothing. Most of the items he salvages and restores were destined for the scrap pile.
"I try to make them as close to what they looked like originally as I can," he said.
Markell went to school in Marshall and graduated in 1966. When the junior high school that he attended was torn down over 40 years ago, Markell acquired a lot of the maple floorboards that were bound for the landfill. He also purchased some bleacher seats and posts from the old high school when it was torn down 15 years ago and has been using wood from those schools for numerous projects he has worked on over the years.
So each time he includes a piece of lumber from the school he once attended into one of his projects, it holds special meaning.
A grain scale he recently restored now includes a 4' x 4' post that came from the high school principal's office. He even has an old wooden "Principal" sign that once hung in Merrill Olson's office.
"In the spring of 1966 when my senior class and all grades 7-12 were in the gym for senior recognition, Mr. Olson was on the stage at his podium when he suffered a fatal heart attack," Markell told.
One of the big restoration items Markell enjoys is antique steamer trunks. Some of them are in rough shape when he finds them and require a lot of work. Others just need a little work to make them look like new again. Since Markell is also proficient at working with leather, he will make sturdy leather handles for carrying the trunks.
Markell's leather interest came when he was in high school making projects in shop. When he was in the Army, he honed his leather-making skills making and selling things like wallets and belts to earn a few dollars.
Markell also can make fancy leather lacing for belts or straps. He once made a camera belt for a newspaper reporter that contained pouches for carrying a camera, lenses and other items.
"Starting in the early 70s, my wife and I started collecting antiques and most had to be stripped, repaired or both," he explained. "I've worked on all kinds of furniture. Steamer trunks are my favorite, though. Through the years, I have worked on most every type of trunk imaginable."
He is continually working on some type of restoration project or is making something for his grandkids like chalkboards with the blackboard portion salvaged from his old high school when it was torn down in 2006. The frames of the chalkboards come from the red oak floorboard from the 1890s Lyon County Courthouse.
But now his focus is on the Hoosier cabinet that hold memories of his grandmother's pastries.