During my time in the Marines we called them ‘Cumshaw Artists’. The term refers to a person adept at ’procurement’., i.e., good at acquiring needed items, be it legal or otherwise. Best not to ask Cumshaw Artists where or how they obtained their stuff. The less one knew the better and sources and methods were better left unknown. You simply accepted that Cumshaw Artists had their sources, ways and means. Most military men admired good Cumshaw Artists, and an elite few were legendary throughout the Marine Corps back in the day. However, even though roundly admired, Cumshaw Artists were not necessarily to be trusted with ones money, girlfriends, wives or sisters!
The Marine Corps in the Mid-60’s was the orphan step-child of all US military services. We routinely made do with hand-me-down and worn out equipment – particularly motor vehicles. Once my unit ran a ‘problem’ (several days of maneuvers) against an Army unit about 100 or so miles distant. When we returned to our base my regiment came home with three brand-new Army six-bys and two brand new Army jeeps (all now happily re-painted ‘Marine Green’ and ‘officially’ (fictitiously) renumbered. The vehicles were simply repainted surreptitiously in the field at the Army base and driven out through the gates when we left. I suppose someone at the gate might have wondered about Marines having new vehicles. The Army MP’s were used to our rag-tag lot, but we were waved on through anyway. I’ve also often since wondered how those Army motor transport people covered up losing five entire units of their rolling stock in one fell swoop.
The Cumshaw Artist (probably more than one) in this case had obviously planned ahead and gone fully prepared with all his paints and brushes. I’m also quite sure he had done so at the’ suggestion’ of his commanding officer through his First Sergeant (nothing EVER in writing!). First Sergeants have historically always been the very best there are at getting difficult things done throughout all the ages. Hopefully the statute of limitations has now expired and this disclosure won’t be a problem today.
I discovered to my surprise I had a none-to-shabby cumshaw knack myself while in service. Once for example, my First Sergeant asked me to acquire some 1/2 and 3/4” plywood for some need or the other (read, ‘not necessarily official’). Using the direct method, I grabbed someone to help and we simply drove a six-by over to base supply. In a stampeding big hurry, we told the supply Sergeant we were there (using the name of our Regimental Commander, a full bird-colonel with a nasty reputation) to pick up the plywood and he was in an all-fired-damned-big-assed-hurry for it, and if he didn’t have it within the next hour there would be hell to pay all around! “The ‘procurement’ order was on its way and coming through, but our Colonel just didn’t have the blankety-blank time to wait for the blankety-blank piece of paper to ass-crawl its way through the blankety-blank supply system!”
The Materials Sergeant promptly jumped on a forklift and loaded two full pallets of top grade plywood on our truck. We thanked him kindly, waved goodbye and drove away. Our own First Sergeant didn’t bother to ask, and we made sure to avoid that particular supply Sergeant ever after. I guess maybe he’s probably given up looking for that procurement order by now. Or more likely since military materials people are usually pretty darned good at cumshawing themselves, he’s replaced the missing stuff and then some.
My point in all this admittedly rambling lead-in, is about ‘finding-what-you-want-at-a-really-good-price’ (free is always the best of course!). There are usually several ways to come up with something. Today you can simply go online to find almost anything, or you can go to your local supplier, hardware, lumber store, whatever. But, unless it’s on sale you will pay the full going rate, and where is the fun in that?
The Thrill of the Hunt
To me a big part of the fun too is the chase – the hunt if you will. There’s Craig’s List, which is great, but increasingly inhabited by outright thieves and con artists, or worse, hopelessly cluttered up by retailers – so it’s always risky and ‘buyer beware’ there. Yard sales are very random and unpredictable but can yield good finds when you have the time and are merely looking for targets of opportunity.
My favorite venue though is pawn shops – a sort of an amalgamation of yard sales and Craig’s List, and a tradition which has been around for centuries. But if you really want to score, avoid pawn shops on the main drag with those big, shiny store fronts and flashing signs. You will find very few deals there. I have noticed most of those kinds are really just somewhat discounted retailers and loan sharks for the downtrodden. No, what you want are the funky, musty old shops, probably block or so off the beaten path. Nearly every little town will have at least one. There’s where you will find the deals. And, inside the shop you’ll want to go to the furtherest, darkest corner where the funky, rusty old stuff is, and be prepared to sort through all the junk to find any jewels which may be lurking there. That’s the fun part.
When you find a treasure you will generally know it. Maybe it won’t even be priced. Perhaps it’s been there so long the price, if it ever had one, fell off long ago, and the item has become just another part of the background clutter. The proprietor generally won’t even remember it’s there and be surprised when you bring it to the counter. Sometimes, they won’t even know what the item actually is.
Now, the fun really starts. If it has a price, be only casually interested and offer half or less. The owner will know you are at least somewhat interested or you would not have asked. If it has no price, offer a ridiculous amount or ask what they’ll take for it. Whatever the reply, offer half or less. Nine times out of ten you will score. Which brings me to what prompted this story in the first place.
A few weeks past I got an idea I wanted to try from a comment made on one of my projects on Lumberjocks. Specifically, it concerned regrinding a plane iron to make grooves for bat houses (thanks exelectrician! ). I did not want to ruin an iron on my own jack plane, nor spoil a new one, so I was on the lookout for something to grind instead. And, on a visit to a pawn shop later, there it was! It was a rusty old jack plane underneath a bunch of other old junk. All I cared about was whether it had the iron – and it did. Irons alone go for ten bucks on eBay. I took it to the counter and offered five bucks. A bit of hesitation, and a glance at the rusty old junker, and deal accepted! The guy didn’t even know what it was and wrote on the receipt ‘OLDER HAND SANDER’! (There’s one more advantage us old geezers have over these young whippersnappers!)
The plane turned out to be a vintage Stanley Victor 1105 last made in 1953, and worth today around $50 on eBay. Once cleaned up, this one seemed hardly used at all. It was almost a shame to regrind the iron, but I gritted my teeth and did it anyway. Did I take advantage of the pawn shop guy? Of course I did. Would he have taken advantage of me if he could? Of course he would! And therein lies the sport.
“Old age and treachery overcomes youth and exuberance every time!”
-- Candy is dandy and rum sure is fun, but wood working is the best high for me!