Rome Wasn't Built in a Day

First Things


| March 1999


One of the things that intrigues me about those of you who collect and restore antique equipment and machinery is your patience. The true collector thinks nothing of buying an incomplete engine or tractor or windmill. That purchase, in fact, is not the finale. For most, it's the beginning of the project.

Now, I'm not saying that's un-American. But it does offer an interesting alternative to contemporary mindsets that put the focus on the moment. Attention spans are short these days: "Instant Gratification Takes Too Long," the T-shirt reads.

USA Today thrives on the short news story. Network television sells 10-second time slots to advertisers. Fast food, express lanes, quick-drying paint, sound bites, e-mail, overnight delivery and instant credit: we want it NOW.

But the collector is a patient critter. He happily gathers a shed full of parts waiting for machinery; of machinery waiting for parts. Years might pass before a piece is made complete; years more before there's time to take on restoration. No matter: The true collector bides his time, confident that the missing element is out there somewhere.

What fuels that patience? It could be the hunt. Ask any collector: he'll tell you about the thrill of the hunt – the tantalizing possibility that the prize awaits in the bottom of a box of odd lots, or behind a tumble-down barn under a blanket of vines. And even if the hunt yields no treasures to add to a collection, there's no such thing as a wasted trip. The sharp-eyed collector will inevitably see something that piques his interest or rekindles a memory.

Or maybe it's osmosis: maybe collectors do have rust in their blood, as some of you have cheerfully suggested. Whatever the motivation, patience is a virtue. Go ahead: take your time. FC






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