Column: Old-fashioned hardware stores were fun to explore

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From the Eclectic Mind of Roger VanHaren

Roger VanHaren

In the last couple of weeks, I have ventured into the past and written about the Oconto Falls I knew as a kid. I’ve gotten a number of responses from readers who have shared my recollections. So, today, I make one more trip into my kidhood, encouraged by a reader who wrote about her remembrances of Magnin’s Hardware in the Falls.

When I was a kid, I used to really love going to Porky and Chub’s hardware store on Main Street in Oconto Falls. Porky and my dad were good friends, and we’d often go there even if we didn’t need anything from the store. And I guess I’ve never really outgrown my fascination with such places. How could you not love a hardware store? Especially an old-fashioned one? I mean, I like modern hardware stores, too, but they’re just not the same.

Porky’s was not a very big place, but it was crammed full of stuff. The aisles were narrow and dimly lit, but, boy, was there a lot of neat stuff in there! And one of the neat things was that you could buy one nail if you needed it — you didn’t have to take a whole box. Every kind and size of nail: brads and carpet tacks, common nails and roofing nails, finish nails and screw nails, duplex nails and sinkers. They had ‘em all.

Screws and nuts and bolts and washers of all kinds and sizes, clevis pins and cotter keys, toggle bolts and rivets, lag screws and hook-and-eyes. You could buy as many or as few as you needed. Nothing was prepackaged. Just big bins of things you wanted. Buy ’em by the piece or by the pound.

And tools. What guy can resist tools? Porky (his real name was Ernie) had saws and hammers, garden hose and garden hoes, rakes and wrenches: monkey wrenches, box wrenches, ratchet wrenches, pipe wrenches, open-end and crescent wrenches, spark plug wrenches and wheel wrenches.

Not many power tools back then, but the finest hand tools you could ever want. I loved going in there and hefting them, feeling the functionality of each one.

Paints and varnishes, caulk and roof cement. Paint thinners and removers. Paints were basically oil paints. Latex came along later. Brushes and sandpaper and scrapers, turpentine and linseed oil and patching plaster. Glazing compound and spackling. Everything you could want, Porky had it.

Today, I’m still fascinated by tools and hardware. Boy, turn me loose in a Black and Decker store! Give me unlimited funds, and I’d be in heaven. Remember “Home Improvement,” Tim Allen’s popular TV show a dozen years ago? All about guys and their fascination with tools. It’s a very real male thing, I think. Women like purses and shoes; guys like screwdrivers and power tools.

I also used to love Zweck-Wollenburg on Front Street in Beaver Dam. I could go in there and easily spend an hour looking at stuff and shooting the breeze with Jim Herbrand and George Wollenburg. The True Value “special of the month” was always something I had to have, and I still have a lot of them!

Fleet Farm, Home Depot and Menards are OK. They have hardware, but they’ll never be like Porky and Chub’s or Zweck-Wollenburg. Porky and Chub and George Wollenberg are long gone now, but the memory of many happy hours rummaging around among the tools and hardware is still alive in my mind.

Contact Roger VanHaren at