By Ryn Gargulinski: QCS
Live parakeets and Rattler-hued gold and purple scarves were just a couple of the items that dappled Tucumcari’s first Route 66 flea market on Saturday.
The convention center parking lot was also strewn with a handful of vendors and dozens of treasure hunters for the all-day event. As with most flea markets, the more one digs, the more one finds — not only in unusual items but in the stories behind them.
The mysterious box
“I don’t have anything with an interesting story behind it,” said Kelli Goldsmith who traveled from Bard to vend her wares. “But I do have something that I tell people I’ll give them a good deal on if they tell me what it is.”
Goldsmith displayed a wooden hinged-lid contraption the size of a large shoe box filled with a metal tray with grooves in it.
“I’ve been carrying it around now for about 15 years,” Goldsmith said of the box she said she found in her family’s estate when she was clearing it out.
She said she’s heard numerous theories about its purpose — from seed washer to berry sorter, even a complicated mouse trap.
Although the inside of the lid was clearly marked “Dig Smith nail stripper” with an origin of Woodland, Calif., Goldsmith said her offer still stood if anyone could tell her why anyone would want to strip nails and how one goes about it in this box.
The bird bottle
Tucumcari’s Virginia Wright immediately held up a brown ceramic jug-like thing when asked if she had any unusual wares for sale at her table. She began to explain the bird bottle, also known as martin-pots, which serve as a bird house for martins and other small birds, according to the tag stuffed inside the open-ended, cylindrical bottle.
The bird bottle originated in Williamsburg, Va., and has been around since at least 1746, the tag said.
Of course, Wright’s bird bottle was a replica given to her as a gift from a friend in Washington, D.C. Wright said she was selling the item because she tried using one in the past and the New Mexico wind curtly whisked it off the tree and into shatters.
The skeleton keys
Robert Davis said he moved to Tucumcari several decades ago. “I got here and got broke,” he said, “and didn’t have enough to leave.”
No, that was not the reason he was out selling on Saturday with display cases full of old change purses, shaving brushes and toy guns, but he said he was just trying to get rid of some of his vast accumulation.
“I like collecting old stuff,” Davis said.
He said he spent years with his kids “digging up stuff” around old houses and railroad tracks in New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri and Kansas.
He said some of his favorite finds include his large collection of skeleton keys, one of which was dated October 1887. He also showcased a railroad switch key and an antique can key used to pry open old-time coffee cans.
The timeless table
At first glance it may have been a desk. But Tucumcari’s Johnny Cothern cleared up it was, in fact, a dining room table with a built-in unit stacked down the middle with three drawers for storing things like napkins and silverware.
Cothern said he and his wife obtained the table from the Brewers, a couple in their 80s who have been married 65 years. He said they’ve had the table since their first year together when they bought it at Sears for about $30.
Made of simple plywood and affixed with two still-working leaves to make it larger, the Cotherns were selling the table for $40, thus making a $10 profit on a table that sustained cups, plates and the test of time since the early 1940s.