Stories Told

A lifetime of hobbies

Fellow photoblogger JR Smith recently posted about the hobbies he’s pursued through his life. It made me think about mine.

Home of Vintage Treasures photo

I collected things. Cameras probably came first, starting at age eight. I started collecting coins at about the same time. Mom brought me an old “wheat ears” penny and explained how the mint had changed the design on the back at some point (1959, it turns out). That was all it took to hook me. I went after pennies first, then nickels, dimes, and quarters. I got into the habit of always checking my change for old coins, and that’s how I filled most of my collection. In the late 1970s and through the 80s it was still fairly common to find coins in your pocket that dated back to World War II. I had one of every penny from 1941 through about 1985. I pressed each coin into Whitman cardboard albums.

The summer I worked at the Dairy Queen, my cash drawer was a goldmine of old coins. Once I found an 1898 Indian head penny in there. I always had a dollar or so of replacement change in my pocket to swap for the treasures in the cash drawer. I quit actively collecting coins during college. But I still have all the coins from childhood in a box, and I still habitually look through my change. Sometimes I’ll still find a “wheat ears” penny in there.

I also collected stamps for a while, laying them into giant albums. I thought the most beautiful stamps came from Hungary. I remember a series of Hungarian stamps about lace doilies. They’d printed the stamps so the lace pattern was raised. I’d never had such a tactile experience with a tiny piece of paper! Yet I gave up stamps after just a few years because I felt like I could never collect them all, as I could coins. I liked completing the coin albums (all of the Washington quarters! all of the Roosevelt dimes!), and stamps just never ended.

Collectors Weekly photo

I also collected Coca-Cola stuff: bottles, glasses, advertising signs. I liked the bottles the best. I learned how to read the codes stamped into the sides to determine when they were made, and I loved how the older ones had the original bottling company pressed into the glass on the bottom. I sought bottles embossed with Indiana cities. Fun fact: the iconic Coca-Cola bottle was designed by the Root Glass Company of Terre Haute, Indiana.

For several of my teenage years I assembled plastic model cars. I spent hours and hours at a work table in our basement rec room with the special model glue and endless little bottles of paint. Here’s a fuzzy 1981 photo of some of my model cars on my bookshelf in my childhood room.

By my teenage years my introversion had bloomed. I had just a couple friends, but that was all I really wanted or needed. I liked doing things alone! I was making a little money mowing lawns, shoveling snow, and delivering papers, enough to keep laying down the $5 that a model kit cost. I enjoyed the assembly and the fine painting of the details. I always bought models where the plastic was colored as I didn’t enjoy spray painting the bodies. I didn’t have a good place to do it anyway.

Putting these kits together in the basement, I came to thoroughly enjoy radio as a companion. I’d turn to 92.9 FM to listen to U93, our city’s Top 40 station. (Unbelievably, that station is still going and celebrated 40 years in 2019.) I quietly put together my kits while listening to the day’s top hits, sometimes singing along, always stopping to listen to whatever the DJ had to say. Knowing that a real person was at the station playing music for everyone helped me feel connected to my city. I was too nervous to call in requests. I tried to win a few contests, but we still had rotary phones and they were too slow. By the time I got a ring, they’d already have their winner.

I’d always been charmed by the voices I heard coming out of the radio and TV speaker. But my time in the basement cemented my interest in radio, and made me wish I could be that companion for many others. I got my chance in college, which I parlayed into four years part-time in professional radio. I’ve been out of radio since 1994, but even today I can’t believe I got to do it and am grateful.

During my difficult first marriage, I let all of my hobbies slip away. I thought I had to devote myself to my family. What I did was utterly lose myself. When that marriage ended, I picked up a camera as a form of recovery. I took cameras onto the open road and photographed whatever I found. Soon I started writing about my cameras and the photos I make with them. Today, photography and blogging are my hobbies. Thanks for coming along!

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32 thoughts on “A lifetime of hobbies

  1. I have also had a couple of hobbies over the year. When I was younger I would build model airplanes. I also never really got into painting them, just putting them together. Collected baseball cards for awhile. In high school I also found I wanted to be on the radio, so I got my amateur (HAM) license and got on the air. I also started racing RC cars about that time. During my time in the active duty Air Force I started to dabble in photography, but I didn’t really take it seriously. After my 4 years and a bad marriage I went back to RC Racing. Then I got married again, had a couple of kids and that took all my time. Now that they are a little older photography has bitten again. I have ebbed and flowed in my collection of film cameras but keep trying to improve my photography. I am even teaching film photography to others and have been organizing photo meetups. I have also gotten back into amateur radio. As always, thanks for sharing Jim!

    • You’ve had a great portfolio of interests! I was always sort of interested in amateur radio but the bug never fully bit. If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t have given up all my hobbies when my kids came.

  2. I think Matchbox cars were my first real collection. They had a “yesteryear” series and I kept those in their boxes. The regular ones I played with (and mostly ruined). Then Hardy Boys mystery books. They screwed up my collection when they re-wrote old titles so that I got different versions of a couple of them. I was so close to getting all 50, and decided a complete set would be impossible (or a jumble).

    My mom tried to get me into coins. She had a few of those blue books that she had filled during her childhood and I tried for awhile, but didn’t stick to it.

    And in my day, model car kits cost $2.25, sonny. I loved the painting, at first with the brushes and later adding spray paint to my skill set. I spent many hours on them.

    I keep thinking of more but had better stop before this turns into a blog post.

    • I did not know they changed the titles on some of the Hardy Boys books! I had a bunch of those in the 70s.

      That’s some pretty steep inflation on model kits in just the few years that separate us in age.

      Some of my best blog posts started out as comments on other blogs.

      • I wonder what the psychology is behind it, what collecting gives you?

        I remember as a child having toys like the Star Wars figures for example, and each one came on a card that listed all the available characters on the back. I wanted to have every one, not so I had a complete “collection”, but so I could then play out any scene in any of the (then three) movies!

        • For me, there were two aspects. Some things I collected, I was interested in a complete set of whatever it was. Other things I collected, I wanted to explore the variety of forms that thing could take. Other things I collected, I was ultimately trying to find the one that was my favorite.

        • Now that last option is very much what I did (and to some extent still do) with cameras. The trick is I guess not to hold on to too many that aren’t your favourites!

        • That’s where I finally came to, hence Operation Thin the Herd! Which still isn’t finished, btw. I have a few more cameras to go. Just paused for a while.

        • Yes, it’s true. It’s going to take considerable discipline. I love old gear! I want to own it all! But I also want to have just the set of cameras I can use and rely on. That means a small number, because cameras don’t like to sit unused for long periods.

  3. I wonder if “collecting things” comes from our appreciation for interesting/creative/designed items?? Having an interest in history and computers it’s seemed only a question of time before I would start collecting Apple Computers.!!
    Andrew

    • I had a hankering for collecting early personal computer equipment too. And radios. And televisions. I had to work very hard not to start all of those collections. I only have so much space in my home!

      • I spent a load of time scouring car-boot sales in the 90s for retro computer and video games and related stuff. I think it was mostly a nostalgia thing as, other than testing to see if they worked ok, I rarely used most of them and they ended up in the attic (and later in a storage unit when we moved house). I’m now in the process of selling most of it – and buying camera gear instead (although I’m trying to keep from going overboard on that – there are only so many cameras I have time to use!).

  4. DougD says:

    I like the glimpse of photography and cameras I get from your blog. I have too many hobbies: Old cars, motorcycles, guitars, did watercolor painting for a while, plastic car and balsa plane models.

    Earlier this week I was suggesting to JP that maybe we should have a model month on Curbside Classic, and get a bunch of people making a car model for the heck of it. Would you be in?

  5. Most of my childhood was stored at my Dad’s house, up until 2018. Including my vast collections of, yes, cameras, coins, cars, books … And of course when he died there was no practical way of keeping all of it. It was pretty expensive saving the few pieces I did.
    That event is what kicked off my renewed intense interest in photography; I bought the Canon DSLR and started shooting again in earnest, as well as firing up my blog to show what I was doing. I’ve passed on the goods of my youth to the next generations (I literally gave away most of it, preferring to see it go to someone who was really interested in it not just out to make a buck) and now I guess I’m trying to pass on what I know before that slips away from me too.

    • I’m happy my mom called me somewhere in my early 20s and said “come get all your crap” so I didn’t have to deal with that later, when they moved out of my childhood home.

  6. tbm3fan says:

    Between the age of six to seven my major hobby interests started. They were coins, models, photography, and tropical fish. My grandfather worked at the Post Office so he supplied me with blocks of four stamps every time a new one came out starting at 3 cents. That ended up being a lot of stamps by the time he retired in the mid-70s.

    Tropical fish culminated in my designed and built koi/goldfish pond in the backyard of our San Diego home. Compete with waterfall and many water lily plants. Amazing how goldfish grow in a pond versus a tank. Ah, but college/grad school came and that house was sold so most of those hobbies ended. Never picked up coins again as all my complete sets from Lincoln pennies, to Mercury head dimes, to silver dollars, plus the stamps, disappeared in a move around 1974. Still lament that.

    Today I still have models, I still shoot pictures but now collect cameras, think about fish once again, and indulge in my love of cars with ten of them. Then there is my biggest hobby in restoring the USS Hornet and TBM-3 Avenger torpedo bomber. They are just big versions of plastic models in essence.

  7. I dabbled in model building for a bit. I remember building a huge Apollo rocket and the Starship Enterprise. My Mom knocked the Enterprise off of my dresser when I was at school and she tried to glue it back together before I got home. Thought I wouldn’t notice that one of the engine nacelles was on backwards. I guess I have always been a geek.

    • “she tried to glue it back together before I got home.”

      That story always went the other way around my house. Mom trying to fix something before kid gets home is a real Man Bites Dog story. 😁

  8. Alyssa says:

    I’ve done almost all of those same hobbies. I also know what it’s like to be in a toxic relationship where you lose yourself because the toxicity eats you up. Thank you for always sharing the personal side of your hobbies. It’s nice to know we are not alone

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