ELDERSBURG -- Where others see rust, Claude Hardy sees promise.
It is a healthy attitude, one that has carried Mr. Hardy through 82 years of life, the last 18 of them taking old, neglected tools and turning them into working pieces, often better than those bought brand new from a store.
He is Carroll County's "Tool Man," a fixture at his roadside stand along Route 32 between Sykesville and Eldersburg, selling his wares from the past, ready to be put to use again.
"I have a lot of stuff that you can't buy in the stores. A lot of my stuff are antiques," Mr. Hardy said.
He travels to auctions around the area to find his deals, which are often the cheap, rusted box of tools that no one else wants.
"One time at an auction a dealer saw me and said, 'Nobody's going to get anything here cheap tonight, the tool man's here,' " he said.
The tools of yesteryear, some of which are nearly 100 years old, are transformed back to good condition in Mr. Hardy's garage workshop at his Eldersburg home. The small garage is stuffed with rakes,
picks, axes and a variety of instruments that one could never find at a hardware store.
"Over here is a corn cracker, or grinder, maybe you would call it. It was made in 1903. I took it all apart and replaced the bolts," said Mr. Hardy on a tour of his workshop.
Despite his years, Mr. Hardy handles his tools with a firm, sturdy hand, still possessing the strength of a working man.
He showed off a hay knife, used by farmers many years ago to cut down stacks of hay, and an old device that had been used to throw clay pigeons for skeet shooting.
He reached for a large contraption whose purpose might only be known to a man who was born in a different era. "This is blacksmith leg vise, used way back when blacksmiths were around," he said, handling the reconditioned treasure.
"I just love working with my hands," he said.
He has worked with his hands for most of his life, starting at the age of 15 working in a woven mill near Harpers Ferry, W.Va.
"I made $1.25 a day making socks," he said. "I was there for three years, until 1926, when the mill closed and moved to Martinsburg [W.Va.]. I didn't like working inside so much so I didn't move on. But I still have my letter of recommendation from my boss there."
He moved to Carroll County two years later, coming to work at Springfield Hospital. He worked at the state hospital for 42 years, 30 of them operating the machinery to tend to the facility's large vegetable crop. He retired in 1970.
Mr. Hardy used those early retirement years to spend time with his family. He's been married to his wife, Nattie, for 55 years and has one daughter, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
"My grandson was rather small then, but big enough to take fishing," he said. "So for a couple of years I spent a lot of time with him, going fishing."
He eventually grew restless, though. About 1973, he began going around to sales, picking up old tools and reconditioning them. He tried to sell them at a flea market but changed his way of selling the next year, when he set up along Route 26. He later hTC moved to his present site on Route 32, where some days he prospers and other days he doesn't.
"I have some days when I don't sell a nickel's worth," he said. "If I sell $50 worth of stuff, I figure I've done pretty fair. If I counted the amount of work I put in on this, I don't think I'd be making anything. But I like to do it. I don't like sitting around much, and it keeps me busy."
It's interesting work, too, especially when he comes across a tool that would stump any "What's My Line" panel. He held up two pieces of wood with metal on the ends and connected by a chain.
"This is a bull leader," he said. "They would take this and wrap it around a bull's nose to lead it."
The pleasure for him is not only the tools, but his customers as well.
"I've sold something to someone from just about every state in the union, maybe except for Alaska," he said. "And I have some customers that have been with me ever since I got started. It's just been nice to meet all these people."