The Bolt Box

22 July 1996




I was told once that you could tell if a farmer had a chance of being successful by looking at the size of his junk pile. The larger the junk pile, the better the chance the farmer would survive and be successful as a junk pile could be a source of no-cost parts, if ever needed and money was, is always, an issue for a farmer.  Perhaps this is why I started my bolt box initially, many, many years ago: to be a successful "farmer".  But as the bolt box as grown and supplied me with plenty of “no cost” parts, the contents of the box have become more like a woman's photo album or flowers pressed between the pages of a book.

In the garage, in a box which measures 2 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet and which is marked "Property of the US Postal Service", is where I keep all my junk bolts, fasteners and left over parts from years of living.  A quick glance in the box reveals: 10-penny nails; lag bolts; curtain rod hooks; molly bolts; cotter pins; hitch pens; metal screws of every size and length; hex nuts; flat washers; pieces of a door lock; cabinet handles and hollow wall fasteners.

Taking a 10-penny nail to stir the contents. which is at least 3 inches deep, uncovers bolts left over from one of the many baby cribs we had and I can now easily remember assembling it before our first child was born; washers from our first lawn mower, which I bought used and maintained for 15 years before the piston let go of the crank shaft; pieces from a lamp, which once resided by my bed when we lived in a mobile home for a short time after my tour with the Army; training wheel bolts from my oldest daughter's first bicycle; odd shaped hangers from one or more of the kid's hamster and mice cages, which was with us for years and years.  

Wire brads; flat head, pan head, Phillips head, screws; screen door, screen clips; toilet seat bolts; set screws, lag bolt shields; electrical wire guides and staples and floor coasters for furniture. The special seat bolt from one of the kids old bicycle and I can still remember trying to teach them how to ride and how I would run along behind them holding the seat ever so lightly, providing balance now and then; wooden plugs to fit into the hope chest, which was my wife's mother's and, which needed repair before it could take up its honored place in our bedroom and left-over brick lag bolts from when I built the deck sun screen for our first house.

Picture frame hangers; a small paintbrush; screen door hooks; wing nuts and pennies and cigarette butts from my pockets when I emptied them after some project.

Electrical outlet protectors, which kept little fingers away from danger when they all began to crawl and explore; wire staples from the basement electrical rewire I did at the house we lived in for almost 12 years; a brass lanyard tie down from the window shades we made and installed to keep the windows from freezing solid in cold winters; plastic washers from the metal shed I bought and assembled against the good advice of my father who said that everything inside would rust and he was right; finger door pulls from closet doors, which were converted from swing out to slide side-by-side because the kids kept leaving the closets open and I would walk into them and angle brackets used to reinforce one or more of the many desks or pieces of furniture I built for one or more of the kids over the years as they grew and needed work space in their bedrooms.

Just pieces of metal or wood or plastic in funny shapes and some with shapes that I will never need again but can not throw out, knowing as soon as I do, I will need it for something just broken.

Over the years, I do not know how many times the junk box has saved me from discarding something or how much money or time it has saved me from going out to look for and buy one bolt or screw but it has been a lot and now, sometimes, in the rush to complete some project, I am half tempted to forget the box and just go procure what I specifically need rather than wade through the mass, but I always catch myself and root through the box anyway, always finding what I need or a suitable substitute.

A small can of plumbers grease; 5 inch long bolts, which held on a carburetor; screw eyes; toggle bolts; rubber bumpers to be placed under small appliances to keep furniture from being scratched; garden hose, hose nipples; thumb screws; rubber, steel and lead shaft bushings; thumbtacks, decorative brass nuts; push pins; plastic electrical wire connectors; strips of metal with holes in them from which I can no longer remember; deck wood screws; brick nails; concrete nails and finishing nails.

Thousands of pieces of metal, which started as ugly shaped rocks pulled from the earth in South America or Africa and shipped to America and then melted and shaped and sharpen and then packaged and shipped to within a mile of everywhere I have ever lived and always costing cents or dollars and every time, I marveling at how inexpensive for something I could not make myself and would almost pay double or triple for without thinking I had been over charged.

Automotive bolts, which held on a trim piece from a Triumph Spitfire I bought just before my father's death in some effort to be immediate in responding to my needs before it is too late but which turned out to be a constant maintenance headache; tiny, flat head, screws, which I could only remove with a jeweler's screw driver, from a record player the kids once had and, which I had to repair several times after they tried to give their dolls rides; mirror brackets left over from installing a mirror in one of my daughter's first college dorm room and left over bolts from the same daughter's first college dorm room loft bed.

They are not a very colorful lot, the hunks of metal and plastic and wood, which inhabit my bolt box. Mostly gray or dull metal and hard to distinguish one from the other. I wonder if a day will come when my eyes will not allow me to search the bolt box?  At least the flat washers shine and stand out from the crowd.

One, wonder why only one, special tree holding screws from our first Christmas tree stand, which broke the year we bought our first 16 foot tall tree; nuts, which only fit small electrical toggle switches, which I must admit to having a love affair with when I was younger because I could switch or control the world and rubber bumpers from some long broken door stop but the rubber is still good and never know when I may need it.

Just junk. Leftovers from countless projects or disassembles, which I can not part with as if each were a photograph or had a life and I am not the one to let it die and I take some strange pleasure now in using a bolt from a tricycle, 20 years gone, to repair a standing mirror now being used by that same tricycle rider who now drives cars instead of tricycles. Some reincarnation of iron ore.  Some integration of time where the past melds with the present. 

And looking into the box one more time, I wonder where all the blood went that I lost handling all those pieces of metal?  Why each should be covered with spots of my blood as I nicked myself with some tool, rushing to complete some repair or assembly.  Perhaps in the future, some archeologist will find my bolt box and after trying to classify all the various items he has found, will discover the traces of blood and be able to DNA me back into existence, at least on some computer screen.

Screws in their original plastic tub container; nuts and bolts in small freezer bags; Venetian blind rod pieces still wrapped snugly in their freeze dried package; old pens and pencils; lock washers and small door hinges.

Metal and memories.  Metric and curses.  Hands and eyes.

Just junk, but quite a pile of it.

Once I read a book about a famous engineer who actually had sorted out his bolt box into small glass jars with each jar only holding one type of shaped metal but I can not imagine myself ever doing that.  3 inches of metal and memory fragments and a stir with a 10-penny nail is all I need to get lost for a moment and forget what I am looking for.

Just junk in various shapes and size, like my memories or the flowers pressed between the pages of a book or the yellow tattered photographs stored in albums under beds, except this album is kept in the garage.


For more Ron Stultz writings, click here.