By Susan T. Hessel —
Stand in the middle of James Dammon’s Antique35 gallery in Stoddard, Wisconsin, and you can see and feel area history. There’s a table made from an antique Heileman crate, another created from a wooden Blatz box, and yet another marked as La Crosse Bottling Works. Other furniture comes from boxes that once carried Coca-Cola, Orange Crush, Black & White blended Scotch whisky, Anheuser-Busch beer, and Winchester shells.
Dammon appreciates the beauty of the crates’ wood, believing knotholes and circular saw marks should be celebrated and not covered up. His customers appreciate naturally distressed metal and wood. He takes these old boxes and welds them to metal frames and then creates lids out of barn wood, including a checkerboard top on some.
With your own crate, he can customize a table with a single shelf for $80. Prices otherwise depend on how many shelves, bells and whistles are included and how much the box originally cost.
“People have cool boxes in the garage,” Dammon said. “If they bring in their cherished beer box, I can make it into a table.”
It all began when Dammon, a welder for decades, retired at age 52 from building water towers. When asked about working at great heights, he smiled and said, “Heights bother everybody, but the money makes it better.”
Wondering what he was going to do after retirement, Dammon began tinkering in his shop. “I started making stuff that made me happy. Then the church came up for sale,” he said. “My wife, Paula, said we should buy the church and put her antiques and my furniture there.”
That church was Stoddard’s United Methodist Church, which began life on Jay Street in La Crosse in 1859. The building was taken apart in 1895 and moved by railroad to Stoddard. It was used as a church at 134 South Main St. until a new, larger United Methodist Church was built at 900 Broadway St. in Stoddard. The church steeple and stained-glass windows remain in the old church building, adding to Antique35’s ambiance. “When my wife said we should buy the church, I wanted to know its history,” he said.
That Dammon could retire early is a reflection on how he grew up. “I was always raised to save for a rainy day. I’m lucky a rainy day never came and I had my investments,” he said.
His wife is a nurse for Mayo Clinic Health System and he also teaches welding for maintenance workers part-time at Western Technical College. They have two children, Susanna, 17, and Jimmy, 13.
Dammon keeps about 30 different pieces in his showroom along with other antiques. “If I sell five pieces, I make five pieces.”
Like any good parent, he does not like to name his favorite creation, whether referring to his children or his furniture. But he does love the box that contains a wooden cash drawer that opens with a button hidden in a knothole.
Dammon picks up wooden crates wherever he can. He may pay $120 or more for a crate; others are less expensive. “I told my dad I paid between $30 and $50 for pear boxes,” Dammon said. “He said he used to pay $6 for a crate and it was full of pears.”
Antique35 is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., or by appointment. Hours may change during winter. Visit www.antique35.com or www.facebook.com/antique35 for more information, or call (608) 790-6050.