Hammer Time: 400 Gallons of Paint

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
hammer time 400 gallons of paint

I was broke. Well let me rephrase that. I was a graduate student. So I guess you could say I was ‘comfortably broke’. My home was rented out to two other less broke students and I had plans to convert part of my garage into yet another bedroom so that I could hopefully get another $400 in monthly income. You could say that it was a beautiful time since I had a scholarship and no real responsibilities. But academia and me were not really meant to be. I had plans…

And none of it involved sitting in a class and listening to professor after professor talk about theories. The theoretical world of ‘how things should work’ was pretty much the dogshit of my program. You couldn’t help stepping in it and despite all the earnestness and goodwill of my education professors, I realized that their work wouldn’t have any genuine impact on any of us who were pretending to listen or the students they would later teach. Especially since everything they said was laced with the politics du jour (mostly PC, social justice and affirmative action for the 21st century). So like any arrogant student with too much free time I decided to pursue what I enjoyed.

Auctions. It was a complete addiction at that point. Every day I was combing through the classifieds and legals trying to find one. In the mornings I would visit the yard sales of the affluent and apathetic trying to find a good deal. Then I would sell it later that evening at auctions while taking my all too tolerant girlfriend out to enjoy it all. She actually did. It was fun to buy bikes, antiques (cheap ones), and jewelry that were uncoveted by one and see it competitively bid on by the many. But after a few months it just became mildly amusing work.

The kicker was when I bought 400 gallons of paint from a closed down Ace hardware store for $100. Nobody wanted to buy so much paint and it was being sold ‘all for one money’. As a young guy I couldn’t figure out why I got such a great deal along with a $20 paint color machine and a few $5 paint can shakers. I had the later two items sold within a few hours to an equipment wholesaler I knew. The profit would cover beer and groceries for the next few weeks. But what would I do with all that paint?

Well the first thing I had to do is stick as much as possible in the beat up old Camry. Pretty soon my car was a low rider with about 35 to 40 paint cans at a time placed in every odd angle. I had made a list of every weekly auction in North Georgia and rural Alabama and I proceeded to visit as many as possible with the paint in tow. The auctioneer gave me 30 days to get all of it out of the store and I was happy to oblige.

Most places made me a little money. Some didn’t even have more than two bidders. Then I found an equipment auction in Rockmart, GA and brought everything out there. Three hours of driving yielded only about 40 cans at a time. But pretty soon I got it all there for their big anniversary sale. I asked the auctioneer to sell it at ‘choice’ and then after everyone got their pick sell it for ‘times the money’ since I had realized by that time that most folks are not good with math. I was also dead bone tired from hauling around so many gallons of paint and wanted to get the best return for all that effort.

It worked… but not really. I made nearly $600 but I had spent at least four full days hauling, driving, unloading, and wasting gas on the whole deal. Surely there had to be a better way to make a living. Less than a week later I found one. It was a public auto auction in North Georgia. This was a time where about a third of the vehicles sold at public sales were actually good compared to the two to three percent of today. I bought a 13 year old Honda Civic for $500. Owned by a teacher who had traded it in for a Saturn (you could get ownership histories fairly easily at the time), the 1986 base model offered A/C, a radio, a four-speed manual and power nothing. It was perfect.

I borrowed a friend’s digital camera and spent about 15 minutes photographing it. Spent an hour typing up a glorious soliloquy of pithy summations and let Ebay do the rest. A week later it sold to a Polish PhD student from Emory, the very same school I was a student at, for $1576. No dead bone tired. No 16 hours worth of driving. Just a few pictures and a paycheck. From that moment forward I was transfixed on making any cheap beater car work for me.

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  • Neb Neb on Jun 04, 2010

    @Steve I guess MAs in education have not changed much over the years. A good friend of mine last night was complaining about how theoretical (as opposed to practical) the education MAs were. This is not a problem limited to MAs, either. A few months ago I was having a drink with some old hands at metalworking; they complained the new crop of engineers had exactly the same flaws. Very good at designing things on paper, but then the metalworkers usually had to alter the plans they were given. If they didn't then nothing the engineers actually designed for them would actually work. It's that practical vs. theoretical divide again, like in Shop Class as Soulcraft.

  • ZoomZoom ZoomZoom on Jun 04, 2010

    Ronnie, your post reminds me of the Beanie Babies collectors. My mother has moved on from that these days. But back in the heyday she had dozens of them. She collected the hard-to-find ones, and found herself (with my retired dad in tow) waiting in lines and getting to know salespeople on a first-name basis. He got into it too, but I suspect it's more because he adores her and not so much that he was into beanie-babies. As the Cheap Trick song goes, "Mommy's all right, Daddy's all right..." She was not overly crazy about her collection, but she certainly became an "expert" on them, and even had a program on their PC to catalog the Beanies. If anybody had produced any type of posters or cards, my mother may have gotten them, especially if they were not too large or obnoxious. I myself have a small collection of model vehicles: My three "Pinewood Derby" cars from Boy Scouts, each of them a trophy winner in it's respective year. Those are special to me because my dad helped me make them, and they are on display in my home office today. My collection also includes a Hot Wheels knock-off type of car (brand called "Johnny Lightning") of the Mach 5 from "Speed Racer", and an assortment of die-cast Corvettes, Ferraris, and a Dodge Prowler, which I always liked (but would never actually want to own). My collection is "brand agnostic"; ie, not Hot Wheels or anything, but I am quite selective about anything I buy. And I never EVER leave one in the blister pack. I don't even save the blister pack! I understand the collectors' fetish with this practice, but cannot bring myself to leave ANYTHING in the original box unless my intention is to take it back to the store or give it as a gift. To me, they should be on display and they should be occasionally dusted off and sometimes held in the hands and admired. Leaving one in the blister pack seems to me like always having a deflector shield protecting it. Protection is good, but keeping my Batmobile in the original blister pack would be a sad thing; like putting plastic covering over the couch in the living room, which is a bit creepy, sort of like having a perma-condom on the couch. Eww.

  • FifaCup Loving both Interior and exterior designs.
  • FifaCup This is not good for the auto industry
  • Jeff S This would be a good commuter vehicle especially for those working in a large metropolitan area. The only thing is that by the time you put airbags, backup cameras, and a few of the other required safety features this car would no longer be simple and the price would be not much cheaper than a subcompact. I like the idea but I doubt a car like this would get marketed in anyplace besides Europe and the 3rd World.
  • ScarecrowRepair That's what I came to say!
  • Inside Looking Out " the plastic reinforced with cotton waste used on select garbage vehicles assembled by the Soviet Union. "Wrong. The car you are talking about was the product German engineering, East German. It's name was Trabant.