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Thomson turns scraps into beauty

Scott Thomson grew up in Chicago searching for scrap wood and metal in the alleys to use in projects he built. Now retired, he builds what he calls "rustic farmhouse" furniture. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
This piece of furniture could be a retail table, bar or kitchen center island. Scott Thomson creates these pieces from scrap wood and metal. Steve Gardiner / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

Growing up on Chicago's Southside, Scott Thomson often wandered the alleys behind Western Avenue. He wasn't looking for trouble; he was looking for scrap wood or metal.

"We didn't have a lot of money for toys," Thomson said, "so my friends and I would go scour the alleys looking for packing crates and other things we could bring home to make things."

He would look at the materials he found and imagine what they could become. The salvaged wood and metal evolved into toys and furniture which he later learned he could not only use, but sell.

"One of my first jobs was in the old milk delivery trucks that used to deliver milk to homes," Thomson said. "I would drive around, and on garbage day, it was hard not to pick up stuff and put it in the delivery truck. I'd keep my eye open, and then, if I could get home in time, I'd go back in my car to get things."

As he made more projects, he wanted to make them bigger and bigger. Once he built a three-story fort and it fell over on his neighbor's fence.

"That's not the way to make friends," he said.

Thomson said his mother used to tell friends, "Scott was different than my other five children. When given a quarter, the kids would buy some candy, but not Scott. He would buy a quarter's worth of nails."

Today, Thomson, from Maiden Rock, sells his creations on his own, and he has several pieces on consignment at Boxrud's on Main Street in Red Wing.

One piece he recently delivered to Boxrud's could be used as a retail table, bar, or kitchen island. It is made from salvaged barn roof, a door, pallet wood and corrugated metal.

Boxrud's owner Tamara O'Brien likes having Thomson's work on display. "It is so eclectic," she said. "You can still see all the original pieces, but it is repurposed in such a way that it will not only look good in a farmhouse, but you could put it just about anywhere. You could take that island and put it in a contemporary home, and it would add warmth to that home."

Thomson, who worked in sales and marketing for years, then drove a truck regionally, is "retired, but I am a Type A personality. I have a rocking chair, but I don't use it very often, let's put it that way."

One of Thomson's favorite pieces at Boxrud's is a hall tree made from a 50-year-old church door from Duluth, salvaged barn wood, pallet wood, casing from a neighbor's door, and chunks of throwaway wood used to separate wooden planks during shipping. That one piece came from at least 10 sources.

"These are conversation pieces," O'Brien said. "There are stories behind each piece and Scott is good about coming in and telling me the stories, so I can tell customers. People who purchase this kind of piece want to know the story behind it."

Collecting materials is easier for Thomson now. He no longer scrounges in alleys, because "people are getting to know me," he said with a laugh. One person was moving and needed to get rid of ten doors and gave them to Thomson.

"I am getting pretty good at making use of my space, because I don't have a big shed," Thomson said. "I have a couple of little sheds. The idea is not to hang onto it, but to make something out of it."

One of his biggest challenges comes when a person wants to make a custom-order. "It is based on if I can get the materials, on what I have on hand."

Thomson said he often told people that when he retired, he was going to make things. If they asked what he would make, he replied, "It depends on what material I can get and what is popular. One of the things that is popular now is the rustic farmhouse look. It's kind of a nostalgic thing. It is kind of a touchstone. It makes you feel comfortable."

Thomson collected both new and used tools throughout his working career. He said his wife of 48 years learned to ask him what he needed for Christmas.

He and his wife have two children and five grandchildren.

"They love to hang around Grandpa in the shop and tinker around, paint something, make something," Thomson said. "My wife and I have had discussions about that. You know, there's not much that we have that we can really leave with them, but the memories. They're kind of good to leave with the next generation."

Steve Gardiner

Steve Gardiner taught high school English and journalism for 38 years in Montana and Wyoming.  He started working at the Republican Eagle in May 2018.  He focuses on features and outdoor stories.  

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