DRACUT - Summer and winter, springtime and harvest, Dick Paquin's front yard evokes a Dracut from another time.
Horse and pony wagons bedecked with the colors of autumn, carrying an old wooden bucket with metal straps and filled with brightly colored mums of purple, orange and gold. Old fashioned metal milk jugs - one with a working hand pump - have been meticulously restored and painted and grace the wagon.
During the winter months, especially around Christmas, the wagons are replaced with sleighs, festooned with lights, garland, boughs of holly and maybe even some large presents.
Paquin, a lifelong Dracut resident, has always had an eye for all things rustic and homespun. Behind his house, which sits on the corner of Lakeview Avenue, Sicard Avenue and Old Road, a number of old wooden sheds and portable storage shelters are filled with artifacts he has picked up in his travels. Some items await Paquin's restorative touch. Others just await a change of seasons so they, too, can be prominently displayed on Paquin's front lawn.
The walls of his garage, which boasts a hydraulic lift, are lined with old license plates from all across the Unites States and beyond. An old washboard leans against the wall next to a reflective stop sign, rusted ice tongs and several lanterns, some that use kerosene and some that run on batteries. Nestled near the washboard stands an old metal runner sled
"I've made sleds just like that," he says.
Almost every available space is filled with what American Pickers Mike and Frank refer to as "rusty gold." Some things are in better condition than others, like Paquin's 1962 Dodge Lancer that only has 24,000 miles on it. Or his John Deere 450 front-end loader, which he uses to plow his driveway in the winter.
The retired 74-year-old former systems engineer at the Dracut Water Supply District still works on occasion for the smaller Kenwood Water District, but most of his days are spent working around the house and keeping an eye out for any old piece that catches his keen eye.
Q: Where do you find this stuff?
A: "They're what you call 'barn finds.' I find old dilapidated sleighs and wagons and try to fix them up. Sometimes they come out pretty nice. People like them. I get most of them, the sleighs, wagons and a ton of other stuff, up in Vermont. My wife and I have a motor home in Danby, Vt., and that's where I get most of the stuff. Right now, I'm waiting for an old pony wagon that's coming down from Vermont."
Q: Do you sell the wagons and the sleighs and if so, for how much?
A: "Yes, I sell them. I have to. Otherwise I'd have no room for everything. The wagons, like the ones I build completely, I get $550 for it. The other ones, we can haggle over them. I have one of them in pieces. It's just a matter of looking at all the parts and putting it all back together. I've sold maybe 20 or 25 wagons and sleighs, mostly wagons. People like them.
"I also sell the old metal milk jugs. I get $25-to-$40 for those. You can't get those anymore."
Q: How long does it take to make one of these (wagons)?
A: "Start to finish, if I work on it steady, morning to night, it takes about three or four full days. There's a lot of drilling, a lot of hardware just to reinforce the thing and keep it sturdy. The wheels are weak so I reinforce them with long bolts. The tow bars I make myself. This is a solid wagon.
The other one out on the lawn right now is an actual pony wagon. It has springs all around. A pony could actually pull this wagon around no problem. The others are mostly lawn ornaments. I don't think they'd get too far."
Q: Do you remember the first wagon or sleigh that you made and when was that?
A: "The first one I made, I just took some measurements off of some of the other wagons I saw in Vermont. I made the body of a wagon, but I had an old sleigh and I wanted to make the body look like a sleigh. It's just a hobby I picked up after I retired. When I was a kid, I was into old cars not old wagons.
"So anyway, I was going to build a wagon just to decorate the yard. I had it out there and somebody pulled over and said, 'Is that for sale?' I said, 'Everything is for sale.' So he bought it. I made another one and put it out there -- gone. Sold. One time, I had three wagons out front. They stayed out there for over a month. Nobody was interested. Then somebody came by and bought all three."
Q: Has vandalism ever been a problem?
A: "Never, knock on wood. I don't have them too close to the street so I'm not giving any of the kids that go by any ideas. I pulled them back a ways. But I've never had a problem. Everyone's been very good."