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The vocation of a hardware man

It was an incident that gave him a warm feeling for old-fashioned hardware stores and the people who work in them.

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Scott Wallace- staff

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I spotted the problem right away. The sliding doors in the old Southern house I was remodeling would barely budge, and, when I looked closely at the overhead track, I could see that the wheels of the doors' rollers were worn down to nubs.

Sixty years of wear and tear...

The clerks at my town's hardware store took one look at the metal roller I offered them and began to laugh, telling me that such mechanisms were once the finest in the land but no one had seen their like in years. Their only suggestion – a long shot, they admitted – was to telephone Addkison Hardware in Jackson, Miss., a venerable establishment, one of the oldest and largest in the South. Try to speak with Mr. Putman, the store's longtime manager, they said. He knew every box of tools and fasteners in the building. He was the grand old man of hardware.

I imagined a 1940s office cubicle with Mr. Putman at his desk – a green visor above his glasses and black armbands on his starched white shirt – ordering window panes for the White House or outfitting pipeliners in Patagonia.

The next day, I phoned Addkison, wondering if the switchboard operators would put me through to Mr. Putman. I thought I'd probably have better success phoning Henry Kissinger. But somehow, after a few moments, a polite grandfatherly voice spoke in my ear, "How can I help you?"

I began stammering out my request. I was a carpenter in Monroe, La., I explained, and I'd been given his name.... Hurry up, I told myself. This man might be on the phone with the governor of Mississippi, and here I was bothering him about a door in Louisiana.

Mr. Putman asked me if I happened to have the door roller nearby. Was my roller a Cardovan-Mulkesey 1499-DCX (or some such name)? Yes, it was, I gasped.

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