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Hoosier restoration a hefty hobby

June 15, 1998|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

by RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

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restoring Hoosier cabinetHoosier restoration a hefty hobby

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - For the first third of this century, the Hoosier cabinet and its kin - Sellers, Boone and McDougall among them - stood in kitchens from Maine to California.

The best were made of oak and carried the Hoosier name, which later became synonymous with any cabinet that resembled them, much like Xerox became generic for copying machines.

Hoosiers were so named because most were made in the Hoosier State of Indiana, said Raymond Smith, 82, of Waynesboro.

Smith, a retired machinist, has been buying old wooden kitchen cabinets since the early 1960s. He restores them in a small shed behind his house on Landis Street.

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The first cabinets were made by the Hoosier company, Smith said.

"They always were the best. The rest were just copies, although some like Sellers were pretty good. When I can't find a Hoosier to restore, I pick up a Sellers or a McDougall," he said.

Smith has just finished a McDougall cabinet. A Sellers is next in line for restoration.

Hoosier cabinets were a model of kitchen technology. They were 6 feet tall and 40 inches wide. They came with a top and base separated by a porcelainized metal counter top that slid out for more work space.

The cabinet was used to store pots, plates, silverware and spices, and to dispense flour and sugar. The porcelain counter was smooth enough for rolling out a pie crust.

The top held the flour and sugar bins plus a carousel on which could be twirled seven glass spice jars.

Small spice racks were built into the inside of the doors on top. Behind them was ample shelf space for plates and bowls.

A large metal rack held pot lids on the base door. Behind it was space enough for the largest pots, easily accessible because the shelves slid out. On the other side, three graduated doors made their way to the bottom, the largest of which, lined with tin, was the bread box.

Cutting boards and dough boards slid out from crevices. A small wooden shelf stuck out from under the countertop on the right like a small ear to hold the meat grinder.

They were cheap by today's dollar.

"An oak table, four chairs and a Hoosier sold for $29.95," Smith said. "When you can find a restored one today, it can run as high as $1,500."

He finds old cabinets at auctions. Sometimes people call with one for sale.

"You're lucky if you can find one in any condition for $400 to $500," he said.

Plentiful as Hoosiers once were, they became obsolete almost overnight when built-ins became popular, Smith said.

Smith sells restored cabinets for around $700.

"I don't do it for the money. I like to work on them. I get the feeling that I'm accomplishing something. That's why I always seem to be working on one," he said.

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