Figuring out how to restore stuff from a creaky old house is complicated. Who can bring these aging beauties back to life? Where do you have to go to find old-world craftsmen? Who cares about worn and antique stuff anymore?
I am headed down to New Bedford to the workshop of the “Tub Doctor” this week. For $500, the doctor will re-porcelain your worn cast iron tub, and sandblast the exterior to ready it for paint of any color. He is a colorful fellow, the Tub Doctor, and you will learn all about his life when you visit him. He prefers black feet on the tub to chrome, he wishes that women were more faithful, and he is looking for investors in a new business idea that will double your money in less than three months. I am resisting calling his eccentric conversation style over-sharing…. how about peppered with interesting and specific information.
Just finding the studio is intense. Imagine a series of abandoned brick factory buildings, sprawling over acres of empty asphalt behind chain link and razor wire with an old wooden door that might be in a travel blog about Moldova or Croatia.
The workshop is set in the middle of the largely-abandoned mill compound, and this section is littered with debris, broken tile, odd concrete. When they say New Bedford never recovered from the collapse of the Industrial Revolution, they are talking about places like this.
On the inside, vast chambers disappear as far as the eye can see and you can feel the spirit of the mill girls from the 1890’s, giggling and laughing at their sewing tables, even in today’s dank and empty silence.
Once you get into the Tub Doctor’s lair the heat is on, a radio plays and the smell of cigarettes mixed with paint fumes makes you feel like you are back in the 21st century. The Doctor is friendly and chatty, telling me about his baby, his son’s landlord and the price of the lunch he plans to eat later today.
We debate the cast iron tub feet and I defer to his taste about the chrome — never looks good, he tells me, chrome paint just looks like chrome paint. I like how the feet look like chess pieces, pawns clustered in a corner for safety. Maybe the ghostly mill girls play with them after dark, I think to myself.
I pay him cheerily, genuinely happy to have stumbled upon this odd corner of the world. I look forward to seeing him again when he delivers the final product to the Woods Hole Inn in a month or so. I drive out of the compound, back in the sharp winter sunshine, and smile.
You can find the old tubs plus the Tub Doctor yourself by calling New England Demo and Salvage. Leave a little extra time for the stories, because let’s face it … the journey is half the fun.