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Bill McGhee, collector and mechanic

Amenia — There are plenty of collectors living in the Harlem Valley — each one collecting something special. Bill McGhee, who owns Conklin’s Garage on Mechanic Street in Amenia, is one of those collectors. Here’s a peek into why he does what he does.

The Millerton News: What do you collect and why?

Bill McGhee: “I collect old tools, old oil cans, older car models, antique mechanic signs and old license plates from across the country.

It’s part of the mystique (or story) of my business taking care of cars at Conklin’s Garage. The things I collect are part of the industry’s history, such as the Model T jack, and the model A jack. Customers come in, visit and talk about what they see and then they bring stuff for me to take a look at. That’s how I got an oil can from a New York City subway and added to my assorted collection of antique adjustable wrenches. 

The newest addition to the collection is an old wooden jack for a wood wagon. I also got a red Texaco bank car from the Columbia County Fair. 

I collect old model cars at 1/31 or 1/20th scale. Some, I get through the Summit Racing Equipment catalogue, others I find at swap meets, car shows and even county fairs.  

My grandkids get me a different Hess model car each year. They like looking at stuff with me. 

I started collecting about 20 years ago. Twelve years ago, when I bought my brother-in-law out of the business, I started bringing the collection to the shop for display. It used to be an all-concrete room, so I put in the drop ceiling, tile floors, paneled walls and glass doors to the work bays. A customer helped me build shelves into the walls and on top of the windows for displays that still allow for a peek into the work area and for sunlight into the waiting area. 

I also collect banana trees and have several all over the waiting area. But that is another story!”

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