It has been more than 50 years since Curt Wilkins did his first remodeling project, and recently he made the decision to do something he has been talking about for quite some time — hanging up his hammer and retiring. For years, Wilkins, now 74, has been saying, “I’m trying to quit.”
After this weekend, it should be easier to pull the plug. He is planning to hold a huge sale at his home on Sams Creek Road to sell off the tools and supplies he has accumulated while practicing his trade.
Wilkins said he was inspired to get into this line of work when he was just 16 years old. That summer, his grandfather invited Wilkins to live with him.
“He had retired, he was about 70,” Wilkins said of his grandfather. “And he would buy these little houses in a small town in southern Wisconsin, get them fixed up, and then he’d sell them to young couples. I’m sure what he did was finance them at a really cheap rate. So his goal was very much what mine’s been … to develop affordable housing.”
For his first project all those years ago, Wilkins had to wait until he was 21 before he could sign the papers and take possession of the home he planned to remodel.
Wilkins moved to Lincoln County in the early 1990s, and he taught shop class at Toledo Middle School until retiring in 2000. For the last 20 years, he has focused solely on renovating old homes to create affordable housing in the area, primarily around Toledo.
“I was the first president actually here in Lincoln County of the Lincoln County Development Corporation,” Wilkins said. “The whole idea behind that was affordable housing. I got so frustrated with all the bureaucratic red tape that I said, ‘Screw this. I’m just going to do it myself.’ I started buying houses and fixing them up. I’ve probably done 20.
“I used to buy houses that the Realtor called pushovers, tear-downs,” Wilkins said. “I’ve probably done half a dozen of those in Toledo. They’re good solid bones. They’re old mill houses. You put a foundation under them and sheetrock them, then somebody gets a reasonably priced house, and I have this satisfaction. I have this expression, ‘making silk purses out of sow’s ears.’”
Those projects have included single-family homes, duplexes, tri-plexes and four-plexes. “Mayor Rod Cross used to call me the Toledo Development Corporation because at times, I had two or three going at once,” Wilkins recalled.
“I do think, sincerely, that the units that I still have that I rent and the units that I did, what they call ‘fix and flip’ these days, contributed immeasurably to affordable housing here in Lincoln County, which was my goal to start,” he said.
When asked what major changes he has seen in his line of work over the years, Wilkins said, “Regulation is really a big part of it. When I first came to Oregon, I got a contractor’s license for $100. And then in the code, it has just become, in my opinion, more and more repressive.” That is why there is a problem with affordable housing today, he said. “It costs $17,000 in permits just to get something started. It’s a huge increase in ancillary costs.”
Wilkins admits that changes in tool technology made the job somewhat easier over the years. “I was the last guy in town to get a battery pack screwdriver,” he said. “I cursed myself for three years because I hadn’t done it sooner. A lot of tools have been built and designed for portability for contractors. I used to have a table saw I’d carry around, and it took two guys just to load it in the truck.”
Most of the items he has accumulated will be up for sale this weekend. He is promoting it as a remodeler’s retirement sale. “Lot’s of cheap and free stuff. Doors, windows, plumbing, electrical, flooring, plywood and paneling, lumber, cabinets, roofing, trim, hardware,” Wilkins said. “Also an upright freezer, patio doors and glass, chairs, supplies, a generator. It’s a huge list.”
The sale takes place today (Friday) and Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at his home, located at 1951 Sams Creek Road, which is about 13 miles east of Newport — the road runs between Highway 20 and Logsden Road. There are two barns filled with items, “and if I don’t get rid of enough stuff, I’m going to run it the following Friday and Saturday,” he said.
When asked what he will do with the empty space after all these items are sold, Wilkins said, “Hopefully I’ll have that shop I’ve been thinking about setting up since I retired. Have a little woodshop and make windmills or something. I’m looking forward to it, but I don’t know whether it will happen. I’m at that point in my life where I’ve said it’s OK if all of the creative possibilities that are out there … it’s OK if I don’t do it. That’s been hard for me.”