NORTH OGDEN — Paul Farr has fond memories of the old family heating stove on chilly days in his childhood home.
“We had one in our living room when I was a kid,” Farr recalls. “It was a square stove I would lay in front of with my old cat.”
Those early memories may explain at least part of the reason for the 66-year-old North Ogden man’s passion in retirement — restoring antique wood- and coal-burning stoves. From a small shop behind a home on north Washington Boulevard, Farr rescues these old “base burners” and similar stoves, and returns them to their former glory.
“They’re just a part of American history,” Farr says. “The new generation, they don’t care about this stuff. But the craftsmanship and artistry is what’s amazing to me — thinking of all the hours that went into carving those wooden patterns for the intricate designs on the stoves.”
Farr retired from working for the power company a few years ago, and he now runs a small family farm in North Ogden. In between, he restores antique stoves.
“I never had time to do these stoves until the last six or seven years,” he said.
Weighing in at between 150 and 300 pounds each, most of the antique stoves that Farr works on are from the late-1800s to early-1900s. The majority, once restored, fetch between $3,000 to $5,000 each, although some can go for as much as $10,000. Farr said some of the higher-end antique stoves can be worth upwards of $20,000.
“When they’re done, it’s just so satisfying to know you brought something back to life that was ready for the boneyard,” he said.
Although his restored stoves are available for purchase, talking with Farr, one gets the sense that he really doesn’t care whether or not they actually sell.
“Oh, I never try to sell these,” he said. “People look at them, and if they like them and want to buy them, great. But I want someone to take a stove home that appreciates it. Because I feel like they’re getting a part of me. They’ll never realize what went into their stove, but if it lasts the rest of their lives, that’s important to me.”
In any event, Farr says he doesn’t do his hobby in order to get rich.
“I don’t make any money, I just try to make sure my hobby doesn’t cost me too much,” he said. “In the end, when I’m done with a stove, I probably make about 50 cents an hour.”
Farr supposes he might sell more of these stoves if he actually advertised them. He does occasionally put one of his refurbished stoves in an online classified ad, but he also learned his lesson about buying fixer-uppers online.
Farr points to a junk pile of cast-iron stove parts in the corner of his small shop.
“This is the stove from hell right here,” he says. “I bought it off the internet. I won’t do that anymore.”
Upon receiving that stove and taking it apart, Farr says he learned that some of the decaying parts had been repaired with something called “refractory” — an inferior substitute for the original iron.
“I won’t send out a stove with refractory,” he said. “So I’ve been working on a pattern to replace the refractory with iron.”
It hasn’t been an easy process.
Farr’s wife, Audrey, said these stove restorations have certainly kept her husband busy in retirement.
“I’m glad he has this hobby,” Audrey Farr said. “He loves it, he lives for these stoves.”
She also confesses that Farr is more or less a perfectionist when it comes to his metalwork.
“He is so particular and immaculate with these stoves,” she said. “For him, everything has to be perfect.”
And while Audrey Farr may not share her husband’s love of the restoration process itself, she can’t argue with the finished product.
“I love these stoves,” she said. “Every time he wants to sell one, I want him to keep it — I get attached to them.”
The average stove restoration takes a minimum of three to six months of work. Farr takes them completely apart, sends out the iron parts to be sandblasted and the nickel-plated pieces to be nickel-plated. He then paints them, fixes any bad spots and seals them up tight.
At any one time, Far is working on two or three stoves at a time.
“And if I run out of them, I’ll work on that pattern for the stove from hell,” he says with a laugh.
Jay Beckstrom, of Layton, calls Farr a “soft-spoken, good guy.” Although he’s known Farr for 40 years, Beckstrom said it was only recently that he learned his friend refurbishes old stoves.
“I looked at some of them, and I’ve never seen anything like them at all,” Beckstrom said. “I told him, ‘Maybe the newspaper would like to know about this.’”
Farr said these antique stoves are the perfect blend of form and function. Most of those who’ve purchased his antique stoves do so for the way they look, but they also understand that they might come in handy one day.
“They buy these because they’re a beautiful piece of art,” Farr said. “And then they install them in case of emergency — with the intent of never having to use them.”