This past weekend volunteers from everywhere came to area beaches and picked up trash. But what is one man’s trash is another man’s treasure! For Forks’ retired plumber, John Anderson, picking up that trash/treasure has been a lifelong hobby.
It has been a couple years since Anderson hung up his plunger for the last time and retired. While he no longer hears the satisfying sounds of the swish of a clear unobstructed drain pipe or the whoosh of a successfully unplugged toilet, the resonance of water in the form of waves crashing on the beach is familiar and welcome music to his ears. Beach-combing, an activity that has been a hobby, albeit an extreme one, has become his full-time endeavor, taking him places he never dreamed possible.
In 1973, Anderson alternated working as a logger and a plumber with then local plumber Chuck Archer, finally buying Archer’s plumbing business in 1989 when Archer retired.
Anderson admits the profession of plumber has its allure; every day is something different and there always is a challenge and sometimes a surprise.
His most memorable plumbing story is the time he was called to a local drinking establishment to unclog a toilet, the problem was much to his surprise a set of false teeth. After removing the obstruction, he was showing the set of dentures to the owner when a woman came through the door and said, “I have been looking for those, I borrowed them from my sister and I have got to get them back to her.” As the two men stood there speechless, the woman grabbed the misplaced molars and headed out the door. Anderson finally found his voice and hollered after her, “Be sure to boil them.”
It was around 1976 when Anderson began bringing things home from the beach.
Today he has amassed tons of items combed off of local beaches.
A trip to his home in Forks tells it all, a tower of colorful floats is a centerpiece in his yard. The driveway is lined with various rusted iron-work from shipwrecks of the past, like the 1903 wreck of the Prince Arthur, fossils and pillow rocks. A look inside his home reveals beautiful glass floats, a notebook full of “messages in a bottle” some of which Anderson has answered.
In another building there are 25,000 floats in a container that reaches the ceiling, buoys of all kinds and athletic shoes. A few years ago when a container ship went down, shoes washed up on local beaches and Anderson and many of his beach-combing friend exchanged lefts and rights and sizes until they got matching pairs and wore them. A grey whale scull, which is huge, stands at the top of a second floor of even more items such as a Boeing 727 engine spinner cone, Saki bottles, deep sea glass spheres used for various experimental equipment and so much more.
Anderson’s love of beach-combing also has taken him to Florida and Texas. And then there is the time he saved a Seattle area Boy Scout Troop from drowning while he was beach-combing at Rialto Beach.
Like plumbing, beach-combing is different every time, too — you never know what you are going to find. Anderson’s most memorable beach-combing discovery includes teeth as well; actually a tooth, one big tooth, the tooth of a mammoth, but the mammoth did not want it back.
When Anderson started collecting tsunami debris from the Fukushima disaster, his “hobby” caught the attention of NPR which did a story on him and Toronto film makers that were making a documentary called “Lost and Found.”
Anderson’s hopes to one day display his many treasures in his own beachcomber’s museum are getting closer to reality, and this is no pipe dream, plastic or galvanized.
Anderson has been working hard to get his beach finds organized and is hoping he can open the museum this summer, saying, “But, that means I’ll be stuck at home,” which might cut into his beach-combing time.