Introducing the story behind our apothecary pop-up clinic.
The idea came to Ashley back in early to mid March, that one way to get my name (Marilynn) out there as a Biblical Natural Health Coach, would be to attend holistic and natural health and wellness fairs as a vendor. She felt that being able to offer services on-site, would be particularly beneficial and if she came along as my assistant, she could offer customized tea blends on the spot. That thought gave rise to the idea of a pop-up apothecary clinic where people could sign my client intake form and then receive the goods or services that I offer only to paying clients.
We began chatting about what that pop-up clinic would look like, when she mentioned turning a steamer trunk into an apothecary pop-up clinic. We began looking around, and found a beat up fixer-upper selling for $55. A moving company had been saddled with it and wanted it gone.
We bought it and brought it home March 20th, 2023.
I initially estimated this project as costing her at least $200 – $300 by the time it was fully fixed up. Apparently my estimates were WAY off! We didn’t do a 100% restoration, but the stuff we needed to buy to do what we did, cost over $600!
The restoration began March 21st, taking off the beat-up leather keepers for the leather straps that used to lock the lid to the box. You can see what’s left of one of those straps in the picture here.
The nails used to hold the keepers fascinated me! They looked original!
Ashley began looking up things about the trunk to see if we could learn more about it’s history.
One of the pieces that antique forums said could help date a piece of furniture, was the patent present on any lock that was attached. We took a photo of the lock, and then found out that this was one of the locks that the Corbin company never succeeded in patenting. The ST1 and the ST6 never got patented, and we had an ST1! Further digging led us to the Drucker company, who made steamer trunks between the 1820’s and into the 1920’s. They were known for wrapping their trunks in canvas, and using a paper liner inside the box.
When we took that paper off using soap and water (usual way to remove wallpaper), we found B6 scrawled on the back wall:
We can only assume this may have meant “box 6”, as there were no other written markings anywhere else on the box.
My initial efforts were to focus on rebuilding the lid and the bottom of the box, as both were pretty bad, and the box was sitting directly on the tarp. Allowing that to happen resulted in some of our own damage, as early spring rains resulted in water seeping through the tarp into the old wood on the bottom. I wasn’t too happy!
But I wouldn’t discover the error for a bit, as we attacked the lid first.
The canvas had mostly come off the lid already, so it didn’t take too much to remove what was left. Removing the paint would prove to be the first major challenge. Soap, baking soda and water didn’t loosen it very well, paint thinner did nothing, natural turpentine would end up helping the most.
We needed to reinforce the lid due to how badly the wood had cracked along grain lines, and then we added wood putty to fill in the cracks.
The colours of wood filler available to us were either too dark, or too light, so we went with light. It was as Ashley was filling in the cracks that a Japanese concept popped into her head. Kintsugi, the art of taking broken pottery and repairing it using gold glue. When we added the linseed oil and then spar varnish, the way the wood putty glowed added to this concept even more.
Imagine our surprise, when we learned that a concept known as Japonism had hit the European world around the same time this trunk was built?! Japonism was the idea of taking Japanese methods of colour, form, etc, and using them as inspiration for European design in everything from clothing to furniture to dinnerware, to wall art. Ashley had studied the Japanese language in high school, learned some of their history, and I’d studied their history and culture way back in elementary school. So this tie-in to studied memories intrigued both of us.
When the lid was finally done, it looked divorced from the rest of the trunk!
I then tried to turn my attention to the bottom of the trunk, discovering that it was mostly covered in metal! Metal that was literally tearing apart in my bare hands!
We bought an oscillating tool from CanadianTire, and that helped me remove the remaining metal from the bottom of the trunk.
Between April 1st and the 9th, we had several rains, and the water damage visible in this photo, was darkened! I lifted the unit onto shopping totes, because I was told to work on the outside walls to get the canvas off first. But the unit had to dry out.
I began removing hardware that held non-existent leather to the sides of the trunk where handles used to be. Discovering they’d used three clustered nails to hold the leather straps in and the caps were just for looks, was a minor surprise. The nails continued to fascinate me. I have seen various types of nails over the years, but none like these!
One weekend, Ashley grabbed the scraper tool and removed the remaining canvas from the trunk for me. That job was going to take me forever otherwise, and she did it in a single day!
That would leave me to remove the glue and sand down to the absolutely gorgeous wood underneath! Even with the glue still present, I knew we had a winner here!
It took me a week or so, but I got the outside walls of the box scraped, sanded and finished and could finally return my attention to the bottom of the trunk.
By this time, the now-dried water damage had turned the previous water marks very dark. I was able to lighten it up with some creative sanding. Added more wood putty in places, and got it ready for finishing, while apparently sanding myself in the process.
We added some leather to replace the metal that went up the lower sides of the box, and shaped it to somewhat imitate the metal on the front of the box that hadn’t rusted. We managed to find nails that I refer to as “new-old” nails, that a company in the US continues to make just as they did back in the 1800’s!!! Imagine repairing parts of the trunk with the same nails it was built with! This had us quite excited!
Ashley worked on removing paint from metal, and I removed rust, after which, she began painting the metal around the bottom so that I could flip the now finished bottom onto the table we were now set up on.
Our attention would turn next, to the inside of the trunk.
Sanding the inside of the box went relatively well, removing any remaining paper as I went.
In the meantime, we’d obtained three small crates and a mini-me trunk that we’d work on to look like the steamer trunk’s copycat.
We managed to find decorative nails for the mini-me, and got the interior of the steamer trunk ready for finishing!
The scrawled “B6” almost didn’t survive the sanding. We also reinforced the bottom of the trunk due to how cracked it was.
Here it is, the completed interior. Now we were able to start building the apothecary interior.
This meant tearing apart pallets that we brought home for the free wood. We noticed one pallet in the hay shed, was much redder than the others, with grain lines that matched the trunk. We brought it home, took it apart, and began making shelves from it.
Here, I did a dry run of the various pieces, standing them up in a rough estimation of the end product. You can see at the bottom of the photo, that this was while the trunk was still on it’s bottom.
The day we could stand the trunk on it’s new bottom, with the shelving installed, was a big day for us!
But our efforts weren’t done. We still had to add new leather back to the trunk to replace handles and straps.
Our little mini-me continued to take shape as well, and when the big trunk began to get it’s 500ml jars filled, the mini-me began getting it’s tiny vials filled as well, complete with it’s own tiny shelving!
With the major parts of the trunk finally done, it was time to start working on the scissor jack table that would lift the trunk to table height. This meant tearing apart two more pallets, a slightly darker wood pallet and a white pine pallet. This effort would take a little over 10 days to do, from raw pallet wood, to finally having the table built and functional.
As you can see, the table top would become a bit of a riot of colour between the various colours of wood. The platform the jack would be attached to however, was entirely from the red oak pallet.
While waiting for various coats of linseed oil or spar varnish to dry, work continued in making the trunk interior ready for it’s role as an apothecary pop-up clinic.
The scissorjack table would be finished darn near 2 months to the day, that the trunk it will carry, came home.
The table looked great, with stiff drawer slides, sitting there all by itself without the trunk on top. As soon as we added the trunk, we knew our plan to add stabilizer legs was imperative! RV scissorjacks aren’t meant to lift anything, they are meant to stabilize things, so by themselves, they rock on their own hinges, causing the entire table to rock.
Legs were built, but the small gate hinges intended to keep the legs from bending, were too big to place on the sides of the legs and had to go on the backside instead, limiting their usefulness as it turned out.
The trunk would travel to a building that was also built in the 1800’s as a fruit packing warehouse, restored, and repurposed as both a museum and rentable hall. The apothecary trunk’s very first fair would be in this very hall.
In the photo to the right, the trunk is on the scissorjack table, folded down, legs tucked between the table top and jack platform.
The photo to the left, was the first official setup of the trunk at a holistic fair!
The method of locking the legs open, shown in a previous photo, turned out not to work as well as expected on old warped wood flooring. We had to rethink that method, and landed on pivoting wood blocks to prevent the legs from trying to collapse once opened.
The next fair, we would put that method to use on a curling rink cement floor, and it worked very well! You can barely make out one of the front leg’s blocks at the extreme left edge of this photo, across from the jack and platform.
But plastic 2” casters don’t cut it for this trunk! Another plastic caster broke, requiring another purchase of two all-metal, steel wheeled casters. These will last the lifetime of the trunk.
So far, everywhere the trunk goes, it garners attention! People want to know who restored it and are often surprised when they learn it was us, Marilynn and Ashley Dawson, who took it from next-thing-to-garbage, and transformed it into this amazing apothecary pop-up.
Our God is in the business of restoration, taking lives destined for hell and transforming them into His own children, taking misfits, has-beens, and rejects, and turning them into useful, shining examples of His love for the world around us. So we have done with this trunk, and it is our prayer that not only will it garner attention for what it has become, but that it’s contents will restore and renew those who buy from the ingredients and knowledge it carries. Restoring this trunk was quite a journey for us, both in the time, money and effort it took, but also in discovering the trunk’s own beginnings. Lord-willing, it’s renewed usefulness will carry on for many years to come.