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SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO : Passion for Making Old Appear New

W. E. (Bill) Hardy walked into his cramped hobby studio, his cowboy boots flattening the dust beneath his feet.

“Yeah, this is the junk room,” the 74-year-old, World War II fighter pilot said.

He was only joking about “junk.”

A restored camera more than 100 years old sits in one corner. A 1905 Edison phonograph is next to a glass case stuffed with antique tools. A display of vintage saws on a wall forms an arc. And two 150-year-old barometers in need of repair await Hardy’s calloused and careful hands.

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“This one here is worth eight grand,” Hardy said, pointing to one of the barometers picked up by a Newport Beach gallery owner at a London auction. “I think these are the new popular thing for interior decorators.”

Tinkering with everything from cars driven to burger joints in the mid-1950s to sextants used by sailors to navigate the seas in the 1880s, Hardy has made restoration a passion.

When he gets bored with a particular item, he turns his attention to something else. These days, old radios, he said, look like an attractive challenge.

Over the past decade, the board vice president of the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society has restored hundreds of items, some of which remain in his shop. Other things, such as antique telescopes, were specially refurbished for collectors.

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“I change from month to month,” Hardy said of his interests. “I guess the bottom line is, I have a short attention span for a certain commodity. Once I learn about something and how to restore it, I move on.”

Hardy stopped renovating automobiles for reasons other than boredom.

“They were hard on the knuckles,” he said of vehicles and the wrench work needed to dismantle and reassemble them.

In his work, whenever he can, Hardy duplicates parts that have been broken by time.

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After retiring in 1984 as a logistics manager at what is now Rockwell, Hardy took his hobby more seriously. He said he spends about four to five hours on it a day.

Although Hardy took some college courses when younger, he never received a formal degree. But that hardly matters.

Will he ever run out of items to restore?

“I’ve got lots of things to go, if I live long enough,” Hardy said.

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