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A long way from dolls to a depot

Gerety turning old Lehigh railroad depot into museum and antique shop

News editor

Bob Gerety’s interest in antiques started innocently enough, just looking out for dolls for a co-worker.

Three decades later, the Peabody man is literally moving into the big time by relocating an old Lehigh depot that’s languished in a Walton neighborhood to a prime location nearby on US-50.

“I’ll probably call this a museum, slash, antique store,” Gerety said.

It’s a move up from booths he has in two antique malls in Wichita, and a far cry from how he got his start antiquing.

While Gerety jokes that his interest in antiques could be inherited from his father, a second-hand dealer, he believes it all started when he agreed to do a favor.

“There was a lady who used to work in my same office and she collected these little bisque dolls,” he said. “She kept telling me if I happened to run across those I’ll pay you five dollars for them.”

Gerety followed through until one day when he made an unusual discovery.

“I ran across a whole set in the original boxes,” he said. “I decided, ‘You know what, I think I’ll just hang on to those.’ Ever since, I’ve been kind of looking for a good deal.”

He found one at a lightly-attended auction in Lehigh, picking up a section of a station house for “practically nothing,” he said.

Then there was the matter of telling his wife, Sherri, about the buy. He found her at Peabody Methodist Church, where she works part time.

“He came in one day with this gentleman trailing him and he says, ‘I need you to sign some papers,’” she said. “He bought the stationmaster building at the auction, and I wasn’t aware he was at the auction.”

Gerety was driving around Walton one day when he spied the dilapidated old Lehigh depot. The owner wanted to get rid of it and offered it for free if Gerety would move it.

Again, he had a surprise for Sherri.

“Then he says, ‘I got a great deal on a depot,’” she said. “I said, ‘Oh, great, just what was on my wish list, a depot.”

But she warmed to the idea when discovering it was a Santa Fe depot.

“My whole family in Topeka has been Santa Fe,” she said. “My grandfather was in the shops, my uncles worked upholstering the train seats. My dad, at the end of his career, we called him Fred Sanford because he was the director of salvage at the general offices. So this was kind of nostalgic — but I could’ve just gone with a sign.”

Gerety found someone to construct a new foundation on a lot near the Walton post office, and arranged for Unruh House Moving of Galva to move the depot, which is scheduled to happen today.

“We don’t move a lot of depots,” Duane Mastre said.

Once the depot is in place at its new location, Gerety said it could be three to five years before he finishes the work to open it as a museum and antique store. He doesn’t plan to do a complete restoration, but using items still in the depot and with other embellishments, visitors should get the same historic feel while browsing antiques.

“I’m 70, and so far I’m feeling pretty good and I feel like I can do all this stuff. If I can finish up everything I’ve got going right now, I think I’m good,” Gerety said.

However, Sherri wants Bob to set priorities.

“It will be fun to restore it,” she said. “I just have a request that he finish the shed out at our house first.”

Last modified Sept. 6, 2017

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