Aabyes remodeled service center in Dawson into a home
By Bud Prescott
Together they have built or extensively remodeled many homes since they were married in 1961. They both say they are not moving again unless it’s to the retirement home.
“Hopefully I will be here until I’m 99 or 99.9,” said Shari.
Shari and her husband Frank, who retired early from his Perham postmaster position in 1992, once wanted to retire in Astoria, Ore.
“Frank said we should see it in the winter if we want to move there,” said Shari. “It was beautiful, but when we got there, it was cold and rainy, and we just did not feel at home.”
When Frank retired they sold their house and left most of their possessions in a storage unit so they could tour the country in a 24-foot RV.
“All we had to pay for was gas,” said Shari.
It was a step up from when they were younger and went tent camping with their three children.
“Even with only $2 you can still have fun. Sometimes we only had $2,” laughed Shari.
At the end of their year-long RV trip covering 35,000 miles, they fixed up a house in Lake of the Ozarks, Mo., where they lived for three years.
Eventually the Aabyes moved back to Minnesota to be closer to family. They lived in Benson but were looking for a unique home to be yet another retirement project. It was love at first sight when they saw the old Main Street gas station in Dawson backed by a park and the Lac qui Parle River. The river was a bonus for the Aabyes, who had once lived near the lake in Detroit Lakes and had dreamed about living on the waterfront in Astoria. They call their home Astoria Station.
Most of the station has been customized by the Aabyes themselves.
“If we didn’t do the work ourselves we wouldn’t be able to afford it,” said Frank.
Parts of the original station poke into the living space. The small basement has original cement ceiling tiles, and two of the old garage doors blocked up by Frank have the old door springs just visible above cabinets on an outside wall.
The station office was turned into their parlor, with a closet converted into a little library. The parlor is a small museum of vintage objects. Behind the door is a child-size piano.
“The piano is mine from when I was 5-years old,” said Shari.
To the other side of the door is a foot-powered sewing machine.
“It looks like Frank fixed the belt for me,” she said.
In a large cabinet with glass doors sit more museum pieces, including a Donald Duck watch that Shari got when she was a child, an Allies bracelet with flags from the Allied countries that her father brought back after WWII, even a Bing Crosby record cleaner and a collection of antique hand tools.
Every cabinet is filled. It is hard to tell if there are more photo albums or more vintage toys. Inside some of the doors Shari’s handwriting decodes the storage boxes by color to make the best use of space.
A window from the station office to the garage is now a pass through from parlor to kitchen; this makes both rooms feel bigger. Behind the remaining garage door sits their Smart car, a space-saving car to go with the space-saving house.
Another vent is in the renovated garage turned kitchen. “You can’t just have an empty vent,” Shari said. Now the vent houses an old metal toy truck.
There are also cabinets and drawers everywhere, and Shari knows what is in every one. Her photo album supplies are stored in plastic boxes in a cabinet above her computer. In the cabinets are little signs decoding the colors for her organized home. Always busy, Shari likes to paint with watercolors. Her paintings of flowers and butterflies decorate the station walls. She is also a calligrapher, having made restaurant menus and wedding invitations.
Vintage vehicles parked in front of the former gas station complete the nostalgic look of the home, from their old Chevy car and Ford pickup to the current vehicles, a ‘51 T-bird and ‘71 Volkswagon Karmann Ghia. Shari wanted to bring the Ghia home and add it to the lawn as an ornament, but soon a friend convinced Frank to fix it up. On the outside, the bright yellow car already looks great.
“The inside of the car isn’t finished yet,” Shari said, pointing to the dismantled interior.
When the Aabyes are working outside, the cats sometimes get to sit in a cage on a wagon outside so they don’t miss anything. Shari has pictures of that in the cat photo album as proof.
Besides working on the house, Frank likes working as a paraprofessional at Stevens Elementary in Dawson. “I enjoy the children, and sometimes I get a hug,” said Frank.
This work limits them from being able to go on winter vacations.
“We always plan on going on a big winter vacation the next year,” said Shari.
They have plenty of projects to keep them busy until they go on vacation. The next big project is a pull-behind camper that they plan on giving a vintage look, inside and out. Shari has been combing the Internet to find the look she wants. When that is finished the Aabyes plan on pulling it with the Thunderbird to some vintage campouts.
“She comes up with ideas, and I try to build them,” said Frank. “We do everything together as a team.”
Reminding them of where they could have ended up, a sign saying “Astoria Station” now hangs on the renovated gas station. This Astoria is custom made for them.