09 Mar Art Dreams and Sewing Machines
At 93, Bob Arbuckle takes graceful steps to back his community
It takes many threads to weave together the fabric of a community. Bob Arbuckle lends his creative thread as a Nickel Plate Arts member, dancer and advocate for the arts.
Six days a week, 93-year-old Arbuckle can be found repairing sewing machines. He and his daughter, Sara Carter, run Arbuckle’s Railroad Place less than a mile from downtown Noblesville on Vine Street. They work on most any machine: Sears and Roebuck, Singer, Viking and a German brand called Pfaff that’s close to their hearts.
“When I came back from WWII, I married Beverly Pfaff, so my daughter has that sewing machine blood in her. She’s a Pfaff,” he says with a smile and wink.
Arbuckle’s sprawling property includes two retired train cars, a bike shop and parking for about 200 cars. Built around 1970, his 15,000-squarefoot main building is designed to resemble a circa-1900 train station and houses rows of treadle machines, the home base for an upholstery service, everything you need to make a quilt, and collections of bikes, ties, hats and more.
The common thread across Arbuckle’s self-described “Root Beer Garden” complex is twofold: the sewing machine and the railroad. Atop eight of its 13 outdoor light poles, aluminum cast golden eagles are perched on cast iron sewing machines. While the sewing machine is most important to him, Arbuckle’s affinity for the railroad is a major reason he became a member of Nickel Plate Arts in 2015.
“I’m not a model railroader and I’m not pushing the railroad transportation part, but it’s been a great part of the story Noblesville has to tell,” he says. “It’s a wonderful story that can bring tourists and artists to our area.”
He believes there is potential in using our existing downtown tracks to literally transport and stage performances. Attracting arts to Noblesville is a personal passion for Arbuckle, as a patron and participant. As a young man, he studied photography and owned a short-lived commercial and portrait photography studio in Warsaw, Ind., before deciding in 1948 that sewing machine repair made more financial sense.
He has collected and commissioned works from local artists through the years. Barrels painted by the late Noblesville artist Floyd Hopper have prominent places in the store. Most visibly — you’ve likely seen him if you’ve ever been to the Noblesville Street Dance — Arbuckle is a fantastic dancer. He took up ballroom dancing in his 50s and has been light on his toes ever since.
“It’s a wonderful exercise regardless of how old you are — from childhood to the grave. And you can dance 365 days a year,” he says. There’s no offseason when it comes to dancing.
He has dreams of turning his Railroad Place into a gallery and music venue. When he heard about Nickel Plate Arts taking up the banner of a railroad to promote the arts, he decided it was something he wanted to support.
One objective of his “train station” is to emphasize the importance of the gas light era of Noblesville in the 1880s and early 1900s. The Trenton Ditch, Arbuckle says, is a great gas pocket that runs from Kokomo to our part of Central Indiana. This natural resource lured glass blowers, skilled workers and people with money to the Nickel Plate Road region in and around Noblesville. Noblesville was a hub for foundry art as well and has a history in the metal casting industry, which certainly required artistic skills.
Arbuckle and Carter share their sewing skills during sewing classes, where the majority of their students are, perhaps surprisingly, men and boys. They have projects for convertible tops, dog collars and tents in mind. Arbuckle also hosts the Desert Rose Country Line Dancers every Wednesday night, 7-9 p.m. He welcomes experienced line dancers to these weekly get-togethers.
One would have to wonder if Arbuckle’s outlook on life helps keep him more agile than many men half his age. He has an opinion on what we should ideally be feeding our minds.
“We imagine so many things and dream so many things. Our minds are like gardens. You don’t want to plant negative thoughts in those wonderful gardens. If you plant weed seeds, you’re going to get weed plants. If you plant positive thoughts — flower seeds — you’ll get a flower garden,” he says.