From the fascinating to the remarkable, Lake Lanier harbors many personalities and places along its shores. Lakeside presents “Shore Lines” – stories about people who live, work and play around the lake and the places that make the area special.
Ever since he was a little boy, hanging around his father’s lawn-mower repair shop in Norcross, Rodney Hellemn loved to tinker. He also liked to collect things.
Both of his childhood hobbies are still a huge part of his life. When he and his wife Gina built their home five years ago on Lake Lanier, he made sure he had plenty of room to showcase his collections and do restorations. The home includes a separate workshop, styled like a 1950s Sinclair Gas Station, complete with old pumps – and retro prices of .29 9/10 a gallon for Power-X and .25 9/10 per gallon for Dino – a service bay and an office with, of course, an old Coke machine.
“I restored my first Coke machine when I was 12 years old,” Hellemn said. “I asked the salesman if he had an old drink machine and he just gave it to me. I still have that machine, plus several others from different decades, snack machines, jukeboxes and pinball machines.”
His shop/garage is laid out like an old gas station; you can walk into the office from under the gas-pump awning, then turn right into a large workshop. There, he restores older jukeboxes, motorcycles and vending machines, some older than he is.
“Here’s my latest acquisition,” he said proudly as he pointed to a 1946 Manley Popcorn Machine, the kind those of us in our 60s remember from Saturday morning trips to small-town movie theaters. He nodded and smiled when the reporter mentioned those matinees shown for the admission price of six RC Cola bottle caps.
He and Gina frequently travel to coin-operated shows, swap meets and vintage events across the country. “We’re always looking for something special, something vintage to work on. And if you have something to sell, just give me a call at 770-945-9524.”
Several display cases with horizontal revolving shelves showcase old movie and concert tickets, pen lights, novelty cigarette lighters, campaign buttons and even his commemorative ring recognizing him as a 50-year attendee/spectator of Gator National Racing in Florida. Walls are graced with posters, gas station signs, motor oil advertising; the room is filled with works in progress, including old pinball machines and a 1978 Honda Minitrail 70 with part of the original license tag on the back.
“There’s just something about restoring these old machines, cars and other treasures,” Hellemn said. “I just love taking something with such a history and resurrecting it. Those were simpler times, when kids loved to drop a coin in dime-store boat machine for an imaginary adventure or when a Coke cost a nickel.”
In a climate-controlled space, he walks past a pristine 1970 white Pontiac Trans Am Firebird with a blue stripe purchased new at Tabor Pontiac in Buckhead. The light bounces of the sheen of the paint. “I learned how to drive and got my driver’s license in this car,” he says with a smile. “That’s a great memory.”
A trip to the home’s basement reveals more collections and a bar he built in tribute to his father’s boat. “We used to go to Summerland Key in the summers and this bar is a recreation of my father’s boat.”
Receipts to hotel keys
The room is filled with Lake Lanier and family memorabilia. He picks up a high-school graduation program from Chamblee High School and points out his name. In the same case, he brings out a sale receipt from Bob’s Mower Center, which his father opened in 1967.
“We did some work for (Atlanta radio personality) Neal Boortz and he paid us with a $500 credit for legal services,” he said. “It’s right here, and I guess he still owes us because we never had to cash it in.”
There’s a key fob and key from Lakeside Campsites, formerly located outside Safe Harbor Aqualand Marina on Lights Ferry. “Yeah, we used to go there, too, and I have just always kept hotel keys. Even though the place is gone, I still have the key. And I’ve got a Trans Am keychain from years ago from Bald Ridge Marina.”
The basement includes a home theater decked out with movie posters, plus a recreation room with more games. Outside there’s a coin-operated boat on a stand. “That’s for the grandkids; I usually keep a roll of dimes so they can ride in it.”
When he’s not collecting, Hellemn is a home builder, currently building in Jefferson. His company is RWH Homes. He’s kept the same crew for decades.
The couple has two adult daughters and two grandchildren, ages 8 and 3. His father, Bob, age 86, lives nearby in Buford. Hellemn’s older brother is retired from General Electric and lives in Monroe.
He recently opened Anchor Inn Boat and RV Storage at the corner of Lights Ferry and McEver Road. He calls it his retirement gig.
“You know, I don’t really have a job because I just love what I do. I’m always meeting great people and just getting to have fun. You know, there’s really no reason not to be happy and fun.
For me, every day’s a fun day; it’s all about just being blessed and happy to enjoy life.”
Photos: by Pamela A. Keene