“I collect everything known to man,” Hastings said. “So, if I don’t take money out of the family account I don’t feel bad.”
That may be true, but his unique skill for restoration and repair that helps finance his hobbies stems from a lifelong love and fascination with a former staple of the American household — the sewing machine.
Sewing machines, dating back to the mid 1800s and up through about the 1960s, fill shelves from floor to ceiling in Hastings’ basement workshop. As far as the eye can see, there are all different colors, shapes and styles of sewing machines.
Many belonged to his father, who worked for the Singer sewing machine company for years. When his father passed away, Hastings cleaned out his father’s garage, which was full of the machines, and kept them.
“I keep all of these old machines for nothing else sometimes other than parts,” he said. “I’ve got a gazillion of them. I’ve even got a personal collection of six to eight machines I won’t sell.”
There are old hand-crank machines that missionaries used to carry in “coffin” boxes when they went overseas, machines used to show people from other lands how to make their own clothes. There are sewing machines that fit into stylish cabinets and are operated by a foot treadle. There are machines from the mid-1900s — electric machines housed in boxes that make today’s sewing machines look like mere plastic toys.
And Hastings can repair each and every one of them. He works on them as a craft and hobby.
“I enjoy it,” he said. “With something mechanical I have the patience of Job.”
Hastings’ father worked for the Singer sewing machine company in Gadsden, Alabama, and the family lived in Fort Payne. Hastings would clean sewing machines for his father.
His family eventually moved to Rome, where his father continued to work on sewing machines. At the age of 14, Hastings started working at the Singer store on Broad Street, learning how to repair sewing machines. He eventually became responsible for fixing every machine that came in to the store — all while he was still a teenager.
When he graduated from high school in 1963, Hastings went on the road selling machines for Singer.
At age 21, Singer gave him a store to run in Chattanooga. They graduated him to the store in Athens and in 1974, Hastings transferred back to the store in Rome.
It was not long after he returned that he left Singer.
“I could see the beginning of the end,” Hastings said.
Japan was producing machines that replicated Singer machines and sold them in the United States for about $89. Singer was selling basically the same machine for $289.
“Theirs was just as good as ours,” Hastings said. “A lot of people didn’t want to hear that, but it was true.”
He left Singer in 1975. He changed careers and started selling insurance.
Hastings may have left the sewing machine company, but he didn’t leave the sewing machine business. He never stopped working on them.
His friend and hunting partner, Tom Kelley, owned the East West Vacuum Store in Central Plaza. People who needed their sewing machines fixed started dropping them off at the store. Hastings would pick them up, carry them home to his workshop and return them to the store for customers when he was finished.
Kelley’s family members are still running the vacuum store, and people are still taking their sewing machines there for Hastings to retrieve and repair.
“I’ve been doing this for the last 15 years,” he said.
Hastings finds a lot of joy and pride in taking something that’s broken and making it work. It’s why he still does what he does.
“Most of them I could repair blindfolded,” he said. “A monkey could if he’d spent 58 years working on them.”
Hastings said he has never come across a sewing machine he couldn’t fix.
“I’ve seen some that weren’t worth fixing,” he said. “But if you’re willing to spend the money, I can fix it.”
“Do you know that back in 1959 it cost $3.75 for a service call?” Hastings said. “Now it’s $50 plus parts. And the cost to send them off to repair — it’s crazy. When people like me get too old to do this or die or whatever, I don’t know what these folks will do.”