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When Mill Creek was just a dream ...
Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist
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The following article originally appeared in the Seattle Post Intelligencer, December 7, 1996:
MILL CREEK -- Time and the salmon seem to have slipped away in the years since Jimmie and Barbara Collier first moved into an old Snohomish County dairy barn and he began tinkering with old street clocks, theater organs and race cars.
Not far from their eight-acre spread, North Creek used to be "so full of salmon that you could almost walk across it on their backs," claims Jimmie. The salmon seem to have run the other way, and this pastoral plot has been surrounded by Mill Creek, which was only a developer's dream when they first moved here from Edmonds.
When you drive through this community, it all seems to be new office and commercial buildings, stores and malls and very upscale residential developments. But just a stone's throw from one of those malls -- Mill Creek Plaza -- Jimmie and Barbara still live in the dairy barn they bought and remodeled 34 years ago.

Photo by Paul Joseph Brown / P-I
More than a decade ago, when I first met this ingenious fellow, he was griping about this "progress" that had begun to swallow up the farmland around them. Now Jimmie and Barbara, his wife of almost 50 years, are surrounded by the development he tried unsuccessfully to fight.
It had to happen, this urban sprawl that has octopused around their little spread. But it must have seemed a long way off when they first came here and Jimmie remodeled the ground level of the barn for living quarters. "The main road (164th Street Southeast) wasn't even paved then. They've had at least two major 'road destruction' projects since then," he said.
Sorta makes you feel like you're standing still when so much happens around you.
They were putting down roots here when 164th was just an oiled gravel road and I-5 was still on the drawing boards. Jimmie commuted then to his machine shop in Edmonds. "We used to be considered as having a rural-route Bothell address," he said. They were well settled in before postal ZIP codes were instituted. "And they've changed our ZIP code twice since then," he noted.
A machinist by trade and a self-taught mechanic, electrician, race car driver and pipe organ technician, Jimmie is only "dabbling," as he puts it, in those things that used to keep him running 24 hours a day.
Only two old street clocks remain on duty here -- also running 24 hours a day -- as silent sentinels, reminders of the time when Jimmie and his buddy Lowell Archibald were the premier street-clock experts in Puget Sound. Many of the local street clocks on historic registers have had their innards repaired or replaced by Collier and Archibald and other mechanics lured to Jimmie's playground.
He doesn't know for sure where they'll end up; he's given away much of the amazing collection of machines and antiques he collected over the years. The pair of street clocks -- one built from an old Puget Sound navigation buoy -- run by electricity now "because it got to be a chore to wind them up every week," he confessed. The other he and Archibald "created from a pile of scrap steel," Jimmie confessed. The innards of a tower clock, identical to the one now at Seattle's Colman Dock, tick away in the sprawling machine shop.
No one has to wind-up Jimmie Collier, for all his 80 years. He still manages to do chores around the house and in the machine shop, even though doctors have tinkered around with his innards. "A van fell on me several years back, and I spent 35 days in the 'Expensive Care Ward' while they put me back together," he quipped. Jimmie has slowed to a lower gear now, but he managed recently to take a few laps around a Skagit County track in one of his hand-built race cars.
Actually, some of the progress that came with development probably brought the police and emergency medical technicians who eventually got that van off Jimmie. And it's brought cable TV hookups and some other conveniences, along with the noise of heavy truck traffic on the Bothell-Everett Highway just to the east.
They don't see deer anymore, and not as many grouse, quail and Chinese pheasants. But oddly enough, adds Barbara, the noise and development haven't scared away the great horned owls, hawks and coyotes. "They really begin to yip and howl when the police and fire sirens go by," she said.
Now that Jimmie's not racing his cars in competition or working full-time, the couple periodically shops for non-perishable food bargains, which they then truck to local food banks. "We're not rich, by any means, but we're comfortable, and we like to do things like that," Barbara explained.
Much of the barn's upper hay mow has been emptied of Jimmie's past tinkering projects. A rebuilt airplane radial engine was donated to the Museum of Flight. The old Palomar Theater pipe organ that Jimmie rebuilt piece by piece has gone to a theater restoration project in Everett. And a bright red, hand-built Indy-style race car has been donated to charity.
But there are other things, like the rebuilt player piano or the real nickelodeon and the huge chrome-plated steel cook stove and other museum-quality antiques and curios that make their dairy barn home distinctly pre-Mill Creek Collier.
Jon Hahn is a staff columnist who writes three times a week in the P-I.

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