After decades in a garage, a heavy piece of Ashland history is returning to Ashland's hardware store.

After decades in a garage, a heavy piece of Ashland history is returning to Ashland's hardware store.

On Friday afternoon, Ashland Hardware owner Phil Emard and employees Mike Shulters and Shaun Starrett hoisted onto a trailer a safe originally purchased by hardware store owner Thomas Simpson in the 1880s.

"That's 2,000 pounds of dead weight," seller Gary Mallicoat joked as the men loaded the trailer.

The Ashland resident reminisced at his own struggles transporting the safe decades prior.

"I bought it 40 years ago," Mallicoat said. "There was an ad in the paper, 'Safe. You move.' "

Mallicoat reminisced that it took him and a friend the better part of a day to maneuver the safe from a building in Talent in the 1970s.

"We hired a tow truck to bring it up here," he said.

"It lifted the front of the tow truck as it was trying to bring it up the front of the driveway, too," said Gary's wife, Linda.

The recent sale was prompted by the Mallicoats' plans to downsize.

"We were maybe going to move," Gary Mallicoat said. "I didn't want to move this thing."

He said a buyer in New York was interested, but the logistics of shipping the one-ton safe across the country were difficult. Besides, he wanted to keep the safe in Ashland, where he felt it belonged.

"Phil here recently bought Ashland Hardware, and I thought, 'Well, that's a nice match,' " he said. "That was my main thing. I'd like to keep it in the city."

Mallicoat said the safe was owned by Thomas H. Simpson, whose name appears in gold at the top of the safe. Simpson was born in 1867 and died in 1953. He owned a hardware store in Ashland for many years.

"People have told me back in the early '50s he was still there running it," Mallicoat said.

He said the safe was built in San Francisco in approximately 1883.

"It was probably shipped by rail," he said.

He gave Emard a typewritten piece of paper with the combination, and made plans to demonstrate the opening procedure once the safe is placed in its new location.

"It's so old, it doesn't have numbers, it has letters," he said, pointing at the dial.

Emard plans to display the safe adjacent to other antique hardware store memorabilia. He hopes to get photos from the Southern Oregon Historical Society to give store patrons an idea of the safe's past.

"I think we've got a spot where it won't see too much wear," Emard said with sweat on his brow. "We've got an antique ACE sign, so we'll probably put it under that."

It was a combination of passions that made taking ownership of the safe something special for Emard.

"I'm a history buff, and I love hardware stores, so the combination of the two is irresistible," he said.

Emard also marveled at the safe's long role in the store's lineage.

"It just carries on the tradition," he said. "Before us, Paul Comstock had the store for 34 years and obviously this predates that," he said.

Reach newsroom assistant Nick Morgan at