GRIMES, Iowa — It’s been a while since we’ve seen James Peterson, the power hitter from Winterset, who spent the summer of 2002 wrecking baseballs, almost 20 years ago.
He and Marshalltown’s Jeff Clement raced neck and neck after the national high school home run record.
“Cameras at every game,” James remembers
Winterset fans followed James and James followed Jeff.
“Checking the paper to see ‘did Jeff hit one last night?’” James continues.
James finished with 73 home runs, but Clement hit 75. Both broke Drew Henson’s record, and then capped off the summer with a stop at the Bob Feller Museum, to autograph a baseball (to be put on display) and leave their own mark on Iowa baseball history.
“Just to have my stuff along with all this other stuff is really great,” said James, back in 2002.
Peterson struggled with injuries in college but was still drafted by the Dodgers. He was going to be a pro, and his fiancé, Holli, was going to be a “baseball wife.”
“I would guess she was counting on it, probably,” laughs James. “Pretty hard.”
But the injuries would continue, until James no longer could.
Holli remembers how hard it was for James to accept, “I just remember that conversation we had where he just said ‘I think I’m just done, I think it’s time.’”
James Peterson’s talented hands never left him, they simply switched mediums.
Around the time James’ father taught him baseball, he introduced him to woodworking. Here, too, James was a natural.
Holli recalls noticing a coffee table in a magazine — one beyond their budget at the time.
“(James) said ‘Yeah I can make that’” says Holli, “so it just kind of started from there with a coffee table and then I posted about it, and my friends kind of went crazy and said ‘I want one, too’ and so it just kind of spiraled from there.”
A custom-made furniture business took root and then took over the Peterson’s home.
“Yeah my dining room was full, my kitchen was full,” lists Holli.
“Garage is full…dining room’s full of stuff getting clear-coated,” continues James.
As accurate a name as it is a catchy one. It perfectly describes this duo — as complimentary as they are contrary.
“So James is the sawdust and I’m the stain,” says Holli.
With her iPhone, Holli’s talent brings her husband’s to life. And the beautiful pictures hook the social media audience, without a dime spent on advertising.
“I just want the furniture to shine,” says Holli of her eye-catching photos. “I don’t want anything in the background, I just want the beauty to show. So that’s what we do with every photo.”
The shop at Sawdust & Stain is full of works in progress, all hand-hewn from the wood table tops to the iron and steel legs. There is nothing but solid wood used (no plywood), much of it from Midwestern ash trees felled by the Emerald ash borer.
“The biggest thing with this type of dresser is this chevron pattern,” says James, showing off a piece that’s nearly finished.
There is a four-month backlog of orders. Both Petersons working long days to keep up. The pandemic has been good to this business.
“It helped everyone was staying at home and wanted their homes beautiful and more functional,” says Holli.
But somewhere between the sound of the wood and the spark of the welds, we find the James Peterson that we know — pouring labor into his first love.
“I got into a 30-and-over wood bat league here in Des Moines,” he says, “and first thing you need is a baseball bat.”
Guess who’s learned how to make those? Like really well.
“I know a person who has a laser engraver and so I can start engraving names in them,” James points out, “and he also has a vinyl cutter so I can put a logo on them.”
“The light bulb went off and I said ‘okay, well let’s name this’ and so we named it Vega, Vega Bats,” Holli ads.
You’ll be seeing more of them soon, and more of Sawdust & Stain, because even though it’s been twenty years — we’re happy to report that James Peterson has still got it.