Just Toolin' Around

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Sydney Bunnell

Content Tools

What time is it? It's tool time! That line was used as the opening for the 'Tool Time' segment in the long-running comedy Home Improvement starring Tim Allen. It's also an appropriate catchphrase at the Hodgenville, Ky., home of 85-year-old Sydney Bunnell. Sydney has been collecting antique tools for the last 80 years.

Unlike the now-defunct TV show, which poked fun at men and their passion for tools, Sydney takes his hobby seriously. He owns more than 1,000 tools - and knows most of their uses.

Sydney traces his interest back to his youth in Hart County, in an area now called Bunnell's Crossing Road. 'I've bought and collected these things since I was big enough to hold a tool,' Sydney recalls. 'I've always had a fascination with them. When I was little, I used to ask to visit a blacksmith shop below Hardyville (Ky.).'

Sydney, who is a co-founder of the Lincolnland Antique Gas Engine and Tractor Show, brought a trailer display of his tools to the annual event at the LaRue County Fairgrounds in August. Several wooden panels held countless antique hammers, wrenches, meat grinders and other items that aren't so easily recognizable.

'If I see something and don't know what it is, I buy it,' Sydney says. He then takes the items to antique shows or looks in antique dealer magazines to have them identified. Although Sydney has been a long-time collector, he says he didn't start displaying the tools until he started the club.

'Me and Harold Middleton and Arleigh Fultz started the club in Cave City (Ky.) in 1976 and called it the Mammoth Cave Antique Engine Show,' Bunnell explains. 'In 1979, I put two tool panels together and brought it to the show. And it just kept growing.'

The club's name was changed when the group moved to LaRue County, Sydney says. Sydney still uses many of the antique tools. For instance, he keeps an old shoe buttoner from Florsheim Shoes in Louisville, Ky., on his key ring. He uses it to button his shirts. 'It's easier with these old hands of mine,' Sydney remarks.

He also collects Avery-made tractors and gas engines. He owns nine tractors and one gas engine, but a few years ago, he owned 28 tractors and 143 gas engines. Bunnell says his hobby isn't always popular with his wife of 66 years, Judelle. The couple usually celebrates their anniversary during the same weekend as the Lincolnland show.

'She wants to know when I'm going to stop collecting all that junk,' he jokes with a grin. It won't be any time soon. 'It keeps me busy,' he admits. 'It's better than sitting around and playing cards and yakking. I'm not going to sit and stare at four walls.'

Reprinted with permission from the LaRue County Herald News in Hodgenville, Ky.

'I've bought and collected these things since I was big enough to hold a tool,' Sydney recalls. 'I've always had a fascination with them. When I was little, I used to ask to visit a blacksmith shop below Hardyville (Ky.).'