Looking for an entry point into the antique iron hobby? The Mid-West Tool Collectors Assn. (M-WTCA) is a logical place to start. Like linebackers on the football field, tools rarely get the glory that, say, tractors do — and yet they are an absolutely essential chapter in the story of farm mechanization.
Don’t be put off if you live outside the Midwest. The M-WTCA has simply outgrown its name. Today the 44-year-old group has local groups across the U.S. and more than 40 international members (more than 3,500 in all). It’s a big tent packed with members who have a nearly insatiable desire to learn about historic tools.
“You can collect about anything you want and be a member,” President George Wanamaker says. Members’ interests range from Stanley tools to saws, linotype tools to wagon wrenches, carpentry tools to kitchen tools.
Some members are drawn by the group’s friendly, welcoming spirit: “This is a very social group,” says Susan Witzel, president of the M-WTCA Auxiliary, a parallel organization for members’ spouses. Others are looking for a community where they can buy and sell collectibles and learn more about them. Still others prize the group’s quarterly magazine, The Gristmill, a benefit of membership. Filled with an engaging blend of membership news and educational content, the magazine is a very solid reference piece on antiquities.
M-WTCA conducts two national meetings each year. The three-day events are packed with programs, entertainment, tours, displays, an auction and more. Each of 19 regions holds one to three events per year. At all of the meetings, education is a priority. Elaborate, detailed displays assembled by members give historical background and context; lively informal discussions focus on how tools were used and produced.
Most gatherings also include a trade show, where members buy and sell tools and related items. The national meetings typically open with “tailgating,” where members set up a parking lot swap meet before moving their items inside for the duration of the meeting. It is not uncommon, long-time members say, to see flashlight beams trace the parking lot just before sunrise on tailgating day.
Scholarships and service are another important part of the organization. The M-WTCA and its Auxiliary regularly present scholarships of up to $1,500 and make substantial gifts to a variety of museums and historic sites. The organization also supports an intern program. FCVisit the Mid-West Tool Collectors website for more information.