Remnants of the Industrial Revolution: the Antique Blow Torch

The antique blow torch you found stashed in the attic or basement, or on sale for a couple bucks at a farm auction, could be a hot collectible.

| March 2005

My friend, Suezy, collects blow torches. So, on a hot weekend in late summer a couple of years ago, we drove south, down the Interstate 5 corridor, from Tacoma, Wash., to Brooks, a tiny farming town eight miles north of Salem, Oregon's capitol city. We had reservations for the annual Blow Torch Collectors Association (BTCA) Convention.

Suezy's good at storytelling. She's recounting the convention she attended in Puyallup, Wash., in 2000. "One of our European members brought torches to swap or sell," she recalls. "He had an antique blow torch from Czechoslovakia, and I traded straight across for a fairly generic torch manufactured in the U.S. He gave me the instructions that went with it … all in Czech. Months later, I made acquaintance with a woman from Czechoslovakia, who could translate them for me. And voilá!, it turns out there's a cap in the bottom of the handle that screws off, and inside there's a cleaning kit for the nozzle, and some extra parts that I never would have known were there."

I'm a pack rat. Little that passes into my hands ever passes out again. I even have stacks of my favorite old calendars, waiting for identical days and dates to roll around so I can reuse them. But blow torches? Still, I was becoming intrigued.

We breezed along a rolling road edged with small farms. Suezy recounted how she started collecting. "I used torches as a tool when I lived in eastern Washington, sweating irrigation pipes and soldering parts onto a baler or alfalfa mower. And everybody over there burns their fields and grass. Then one day, in an antique shop, I spotted this torch polished to its highest shine and made into a lamp. It was really gorgeous, though I like them better as a tool, with tarnish on them."

Suezy was hooked. "After that, I started seeing blow torches everywhere, but predominantly at farm sales," she continued. "Farmers would pass away, and the family would sell the homestead. I could buy a box of junk for a buck, and there'd often be a couple torches in the mix. And that's how I got started."

The Antique Powerland Museum sprawls across 63 acres in Brooks, Ore. Now a heritage site, its buildings and grounds exhibit all manner of machinery from agriculture to logging, trucking to railway. Groups such as the Western Steam Fiends Association, the Antique Implement Society and Branch 15 Early Day Gas Engine & Tractor Association restore, preserve, and display all types of power mechanisms.