Playing Favorites with Antique Tools

An Iowa man builds his antique tool collection around relics manufactured in Marshalltown, Iowa.

| August 2018

When Bill Roads speaks about his extensive collection of antique tools and related collectibles, his excitement is palpable. He owns thousands of vintage pieces: engines, wrenches, spark plugs, railroad spikes, patent drawings, product catalogs, advertisements and lawn mowers, all dating from the 1880s to the 1920s.

He is an International Harvester enthusiast, but he is especially crazy for anything produced in his native Marshall County, Iowa.

The county seat of Marshall County, Marshalltown was once known as the “Pittsburg of the Midwest” because of its strong industrial base. “If it has Marshalltown on it,” Bill says, “I have a bad habit of buying it.”

Building on hands-on experience

A retired mechanic, Bill has decades of experience working on cars, trucks and airplanes. He served in the U.S. Army from 1973-80 and was an aircraft structural mechanic in the Iowa Air National Guard for 15 years. “I’ve worked on everything but locomotives,” he says.

As a blacksmith with 30 years’ experience, he also gives hammer-in demonstrations at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, as well as at the Matthew Edel Blacksmith Shop, a state historic site within walking distance of his home in Haverhill, a town of about 200 people in rural Marshall County.

“I’ve always been a metal fabricator,” Bill says. “A group of blacksmiths started having hammer-ins there in 1985, and I joined them in 1988. They are part of the Upper Midwest Blacksmith Assn.”