Playing Favorites with Antique Tools

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

| August 2018

  • Bill Roads with his tool collection.
    Photo by Sara Jordan-Heintz
  • A prototype combination tool patented by John R. Morris on March 14, 1905, and manufactured by Marshalltown Drop Forge Co.
    Photo by Sara Jordan-Heintz
  • This LaDow wrench (patented by J.E. LaDow on June 1, 1909) was manufactured by Marshalltown Drop Forge Co.
    Photo by Sara Jordan-Heintz
  • Wrench produced by Marshalltown manufacturer Tungsten Mfg.
    Photo by Sara Jordan-Heintz
  • The logo on this Buffum wrench features an ancient symbol more recently used by Nazis during World War II.
    Photo by Sara Jordan-Heintz
  • One of Bill’s favorites, this Tungsten heavy-duty spark plug dates to about 1918-19.
    Photo by Sara Jordan-Heintz
  • This brick hammer was produced by Williams Bros. (later Marshalltown Trowel).
    Photo by Sara Jordan-Heintz
  • This Flying Merkel wrench was produced from 1911-15 by Wakefield Tool Co. for the Flying Merkel motorcycle produced in Middletown, Ohio.
    Photo by Sara Jordan-Heintz
  • The rarest item in Bill Roads’ collection: a Cooper-made wrench dating to 1913, manufactured by C&E Mfg. of Marshalltown.
    Photo by Sara Jordan-Heintz
  • Bill and Judy Roads with their Farmall tractor.
    Photo by Sara Jordan-Heintz
  • Early Marshalltown, Iowa, industrialist John Morris, the inspiration for Bill Roads’ collection. Bill’s wife, Judy, is Morris’ great-granddaughter. Morris came to Marshalltown, Iowa, in 1908.
    Photo courtesy of Farm Collector archives
  • Marshalltown Mfg. Co. memorabilia. The company also built sheet metal tools under the Lennox name.
    Photo by Sara Jordan-Heintz
  • Marshalltown Mfg. Co. memorabilia. The company also built sheet metal tools under the Lennox name.
    Photo by Sara Jordan-Heintz

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.”



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