Mid-West Tool Collectors Show Impressive Antiques

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Perfectly pitched, hand-carved threads on a chuck screw. “Every farmer was an engineer back then,” Vaughn Simmons says. “He had to be to survive. That brace had to be straight all the way through or it would wobble.”
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A German straight-line neck brace from Vaughn’s collection. The piece has a unique lubrication port at the upper neck.
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Vaughn with a unique prize in his collection: The original owner’s initials in this Swedish-made brace correspond directly to Vaughn’s name: Douglas Vaughn Simmons.
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Emery Goad with a homemade farrier’s buttress, used in trimming hooves.
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A coffee can repurposed as a case for a tape measure. “You gotta go with the materials on hand,” Emery says of the homemade device.
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Ornamental marks on one of Vaughn’s braces.
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Slightly concave blades make these homemade scissors self-sharpening.
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The oldest rope maker in John Holmes’ collection, this piece could date to the late 1700s or early 1800s.
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James Goodson estimates his handmade potato fork’s weight at more than 10 pounds. At least one tine has been spliced. “He probably hit a rock,” James muses, speculating about a farmer hundreds of years ago.
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John Holmes
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This rope machine fits on a wagon end gate or a “Can’t Sag” fence gate. John estimates it was used in the early 1900s.
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The pointed end of a fid was used to open strands of a rope before splicing; the top end accommodated either three- or four-strand rope construction.
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The McIntosh rope machine clamped on a fence board or wagon.
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Joseph Preusser, St. Cloud, Minn., with a blacksmith-made brace from his collection. The brace boasts a 19-inch sweep, bigger than many of its era (the late 1800s). Joseph worked for decades as a carpenter and cabinet maker. When he bid on antique tools at auctions, onlookers asked if he’d be using the antiques on the job. “No,” he’d say, “I have a museum at home. I don’t smoke, drink, chew gum or chase wild women. I just collect old tools.”
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 A double-claw hammer, a challenging project for even the experienced blacksmith.
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In the 1800s, reamers like this one from Joseph Preusserís collection were used in log cabin construction to secure logs at windows. Rods nearly 2 inches in diameter were inserted into holes drilled by reamers.
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Rein holder used when hauling a load of logs stacked tall on a sled. Driven into a log on top, the tool would help the driver keep control of the reins while positioned high above the team.
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Jim Moffet’s homemade corn sheller.
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Jim doesn’t know what this stone hammer’s intended use was. “Possibly for wood,” he says. “It would have been a pretty good persuader.
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This handmade mallet’s handle is made of oak; the top may be walnut. Used with a chisel, the piece likely dates to the early 1900s.
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Hand-forged wrenches displayed by Steve Edwards, Columbiana, Ala.
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A prosthetic device, complete with hammerhead, dating to the 1920s or ’30s.
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Blacksmith-made nut and bolt; the nut is designed to be a locking nut.
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This carpenter’s marking gauge with hand-scribed notches was likely made by a craftsman in the late 1700s or early 1800s.
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#12 is a snow knocker from the Moffet collection. Used to remove built-up snow from horses’ hooves, the tools were hung on a wagon, buggy, sleigh or sled. Small folding models were designed to fit in a pocket or saddle bag.
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#2: A blacksmith-made screwdriver, reverse-turned four times.  #1: Another blacksmith-made screwdriver, appears to be made from a bayonet, perhaps one dating to the American Civil War.

Imagine a time when there
was no hardware store or farm supply or big-box store just minutes from the
farm. Imagine an era when times were so hard that purchase of a commercially
produced tool — even a simple one — was out of the question. That all but
unimaginable world sprung to life at the fall meeting of the Mid-West Tool
Collectors Assn. in Davenport,
Iowa, in September 2012 when the
theme of “Craftsman Made and Hand-Forged Tools” was celebrated in elaborate and
varied displays.

“It’s a different generation
today,” admits Jim Moffet, an exhibitor at the show and long-time M-WTCA member
from Modesto, Ill. “Today things are thrown away and
easily replaced. But when you had no money to begin with, you knew you had to
find a way to use what you had, or convert it to a new use.”

Titled “Need It, Want It,
Made It,” the display created by Jim and his wife, Phyllis, spoke eloquently to
the theme (and was named Best of Show in Theme and People’s Choice). A wide
selection of obscure, homemade tools spoke to a simple resourcefulness:
handmade nuts and bolts, a homemade corn sheller, even a home-grown prosthetic
arm topped off with a fully functional hammer at the wrist.

The collection, built by Jim
and Phyllis over a lifetime, includes several unusual hand-built pieces. A rein
holder would have been driven into a log on the top of a load of logs being hauled
to a river. A double-claw hammer was an economical homemade alternative to an
expensive manufactured model. A cunning little snow knocker (used to clear
hooves of accumulated snow) kept horses on the go in foul weather. Even a
simple hand-held corn sheller was eminently useful. “It was copied from a
T-handle sheller,” Jim muses. “The man that built it didn’t have 50 cents to
buy a sheller, so he said ‘I can make one of those’ and he did.”

The wonder is that the
relics survived the passage of time. “We just have to be delighted that
somebody saved these,” Jim says. “Somebody had memories of using an old tool or
thought he might need it down the road.”

Homemade rope

John Holmes, Hudson, Iowa, collects
very old rope-making machines and displayed several at the Davenport meet. It’s a hobby he traces to
boyhood. “When I was 6 or 7, I’d get a chunk of new rope, 8 or 10 feet long,
for my birthday,” he recalls. “I was a farm boy; I used rope to lead horses or
calves.” Rope makers came later. “I was 25 before I ever saw a rope machine,”
he says. “I’d have gone crazy if I’d seen one of those when I was a kid; Dad’s
twine box would have been empty!”

Manufactured rope makers
were readily available by the 1900s; earlier devices were handmade. John’s
collection includes one made of wood, complete with square nails and mortised
joints. A piece of antler is put to work as a twisting handle. “A man told me
this piece could have been made in the late 1700s,” he says.

A student of the past, John
describes the process of making rope with nothing more than a pair of sticks
used as anchors and some kind of fiber or vine. “My dad taught me how to braid
in the end to make a loop,” he recalls. “He grew up making rope halters for his
family’s purebred shorthorns. Every time they sold a bull, they put a halter on

The Arcade rope machine made
in Freeport, Ill., was said to be easy to operate,
convenient and economical. “The same size of twine rope as made on an Arcade rope machine proves to be stronger than factory
rope and is only half as heavy to handle,” a company advertisement noted. “This
is true, because only the longest and best fiber can be used in making the
small binder twine, while in factory rope, short, brashy fiber is used and
treated with chemicals to glaze and stiffen it. This doubles the weight and
triples the price. An 8-foot rope is easily made in three minutes on an Arcade rope machine.”

Hand-built potato fork

James Goodson, Kerrville, Texas,
does not typically collect farm tools. But he couldn’t resist a handmade potato
fork, even if it didn’t fit in with his collection of European tools dating to
the 17th century. The fork, which he believes to have been made in 18th century
was a popular display at the show. The piece appears to be made of birch,
considered a resilient wood, and iron. The fork’s handle has an interesting
open construction and a unique curve at one end. “I think the opening gives it
a bit more balance or torque,” James says. “And the curve at the end creates a
really good finger grip.

“The very heavy iron tines
of the fork were early hand forgings, suggesting use around rocky environs,” he
says. “One of the tines was broken and a new tip was forged back
on.” Prominent forging marks and details make the somewhat roughly shaped
ironwork a highly attractive feature for the collector. Burn marks are likely
the result of the hot forks being reattached after a repair.  

The tines’ mounting strap
was secured with a through bolt, a yoke and three rosehead nails, one of which
remains intact. A rosehead nail — a very early form of nail construction — is
formed by three or four well-placed hammer strokes on a heated nailhead, James
explains, giving it a bit of an angular appearance and forming a very strong
head. The fork’s through bolt was crudely forged with a head that was formed
into a disc much like a combination head and washer but totally flat on the top
so as not to pull through under heavy pressure.  

Pride of workmanship

“There is very little you
can build without a hole,” notes Vaughn Simmons, Harrisonburg, Va.,
who had a display at the show. With something like 400 antique wooden braces in
his collection, Vaughn is well-equipped for any construction project. Coaxed
into collecting by friends, he first concentrated on metal braces; later he made
the leap to wooden relics. Nearly all were craftsman-made.

“The majority were made in
the U.S.,”
he says, “but the construction reflected what the craftsman or his parents had
seen and used in the old country.” Braces were used on the farm to build barns
and sheds using mortise and tenon joints. But wood braces were vulnerable. “If
you put a lot of torque on a wood brace,” Vaughn says, “it will break.” By the
end of the 1800s, wood braces had largely disappeared from the pages of tool
catalogs, replaced by manufactured metal braces.

With them faded a singular
era of craftsmanship. Some of Vaughn’s braces were built by users and some by
professional toolmakers. All vary in design and degree of elegance. “But every
one has chamfers, and they’ve all been shaped and made symmetrical,” he notes.
“The craftsman did his best to make it look nice.”

A Dutch brace in Vaughn’s
collection is a classic example of that kind of workmanship. Its hand-carved
chuck screw is perfectly pitched. “You think of what that man went through to
do that,” he muses. “Think of the hours in front of the fireplace carving those
threads. And the body and the chuck of that piece are made from one piece of

Personality plus

Emery Goad, Wichita, Kan.,
is not one to get sentimental about the tools he collects. Titled “The Good,
the Bad and the Ugly,” his display at the Davenport
meet was an intriguing collection running the gamut from A to zed and soup to
nuts. As a collector, his mission statement is clearly defined. “I never wanted
to have two of the same thing,” he says, “and I would buy anything if I didn’t
know what it was or if it had personality.”

Which explains how he came
to have a nearly yard-long screwdriver fashioned from what appears to be a very
old bayonet. A pair of homemade scissors also meets the personality criteria:
Homemade scissors would be unusual in any case, but these have the added genius
of self-sharpening blades. “They are unequaled today,” Emery marvels.

Also unequaled: Hand filing
done as part of the adjustment mechanism on a wrench Emery displayed. “You
could spend a week filing on that and not finish it,” he marvels. “It’s
unbelievable.” FC

For more reading on the Mid-West Tool Collector Association:

Tool Treasure Trove: 17th Annual Midwest Antique Tool Sale

The Stanley Tool Co. and Defiance Line

Measurement on the Farm

Portal to the Past

Just Toolin’ Around

Leslie McManus is the editor of Farm Collector.
Contact her at Lmcmanus@ogdenpubs.com.

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