March 2022 Mystery Tools

The genius of pioneer inventors can confound us. Countless contraptions that revolutionized farming in the 19th and early 20th centuries have become contemporary curiosities, or even mysteries. Here are six sent in by readers. Do you know what they are?

By Staff
article image
by Farm Collector reader

A. Piece measures 14 by 5 inches. Cast piece is attached to board covered in black fabric. Marked Patd June 20, 1899.

side view of a metal implement with rows of spikes

Carpet stretcher. See Design Patent D31,037. Photos submitted by Joe Isler, Prospect, Ohio.


B. Found in the extremely low waters of the upper Snake River in Kanabec County, Minn. The wishbone shape had a wooden insert that is nearly all rotted away. Two bolts held the wood insert in place. The one on the narrow end is still there, but the other one rusted away and only the head of the bolt is seen on the outside of the wide end of this mystery piece. The piece measures about 1 foot long with 2-inch-wide legs.

v shaped metal tool

top view of a v shaped metal tool

No positive identification. Possibly a very early hatchet head missing its wooden handle. Photo submitted by Kim Johnson, Isle, Minn.


C. Piece has a cast iron base (13-3/4-by-5 inches) with wire basket. Cast Iron “T” handle measuring 10-1/2 inches long pivots with a large “C”-shaped cutting edge on it. Marked M on the back side of the handle.

metal tool with a rectangular bottom and wires making a cage on top

metal tool with a rectangular bottom and wires making a cage on top

Gary Griesse, Harrisburg, S.D., and Jay Davis, Salmon, Idaho, believe Item C from the March 2022 issue to be a mink neck breaker.

“Back in 1967-’68, I worked during pelting season on my grandmother’s mink farm,” Gary says. “I was paid 75 cents per mink and could do eight to 10 per hour. It was pretty good money for a student in high school. We killed the mink in two ways. One way was to place 10 mink in a 50-gallon barrel with the DeSoto tailpipe exhausting in the top. In the other way, we used a neck breaker very similar to item C in the March issue of Farm Collector. Put the mink in head first and with a quick pull on the lever, the mink is killed. Problem was, mink had scent bags and in a day of pelting, it was inevitable to cut into one and smell oh so bad. Don’t have many friends when you stink.”

“It prevented blood from spilling onto the fur,” Jay says, “and, although it seems inhumane, it works pretty well.”

Photo submitted by Craig Huebscher, Oconto, Wis.


D. Two examples of the same tool. The casting on the tool with the wood handle is A.J. Childs & Co., St. Louis. The casting is about 6 inches long. The all-metal version was built in a farm shop in the mid-1970s.

metal tool with two handles leading to a square section on the end

Kenwood Lever Stretcher. Barbed wire stretchers used to stretch smooth or barbed wire sold by Sears & Roebuck. Identified by Larry Harpster, Pennsylvania Furnace, Pa., and Richard Bader, Middletown, N.Y. Photo submitted by Alan Easley, Columbia, Mo.


E. No markings. Measures about 6 inches long.

metal tool with a hook on one end and a loop on the other with…

No positive identification. Photo submitted by Erwin Fullerton, S. Woodstock, Vt.


F. Marked Armstrong Chicago on one side; No. 3 alligator wrench and 1/2 to 1-1/4 pipe on the other side.

metal wrench shaped tool with a v shaped head

Advertised and sold as a pipe and nut wrench. Produced in several sizes. Identified by Richard Lehr, Delmar, Del.; Jay Button, St. Charles, Minn.; John Pluckhahn, Glidden, Iowa; Nick Caldero, Afton, N.Y.; Gil Ingraham, Prescott, Ariz.; Gene Hoenig, Gainesville, Texas; and Richard Bader.

“This is an alligator wrench used on railroads and other industries,” says Richard Lehr. “It gets its name from the way it rips through bolts. Designed by Samuel T. Freas, it was issued patent No. D28270 on Feb. 8, 1898. It was used to turn iron and steel pipes and rods. A railroad pipefitter often used such a wrench to remove air and water piping from a locomotive.”

John Pluckhahn says the wrench shown was similar to his, “except mine was aluminum with a steel jaw dovetailed in on the grip side,” he says. “The one jaw was smooth so it would slide and the harder you pushed, the tighter it got as long as you kept the teeth clean. I smashed more than one pipe that was stuck by slipping a pipe over the handle to gain some leverage and it would either come free or smash the pipe, The teeth were angled towards the bottom of the V to pull it tighter as you pushed or pulled. One nice thing about it: You did not have to adjust to the pipe size just slide it on and push. I had mine until the day I retired.”

Photos submitted by M.R. Gray, Fairfield, Ill.


To submit photos:

Send prints to Farm Collector, 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609. Send digital images to editor@farmcollector.com.

  • Photos should be taken in a well-lit area against a plain background. Include dimensions and markings on the piece, and your name, city and state. We cannot guarantee every photo will be published. No photos will be returned.
  • Digital photos should be sent as .jpegs at a minimum of 300 dpi.

To identify an item, send answers (with your name and address) to Farm Collector, 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609. Email responses may be sent to editor@farmcollector.com.

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