An Antique Wrench Collection

Mark Giles' collectible wrenches tell story of antique farm equipment.


| February 2007



Gilpinsulky.jpg

Toolboxes like this one from a Gilpin sulky plow were manufactured by Deere & Co. from 1875 until after World War I.

Mark Gilles fell in love with old cast iron wrenches when he was 14 years old. "My grandpa had an old Farmall tractor, and there were some of those old wrenches hanging on a wall in a shed," he recalls. "There was an old monkey wrench with a wooden handle, a crescent wrench and others, and one day he gave them to me. That was when I started collecting."

But Mark, who lives in Monticello, Minn., liked the old wrenches even before that. "They fascinated me, the different sizes and shapes, old cast iron ones or pressed iron ones," he says. "They were just interesting to look at."

So he began to buy them. "When I was young. I used to go to flea markets and there would be wrenches laying around that you could buy for a dime or a quarter each. I put them in cream cans, until one day I realized I had a few cream cans full, and I started cleaning them and hanging them up. That's how it all started."

A wrenching tale

Today, Mark's collection consists of thousands of wrenches attached to peg board and displayed in a 40-by-100-foot pole shed. "I take 2-by-4-foot boards and fasten them to the wall, and now I have 80 of them filled with wrenches, and there's thousands more wrenches on the floor," says the 45-year-old construction truck driver. "When I retire, I'm going to hang them all up, although I'll need a bigger building."

A full gamut of manufacturers is represented in his collection, but it leans toward green. "John Deere and International bought out a lot of different companies," he explains, "so I consider the tools and wrenches and things from those companies as part of the larger company." Plano Harvesting Co., for instance, was bought out by International Harvester, and Syracuse Chilled Plow Co. was bought out by John Deere. The Syracuse wrenches (see the Image Gallery for a photo) are among his favorites. "They're kind of different, with two or three open ends," he says. "They're kind of cute."

His collection includes wrenches made for a variety of equipment, including buggies and horse-drawn machinery. Some don't even look like wrenches. The one used to adjust the pitch of a John Deere disc plow, for instance, resembles a double-sided horn more than it does a traditional wrench. A threaded rod went through the center to turn the wrench. Another odd-looking item is a crank used to roll the canvas on a corn binder, and raise the wheels so the machine could be transported.