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.
  • MarkGilles.jpg
    Mark Gilles with a portion of his collection. This display features John Deere and affiliated companies.
  • Inspectioncovers.jpg
    Inspection covers from a wood John Deere corn shredder, or toolbox lids? Collectors disagree. Either way, they’re unique and hard-to-find pieces.
  • DeereMansurdrill.jpg
    A handsome and hard-to-find end lid from a Deere & Mansur drill.
  • Wrench.jpg
    Detail of a no. 157 Deere & Mansur wrench.
  • Whipholder.jpg
    A whip holder for a horse-drawn John Deere grain binder.
  • Haybucker.jpg
    A piece off a Dain hay bucker.
  • Shallower.jpg
    This tool was used to adjust a Deere plow and give it its pitch, so it would bite deeper or shallower. A threaded rod went through the center, and was used to turn the tool.
  • SyracuseChilledPlowCo.jpg
    Syracuse Chilled Plow Co. wrenches are among Mark’s favorites.
  • Cornsheller.jpg
    A piece of a Dain Mfg. Co. wooden hand corn sheller.
  • Westernorchards.jpg
    The square item at top is from a wooden John Deere sprayer used in western orchards. Note the JD logo in the middle. The circular item at bottom left covered a twine box on a John Deere corn or grain binder, helping provide tension on the twine. At bottom right is an inspection cover from a John Deere threshing machine. The cover could be lifted, allowing cleaning of the interior when blockages occurred.
  • Cornplanter.jpg
    A lid from a Deere & Mansur corn planter.
  • Wheelstransport.jpg
    These cranks were used on John Deere grain binders to wind up the canvas and raise the wheels for transport.
  • Lid.jpg
    A lid from a Deere & Mansur pea planter.
  • Wheels.jpg
    Hubs from the wheels of no. 3 and no. 4 John Deere mowers.
  • Horsebuggy.jpg
    This wrench was used on a Mansur & Tebbetts horse buggy from the turn of the last century, from a very early John Deere-related company, Mansur & Tebbetts Carriage Co.
  • Trenchguide.jpg
    A John Deere trench guide, used in irrigation ditches.

  • Gilpinsulky.jpg
  • MarkGilles.jpg
  • Inspectioncovers.jpg
  • DeereMansurdrill.jpg
  • Wrench.jpg
  • Whipholder.jpg
  • Haybucker.jpg
  • Shallower.jpg
  • SyracuseChilledPlowCo.jpg
  • Cornsheller.jpg
  • Westernorchards.jpg
  • Cornplanter.jpg
  • Wheelstransport.jpg
  • Lid.jpg
  • Wheels.jpg
  • Horsebuggy.jpg
  • Trenchguide.jpg

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.