Mid-West Tool Collectors Show Impressive Antiques

Homemade tools at the Mid-West Tool Collectors Assn. fall meeting show creativity and resourcefulness.

| April 2013

  • Chuck Screw
    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.”
    Photo By Leslie C. McManus
  • Neck Brace
    A German straight-line neck brace from Vaughn’s collection. The piece has a unique lubrication port at the upper neck.
    Photo By Leslie C. McManus
  • Vaughn Simmons
    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.
    Photo By Leslie C. McManus
  • Emery Goad
    Emery Goad with a homemade farrier’s buttress, used in trimming hooves.
    Photo By Leslie C. McManus
  • Tape Measure
    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.
    Photo By Leslie C. McManus
  • Ornamental Marks Vaughn
    Ornamental marks on one of Vaughn’s braces.
    Photo By Leslie C. McManus
  • Scissors
    Slightly concave blades make these homemade scissors self-sharpening.
    Photo By Leslie C. McManus
  • Rope
    The oldest rope maker in John Holmes’ collection, this piece could date to the late 1700s or early 1800s.
    Photo By Leslie C. McManus
  • James Goodson
    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.
    Photo By Leslie C. McManus
  • John Holmes
    John Holmes
    Photo By Leslie C. McManus
  • Rope Machine
    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.
    Photo By Leslie C. McManus
  • Fid
    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.
    Photo By Leslie C. McManus
  • McIntosh Rope Machine
    The McIntosh rope machine clamped on a fence board or wagon.
    Photo By Leslie C. McManus
  • Joseph Preusser
    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.”
    Photo By Leslie C. McManus
  • Hammer
     A double-claw hammer, a challenging project for even the experienced blacksmith.
    Photo By Leslie C. McManus
  • Preusser Reamer
    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.
    Photo By Leslie C. McManus
  • Rein Holder
    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.
    Photo By Leslie C. McManus
  • Corn Sheller
    Jim Moffet’s homemade corn sheller.
    Photo By Leslie C. McManus
  • Stone Hammer
    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.
    Photo By Leslie C. McManus
  • Mallet
    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.
    Photo By Leslie C. McManus
  • Wrenches
    Hand-forged wrenches displayed by Steve Edwards, Columbiana, Ala.
    Photo By Leslie C. McManus
  • Prosthetic
    A prosthetic device, complete with hammerhead, dating to the 1920s or ’30s.
    Photo By Leslie C. McManus
  • Nut And Bolt
    Blacksmith-made nut and bolt; the nut is designed to be a locking nut.
    Photo By Leslie C. McManus
  • Marking Gauge
    This carpenter’s marking gauge with hand-scribed notches was likely made by a craftsman in the late 1700s or early 1800s.
    Photo By Leslie C. McManus
  • Snow Knocker
    #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.
    Photo By Leslie C. McManus
  • Screwdriver
    #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.
    Photo By Leslie C. McManus

  • Chuck Screw
  • Neck Brace
  • Vaughn Simmons
  • Emery Goad
  • Tape Measure
  • Ornamental Marks Vaughn
  • Scissors
  • Rope
  • James Goodson
  • John Holmes
  • Rope Machine
  • Fid
  • McIntosh Rope Machine
  • Joseph Preusser
  • Hammer
  • Preusser Reamer
  • Rein Holder
  • Corn Sheller
  • Stone Hammer
  • Mallet
  • Wrenches
  • Prosthetic
  • Nut And Bolt
  • Marking Gauge
  • Snow Knocker
  • Screwdriver

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!”