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

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!”