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There's a tool for every job

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
No matter the design, brand, type or cost of a machine or implement, sooner or later it will break down and need repair. That fact is as reliable as the sun coming up each morning.

Our dependence on machines seems unchangeable, so we learn how to repair them to keep them running. Our early-day equipment was so simple we only needed a monkey wrench, some baling wire and a pair of pliers for repairs.

As our machinery added improvements and size, we added tools needed. Soon, everyone had lots of tools as the cost was easily justified. As an example, my first big collection had more than 7,000 hand wrenches and associated tools manufactured from 1880 to about 1920. They are split into several different museums displays today.

As another example, collectors have about 2,000 samples of barbed wire today. In the Devil's Rope Museum in McLean, we exhibit 600 tools used in working with barbed wire. Research reveals 2,120 tools patented before 1935 to repair, splice, cut and stretch barbed wire. Seems every inventor wanted to invent "a better mousetrap" or maybe just get rich.

A simple rule can be used to determine whether an old tool is good or bad. Examine it closely. If it is old and in pristine condition with all parts in place with no dents, old breaks or repairs, it probably doesn't work and was tossed in a bucket or hung on a nail. If it is old, worn out, dull, beat up, repaired, rusty but usable, it is probably a good tool used until it went out of date or the use was abandoned.

There have been so many tools invented and manufactured through the years that a popular subject of tool or object identification is published in many magazines. Most old-timers like myself sometimes claim to be experts at identifying old objects. They are almost always right in their identification as there are few other old-timers around to argue.

I once witnessed a collector who had a mystery tool on his table. Most serious collectors had already researched its patent and knew beyond doubt its function. After some six corrections by collectors, the man removed the tool, so mad that he loaded up and went home calling all a bunch of old fools.

I heard of an old tool collector many years ago who called every tool in his collection, "a beer bottle opener." And, he was correct. Because he always seemed to have the beverage at hand, there was little doubt he had used every tool in his collection to open a bottle at one time or another.

So, if you hear of a tool called a whatsit, thingamajig, cussitis, adjustablebauble, knucklebuster or whingding, you can assume the owner has no clue to its name or use.

Delbert Trew - "It's All Trew"
April 19, 2011 column
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This page last modified: April 19, 2011