Tool Group of Canada’s 2009 Outing
“Do you know what that is?” asked the gentleman with a cap that read “20X Ropes.”
The question put a conversation I was having with another gentleman on hold. We were in a room in which every available inch of wall space was holding an old tool of some kind. The man with the question wasn’t looking for our help in identifying the metal object he pointed to; he was quizzing us. Neither of us knew the answer.
“It’s a type of brake shoe. It’s put on a wagon wheel to keep it from turning. It was used when taking a hay wagon down a hill, to slow it down. The wheel would drag on this shoe. Every farmer used to have one.”
With that, he was off to browse the rest of the tool museum.
That conversation was very much in the spirit of the event that had the three of us, plus roughly 90 others, at a farm property in Ancaster, Ont., just west of Hamilton. Yesterday, the Tool Group of Canada held its annual outing at member Dan Wentworth’s tool museum. They had gathered for a silent tool auction, a blacksmithing demonstration, tape-measure races and to watch the firing of cannon by HMS Magnet, a War of 1812 re-enactment group.
The central attraction was Wentworth’s two-storey building, filled top to bottom with 8,000 tools. It contains planes, saws, a cream separator, apple corers, traps, an old lacrosse stick, a razor sharpener, a surveyor’s chain, an old sewing machine–and that barely covers it. (Upon entering the building and seeing the mass of tools, a woman vowed never to complain about her husband’s tool collection again.)
Wentworth has been with the Tool Group of Canada, which is 28 years old, for approximately 20 years. However, he’s been collecting tools for roughly 40 years. The retired science teacher got into his hobby through his father-in-law, who was a real estate agent and would acquire the tools he came across on some of the farm properties he sold. Wentworth started by hanging tools on one basement wall. Then there was a second wall of tools, then at third, a fourth and then down the hall. Then the whole basement was covered and eventually the tools moved into their current home, a converted second house.
How does his wife Dorothy feel about his hobby?
“She finds it depressing that the money I’ve spent on tools has kept us from taking more trips,” he joked. Then the grey-haired collector–a description that fits most Tool Group members–added more earnestly, “She tolerates it, but is not enthusiastic.”
While Dan Wentworth is a general collector, whose inventory goes for breadth of coverage, other tool group members have “beats” when it comes to collecting. Bill Lowry said jokingly he has 200 “cordless drills,” by which he meant hand or press drills. Jim Ross knows his cast iron and spoke about cast-iron kitchen items at the event. Phyllis Wood, former Tool Group president, focuses on specialty boxes, such as ones for writing instruments, sewing and makeup.
Like the gentleman with the impromptu brake-shoe quiz, Tool Group members love sharing their knowledge. They also share a fascination for the ingenuity that went into the creation of the implements. An old tool is like a mini-time machine: discussing it transports you back to the time of its use–that of our grandparents, great grandparents and even great-great grandparents–and the life and challenges its makers faced. Finally, for collectors, there’s also the thrill of the hunt or the story of the good find: the Stanley plane in its original packaging and wrapped with some newspaper dated 1932 or the toolbox that had a brace and spade bits inside that the seller didn’t know about.
After the events at the Wentworths’ came to a close, people headed to a nearby church, where they lunched on salads, cold meats and a ridiculous amount of pies and cakes. Members were entertained by a live auction and a game of No Tool Fools; imagine a fusion of George Gouldburn’s Mystery Tool column and Balderdash. For a few, this was only the halfway point of the day. Some were going to see Ron MacLean’s corkscrew collection (made up of more than 3,000 items). Others were headed to the Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology or the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. There was also a cruise on the nearby Grand River lined up. Like many of its members’ collections, the Tool Group of Canada’s outing was packed.