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Tool hunting pays off

December 11, 2011
By DON WILLIAMS , For The Leader Herald

I did it again; I found more "museum pieces" I could not live without. We are fortunate we live in a time when those vintage tools and artifacts used by our ancestors still can be found in the attics, barns, outbuildings and cellars of the old homesteads. They work their way into the antique shops to be picked up and interpreted by museums, historians and collectors. They each have a story to tell - a story of a more simple time when tools, often made by the user, did the job without mechanical or technological advances.

Eric Sloane, tool expert, said it well, "Our early tools are traditional, functional, honest and beautiful, in a harmonious simplicity!" It says a lot about those who made and used the tools of yesteryears. I agree, and hope to pass the story on to the next generation.

The best tool that came to me on a recent tool-hunting trip was found in a Ballston Spa antique center. It is a saw used to cut those big blocks of ice out of the Adirondack ponds and lakes. They were in big demand for refrigeration in the pre-electric days. I had been searching for that saw for some 20 years and had been unable to find one. My "ice" collection includes the eight-pronged ice pick, the tongs for carrying the blocks of ice, the splitting chisel for breaking the chunks off the ice sheet, the pike pole for moving the blocks, and the shaver. All I needed was the 6-foot long, big, heavy, saw with its sharp teeth to cut out the blocks of ice.

The "ice" tools and equipment tell of a day when hundreds of men, boys and horses worked from dawn to dusk on the Adirondack winter waters during the "ice harvest." We remember the old wooden ice boxes, with the ice wrapped in newspapers to keep it from melting too fast, and the catching-pan underneath that sometimes overflowed with the melted ice on the floor of the kitchen. Then, there was the iceman who came by with his wagon, and later, truck, looking for the sign in the window giving the number of pounds needed. The kids ran along behind the wagon hoping the iceman would chop off some shavings of ice with his ice pick; it was a great way to cool off on a hot summer day.

My tool hunting paid off. A pie cupboard that resurrected at the shop tells of a day when pies were made for the week, year round, from fresh or canned fruits. It goes well with my pie remover, a rare tool that removed pies from the hot ovens. I also found a coffee-bean grinder that I wanted. Our family coffee grinder was stolen from my aunt's home a few years ago by, I believe, a so-called friend of hers. It happens! And, I got a wooden butter press that imprints a design on the homemade butter. Add to these vintage "story-telling tools," a wooden crate for the transporting of fresh eggs, a commodity that had to be given or sold promptly, to ensure freshness. The eggs were often bartered at the general store or preserved as pickled eggs - which I still enjoy today. (They got me through college without starving!)

I sometime feel a new book coming on-a book of vintage tools and equipment that tells those forgotten stories of our forefathers. The generations that made and used the tools of old are leaving us and, unless the details are recorded in print, we will never be able to answer that often asked question, "what was that tool used for?"



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