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Tool time

Antique tool collectors from across the US gather in Humboldt

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Ron Knorr holds up a “whatzit” tool during the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association meeting Sunday at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds. The “whatzit” program encourages collectors to bring in unusual and obscure tools to help figure out what they were used for. While no one could definitively say what this tool was, the consensus was it was likely a concrete stamp.

HUMBOLDT — LeRoy Witzel has been collecting antique hand tools and machinery for nearly 25 years.

The Humboldt man estimates that he has somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 different unusual and farm-related tools.

It all started when he inherited a family tool box filled with tools from the 1930s.

“I just started to explore them and learn more about them and next thing you knew, I started collecting them,” Witzel said.

Right now, Witzel focuses on farm-related tools used by older generations of corn farmers and livestock farmers. A lot of his pieces are foot-powered machines, which are his favorite to collect.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Hundreds of antique tools were on display for browsing and trade at the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association meeting at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds on Sunday.

“After retiring from farming, it’s been a nice hobby for me spending my time working with them and I guess I’ve enjoyed seeing and preserving some of this old stuff that’s gone by the wayside,” Witzel said.

It was his love of the old tools that led him to the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association, which recently held its annual regional meeting at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds on Sunday.

Dozens of tool users, enthusiasts and collectors from as far away as Montana and Massachusetts, came for the three-day event, according to event organizer Rusty Farrington, of Rockwell City. Days one and two were auction days, where various rare antique tools were up for auction, while day three was the meeting and program.

During the auction, there were several tools from the 1700s, both European and American, Farrington said.

During the meeting, members hosted a “whatzit” presentation, where other members bring in unusual and obscure tools that they don’t know the use for, and collectively, the group tries to figure it out. Sometimes, an answer is found for something like an old lemon juicer or a heating plate for an old wood-burning stove. But sometimes, only guesses can be made, like a tool that looks kind of like a cattle brand but isn’t might be a concrete stamp used to stamp a logo or design into a newly-laid sidewalk.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Tiny oil cans are part of LeRoy Witzel’s antique tool collection. The Humboldt man has been collecting antique tools and machinery for the last 25 years.

George Wanamaker, of Macomb, Illinois, gave a presentation on unusual measuring tools and measurements. Items he showed and talked about included a butter ruler used between 1920 and 1950, a baby measurer used in early doctors’ offices, a sand kitchen timer, a measure used by lobster fishermen and more.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
LeRoy Witzel, of Humboldt, shows off a keyhole saw that has become part of his antique tool collection during the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association meeting at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds on Sunday. Witzel has been collecting antique tools and machinery for about 25 years.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
George Wanamaker, of Macomb, Illinois, holds an old butter ruler, which was used to measure out butter between the 1920s and 1950s, when measurements began being printed on the paper wrappers on sticks of butter. Wanamaker gave a presentation of unusual measuring tools and measurements during the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association meeting at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds on Sunday.

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