Tools never die?

By Staff
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The talk around our office the past few days is a story that was featured February 1 on NPR’s Morning Edition. The story, titled “Tools Never Die. Waddaya Mean, Never?”, featured Kevin Kelly (founding editor of Wired Magazine, the brains behind Cool Tools and the author of a new book What Technology Wants) stating that “there is no species of technology that have ever gone globally extinct on this planet.” When asked for clarification, he said:

“I can’t find any [invention, tool, technology] that has disappeared completely from Earth.”

Associate editor Christian Williams and I delved into the 1895 Montgomery Ward & Co. Catalogue, the 1897 Sears Roebuck & Co. Catalogue and the Farm Collector Field Guide to Mystery Farm Tools to prove this statement false. While the catalogs proved futile, our Field Guide, which is made up of tools sent in by readers who were not sure on their use, provided some results. Here are four tools we think are extinct.

Stump Splitter (found on pg. 14):
“Pound it into the end of the log with a sledge. Insert 6 inches of fuse. Light it and get out of the way,” a reader says. “It really works. I still have one and use it on the Fourth of July to make a loud noise.”
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Clinker Catcher (found on pg. 32)
“After you burn coal you end up with ‘clinkers’ in the bottom of the furnace,” one reader explains. “A clinker is coagulated slag or metal impurities that ‘melt’ from the coal as it becomes coke. Most clinkers consist of pyrites that are naturally included in coal. Periodically one has to reach into the bottom of the furnace with the grapple and remove the hot clinkers. In a home you might get enough to fill a metal 5-gallon bucket. On the farm in the winter, it was my chore when I got home from school to go to the basement and fill up the ‘stoker’ (a box with an auger to the furnace) with coal and remove the ash and clinkers from the furnace.” Another reader notes that a piece is missing from the one pictured. “There should be an opposing finger or hook at the end with the double hook. There were many variations of this tool: Some had five fingers, other had three. Some worked by rotating the handle. In the picture, the handle is what you called the single hook end. Others worked with a spring-loaded lever that you squeezed or pulled.”
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Icebox Porcelains (found on pg. 38)
These were used in early iceboxes. When one reader acquired a large estate icebox, he found the top section (where the ice would be placed) lined with galvanized metal. The lower sections contained the porcelain boxes. “They were arranged so that the cold air from above ‘fell’ down below, passing through the holes in the stacked porcelain boxes. The cool air fell to the bottom of the top porcelain, typically falling out another vent on the bottom to the next porcelain below on its way through the stack. In that way, the cool air circulated down, and the mass of the porcelains helped keep the food colder for a given mass of ice. Of course, the porcelains were also easier to keep clean than metal shelving.”
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Lubricating Device (found on pg. 73)
Lubricating device for automobile leaf springs.
Patent 1,084,181
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Can you think of any modern variations of these tools? Do you have other examples of tools that have gone extinct? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

For more mystery tools, visit the What Is It Mystery Farm Tools blog.

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