I have an affinity for old tools. FarmerHoney calls them “rusty junk” but to me, they’re treasures!
Perhaps the oddest old tool in my little collection is a knife that was once used to cut corn stalks. The blade is about 14 inches long (looks quite lethal from a distance) and the handle is not original. I think the handle is my favorite part of this knife. It was crudely (perhaps rapidly) carved from a piece of wood, slit to insert the base of the knife, and then wrapped with wire to secure it. I’m sure it was much more secure when it was first made than it is now!
I find it intriguing to think about the man who made this knife. Obviously a thrifty soul, he most likely made it out of necessity. Had his old knife handle broken while he was working in the corn field? Did he hasten to find a suitable branch and carve it into a handle so he could get on with the day’s work? I wonder if he put this together during the Great Depression, when even spending pennies for a new knife handle would have been considered frivolous. Look how worn the blade is – it would take many corn stalks over many years to wear the metal down so much. I wonder how many acres of corn he had and how long it took before his back was aching, bent over the corn stalks, cutting with that knife? Did he gather the corn stalks up in sheaves? Did he use the corn to feed livestock and, if so, what sort of animals did he keep? I imagine he had to have a pig.
Since colonial times, pigs have been staples of farm life. First, they could eat anything – in addition to foraging for their own food, they would consume table scraps that might otherwise go to waste. Pigs even eat other animals – they’ll eat a nest of rabbits if they dig one up. During the building of the Erie Canal, work was stopped along one section near Lockport when immigrant workers discovered LOTS of rattlesnakes living in the rock the canal would later go through. This was long before anti venom, so I don’t blame the Irish for stopping work until the snakes were cleared. I don’t know who had the idea of bringing in pigs to deal with the rattlers, but it was a magnificent one! Pigs ate the rattlesnakes and work on the canal returned to normal.
Pigs were also used in trade. A pig was a bit like having money in the bank for settlers. Maybe my Depression-era farmer was able to get what he needed for his family this way. I wonder what a pig was worth in trade? How many bushels of apples?
I guess this is why I just love my old tools, my “rusty junk”. It’s not just the object itself that I find fascinating. It’s the history, the stories, behind each item. And, as you can tell from my musings here, one question, one thought, leads to another!
History is not some dry topic we once read about in school. Heaven help those who’ve had to memorize meaningless dates ad infinitum! History is so much more! Give a child (or an adult who thinks history is boring) an implement used in the past and challenge him to tell how it was made, what it was used for. Ask him what sort of person might have used the tool. During what time period? What does he think the person might have worn, or had for breakfast on a typical day? Now, history becomes personal. Now, we can relate to other people in other times.
And now, history becomes endlessly fascinating.