Everything from the leather awl to the carver’s scorp is represented in the collection – a donation from Bernadette Fugate, a widow in Fairbury whose late husband collected each piece.
“I’ve worked with antique tools a lot, and this is one of the most comprehensive collections I’ve ever seen,” said Keith Aeschleman, a park volunteer. “There’s something in there from just about every trade. It is amazing, the collection that man had.”
The collection is so large, in fact, that the park’s staff can’t even display it all at the same time, instead opting to bring out selected pieces for each showing.
The tools, some of which are more than 150 years old, are on display Sunday afternoons as part of Sommer Park’s Pioneer Days, a monthly, living historical reproduction of life in rural Peoria during the mid-19th century.
Park intern Tommy Wallenfeldt helped clean and catalog the massive collection of tools, selecting the pieces that make the cut for the displays. He says the collection is especially popular with older visitors.
“It really resonates with their past experiences,” Wallenfeldt said. “They say, ‘Oh, my dad used to use one of those!’ You’ve got people smiling, having a good time on a Sunday . . . even with a tool exhibit.”
One recent park visitor was more interested in the nearby blacksmith demonstration, which he said reminded him of growing up poor in India.
“I can relate to that. I’ve seen all of that when I was a young man,” said 86-year-old Peoria resident Roy Storey, who said he was raised in an orphanage in the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains.
“There was no electricity. Everything was made by fire,” Storey said. “In fact, I even tried it myself. … It didn’t turn out very well.”
Storey wasn’t the only one interested in the blacksmith, however.
Nine-year-old Cassie Newell of Morton said she enjoys learning about history since reading the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder, popularized by the television show Little House on the Prairie.
“It’s really fascinating, I think,” Cassie said. “I really like the blacksmith.”
Her parents, Dean and Meg Newell, brought Cassie and her brother Dylan, 12, to Pioneer Days to learn and spend some family time together.
“It doesn’t hurt that there’s such beautiful weather,” Dean Newell said, looking upward to the deep blue sky.
“It would be pretty rough if it was as hot as it usually is this time of year.”
Dylan got a firsthand reminder of how July usually feels, however.
Helping blacksmith Tony Klein by pumping the bellows that blow air into the bright orange coke fire, Dylan worked up a sweat right next to the hot stone hearth where the wrought iron is heated until it glows.
“It was hard work,” Dylan declared afterward, saying he wasn’t quite up to the job of blacksmithing.
“Not right now,” he said.
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