Collector's items

A recent newspaper article told of rising interest in collecting old tools, giving me an excuse for mentioning pod augers. Fact is that looking for old tools is nothing new to me, as I have been a gratuitous donor to Joe Novick's ''mini-muse'' for years, and just lately gave him a puzzler. Joe, the photographer, began buying and begging antique tools long ago, and has his collection arranged like a museum display, where he will lecture on the curious and forgotten purposes at the drop of a hatchet. It happens that I have never seen his collection, although purposing to ever since he set it up, even though it includes a very special and precious scaler's long-mark ax.

I acquired it, for Joe, from Felix Fernald at Pittston Farm, which was then a storehouse and base office for Great Northern Paper Company, up beyond Moosehead Lake. Felix was something of an unofficial librarian and custodian, not only for ''Northern'' but for Maine lumbering of the old days. This ax, prized in Joe's collection, has the letters ''GN'' cast onto its head, so a scaler could swing it against the butt of a log and emboss GN for identification purposes - a log mark.

In earliest logging days in Maine a drive of logs would come down to mill on the spring freshet as a harvest of one owner or one mill. But later, as cutting increased, several owners could be using the same river at the same time, and log marks came into use. Simplest marks were made by the cutting edge of an ax - a single gash (/) was called a girdle. Girdles were combined to make many patterns, each identifying an owner.

When river driving was contracted so all drives came down under one drive-boss, log marks were publicly recorded and ran to the hundreds. But by that time the scaler's embossing ax was available. Today all logs are moved by truck over highways, and scalers' axes are hard to find.

Another tool I gave Joe puzzled him, as I say, because he won't add a ''new'' old tool to his exhibit until he learns what it was for. This has a 3/8th-inch iron rod with a sort of file attached aslant to one end. Harold Jameson, my lobsterman neighbor, was cleaning out a shed and found it on a shelf. ''Know what that is?'' asked Harold, and I didn't. Harold said he remembered seeing it used back in his boyhood, and it is a scraper, or file, for dental work on horses - one of the numerous instruments used by old-time farriers. I assumed the tooth-file once had a wooden handle, so I turned one on my lathe and sent the thing along to Joe. Took Joe about a week to find the answer.

As to a pod auger, I can remember seeing them around when I was a lad, but I recall seeing one used only once - a town highway crew was repairing a wooden bridge over a stream, and Chuck Brown brought a real pod auger to bore holes through some logs. Otherwise the ''pod-auger days'' in Maine had gone down the drain. And pod-auger days included both the lumbering country and the seacoast - the tool was used in making wharves and ships as well as in making logging booms and camps.

The memorable thing about a pod auger was the contortions of the workman as he used it. The shaft, three feet long, was a crank, which was turned much as a bit-brace is worked - one hand holding the knob on the end and bearing down, the other cranking. But the pod auger had no worm on the cutting end to force it into the wood. The ''pod'' was somewhat spoon shaped, and to make it cut a hole the workman had to wobble it about, which he did along with his bearing down and his cranking.

The result was an exercise in hysterical gymnastics, something of a monkey-on-a-stick maneuver. In the woods, the principal use of the pod auger was for making holes in the ends of long logs that would be chained into a river boom, so in ''boom times'' a crew of men would be bobbing and cranking and cavorting in a ludicrous spectacle.

I haven't found a pod auger for Joe. Strange, when once upon a time they were as common in Maine as peaveys and pickpoles.

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