Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The story behind the terrible old tools in the crusty metal box

Today we're going to talk about a beat-up old toolbox, and some old, worn out tools.

A few years ago, my dad gave me this ugly old toolbox for Christmas. When I first opened it up, I have to admit, I was a little confused, but dad seemed excited about it.

Back in the early 1960s, Chevrolet Motor Division had people that worked for them called Reconditioning Instructors. Back then, they'd drive around in fancy, factory-painted semi trucks, and set up a display to sell GM cleaning products like Multi-Purpose Powdered Cleaner and General Motors touch-up paint.

In those days, GM had the money to do things big, and that was the case with this as well. The trucks and everything in them were designed and produced by the Chevrolet Show and Display Department at 440 Burroughs in Detroit, Mich. This was the same place they made auto show displays, cutaway engine displays, posters and signs, and other cool promotional materials.

This old toolbox was also made in that building for use in one of the Reconditioning Instructor trucks. In fact, the paint was a special blue hue that was specifically tied to Chevrolet displays.

Just as my dad was joining Chevrolet in 1968, Reconditioning Instructors were moving away from the display trucks into Chevrolet station wagon company cars. Back in those days, it was usually easy to pick out a car driven by someone from the division, because it was often decked-out more than your run-of-the-mill lot model. In fact, the '69 Chevy wagon pictured in this article was actually one of his company cars. How many Estate wagons do you think there were with hidden headlights, lamp monitors, turbine wheel covers, and 427 big blocks? The answer is, not very many.

My dad inherited this toolbox from a retiring Reconditioning Instructor. In fact, there's a good chance that it was in the back of that new wagon when that picture was taken. He'd go from dealer-to-dealer and demonstrate GM paint and cleaning products, which, as my dad tells it, sounds like he was detailing some beater on the lot for free. He tells a lot of stories from that time, though, and I think he really enjoyed it.

Eventually, the Reconditioning Instructor program was discontinued, and dad spent the rest of his career as a Chevrolet District Manager by one title or another. So he turned in his crappy old toolbox sometime in the early '70s, never to be seen again.

But then, about ten years ago, they were cleaning out the Chevrolet Zone Office in Kansas City, and an old toolbox with some familiar dealership stickers was headed to the trash. And sure enough, he recognized that he had put those on there some 30 years prior. He thought that was a pretty cool history, so he passed it along to me. And you know what? I think it's a pretty cool history too.

Meanwhile, what to put in such a historic old container? Well, as it happens, I have a few old tools hanging around with some history of their own. And they go very nicely with this tool box, because they look nearly as bad.

We've mentioned my granddad's used car lots on this page before. Heck, there's a big picture of one at the top of this page.

Now, my granddad was known as a pretty tight spender. New tools did not appear very often. When a "new" tool appeared, it probably came out of the trunk of an old car they traded for. If you go over to my dad's house right now, you'll find that these compose most of his tools. He's got a hammer over there that's probably from the 1940s that's literally bent down the shaft, but it has been his main go-to hammer for as long as I can remember.

But don't worry. There were enough crusty old tools to go around, because somehow or another, I wound up with plenty of them myself.

The wrenches are kind of fun. One of them was stamped with the Ford script. I'm guessing that it was probably in a factory tool set from around the time of the Model A in the 1930s. Another one is marked "KING DICK." Now that's a wrench you want to take seriously.

At any rate, I still use most of these tools. I have new tools, too, but it's amazing how sometimes one of these indestructible old things can do a specific job that my newer tools can't handle. They're nice to have around.

There's also a bunch of old keys from the '40s, '50s, 60s. Of course, when you have a bunch of old cars around, you're going to end up with keys. These were actually pretty important to have, because if you ended up with a car that had no keys, you could often find one that matched-up in the key collection. The number of combinations were not as great back then, so it usually wasn't hard to find a spare if you had enough keys. Now they're just fun to look at.

So there you have it. The story of how an ugly old toolbox full of ugly old tools can actually have a back story. The next time you go to a swap meet or flea market, take a look at the old tools there. Who knows what kind of interesting things they've been through in their lifetime.

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