Postcards: Old Wards catalog a one-way ticket down memory lane

By Linda Emley

On Wednesday, July 24, I went to the Ray County Courthouse to change the display in our showcase that sits in the middle of the lobby.
My cousin Mykayla spent the day with me and it was nice to have her help me with the showcase. It was full of wonderful old tools from Ray County’s past. We took all the tools out and added a selection of old books. So our showcase is now ready for another month of telling history stories as it sits in our courthouse on the square in Richmond.
And now here is the rest of the story about our adventure at the courthouse. It takes a power drill to remove the 16 screws that hold the two glass tops on the showcase. I’ve always told myself that I can do anything, so I fired up John Dee Thompson’s power drill and removed all the screws without a problem. After decorating the case, we put the tops back on and I started the process of screwing them back down. With only four screws to go, the power drill slipped and I jammed it in to my thumb and left a small hole. At this point, I realized that I’m not Bob the Builder and I can not do everything. John Dee showed up and saved me from total disaster. I love power tools and some day I will learn the proper use of a power drill and wooden screws.
Several hours later, I headed back to the museum. After packing in books and packing out tools, I was exhausted but I had a story.
When I got in my car, I looked across my front seat at the old hand tools and realized it took muscle to run many of these tools from the good-old days. Many of the tools were designed for one task and it’s hard to look at them and try to figure out what that task was.
On Sunday, July 28, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., all the these tools are going to be on display at the Ray County Museum. Don Farlow will be on hand to tell the story of how each of these tools was used.
Don helped me add the tools to the showcase and it was interesting to hear the story of each one as we placed them on display. Everyone is invited to come join us on Sunday as we relive the past with these tools of the trade from long ago.
When I got back to the museum, I pulled out a 1921 Montgomery Wards catalog and went to the tool section. It’s fun to see which tools we couldn’t live without in 1921. The sockets, pliers and wrenches looked pretty normal and a good set could be purchased for $8.95. Many of the other items were hard to imagine.
One of my favorites was car horns which were listed in the “Auto Whistle” section. For example, this description of “The Four-Tone Melody Horn: A high-class exhaust horn with four full, deep, smooth tones. This is an exceptionally pleasing signal that is effective without startling those warned. Furnished complete with pedal, clam-on valve and wire cable. Made of brass, nickel finish, length about 12 inches. Sizes shown below are for the outside measurements of the exhaust pipe.”
For cars of 20 to 35 HP, the price was $6.60. If you had one of the hot rod cars that had over 35 HP, you would need the horn that cost $7.40. I see no logical reason why you had to pay more for a horn if your car had more horsepower.
Page 651 started getting down to the real tools. A nickel-plated adjustable hack saw could be yours for only 58 cents. I turned the page and a nice razor edge ax was $3.35.
Every good mechanic needed a “blow torch” and you could buy the top-of-the- line model for $14.70. These beautiful old brass torches can be found today in many antique malls.
When was the last time you bought a lawn mower that didn’t have a motor? $12.40 would get you the very best “Lakeside ball bearing lawn mower.”
Lakeside church and school bells were $62.25 and up. A 48-inch 1,950-pound bell was $222.90, but a nice farm dinner bell started at $4.88 and ran to the high end at $11.80. You could also buy a sheep bell for 52 cents and a turkey bell for 20 cents.
Some of the items we won’t find in a catalog today are the grain cradle, a hay knife, a wheelbarrow, a grindstone, a water pump, a horse collar, butter molds, milk cans, buggy whips, a windmill and many other items.
I have a bee smoker that will be on display Sunday. I bought it at a garage sale in Leavenworth, Kan. I always thought it was homemade, but one just like it was in the Wards catalog for $1.35. I paid a few dollars more for mine, but it is worth every penny because it is not something you find everyday.
The ladies of 1921 could also find all their tools in a Wards catalog. The top-of-the-line butter churn was $2.35. We have several of these at the museum.
I love old green-handled kitchen tools and a nice wooden-handled noodle cutter cost 39 cents. If you can find one in an antique store today, they can cost you $10 or $12.
Every 1921 house needed a folding bath tub but these were not “mailable.” I don’t have a clue how you got one delivered, but they were really cool. “Easily filled or drained by a hose. Folds into a small roll. A big roomy bath tub that can be folded into a small roll. Does away entirely with the need of clumsy washbowls, foot tubs and old-fashioned galvanized or wooden tubs. At a very small cost it gives the convenience of a big modern bath tub to farm homes, summer cottages and homes where there are no bath fixtures. Can not tip or sway. Has a strong hardwood frame with body of rubber-covered thick ducking. Inside is smooth, soft and silky. Bottom rests on floor where it cannot tip or sway. It won’t spill, leak or splash. Hot water doesn’t hurt it. Filled from a faucet by means of a hose connection, or you can fill it up just as you would an old-fashioned tub. Length, 5 feet; width 27 inches, depth, 16 inches. Weighs but 15 pounds. And the price is, $9.95.”
It says the shipping weight is 16 pounds, so I assume they would ship by train for you. I was shocked to see this ad in the catalog with a “bathing beauty” sitting in the middle of the tub.
This picture reminds me of a story. In the 1940s, Arilla Swafford was teaching at Rayville school. After eighth grade graduation, she took the girls to her house and let them take a bath in her real bathtub. I have a 85-year-old friend in Lathrop who grew up in Rayville and loves to tell this story about her school days.
Many years ago, some folks only took a bath once a week and washed their hair once a month. I wonder what our “turn of the century” ancestors would think if they stepped into a modern-day bathroom with heated seat and jet spray bath tubs ?
Yes this 1921 Montgomery Wards catalog has everything you would ever need because you will even find several kitchen sinks. Did I mention the nice white chamber pot for $2.59?
I loved the Christmas Sears catalog. My sister and I would take turns flipping the pages one by one. We always took a pencil and circled the items we wanted. I think we changed it daily but it was fun picking out items we couldn’t live without.

Have an old catalog you can do without? Let Linda know at and she’ll find a spot for it at the museum.
Postcards catalogue

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