Gloversville author tracks history of antique tools


Author Donald Williams pictured in his Gloversville home with a selection of his antique tool collection and his books, including his latest,

GLOVERSVILLE — Tools tell the story.
That’s the way that Gloversville author Donald R. Williams sees it and he set out several years ago to record those stories. The fruits of his labor can be found in “Grandfather’s Tool Chest,” a hardcover book that features photographs and stories of about 400 antique tools, each collected by Williams.
“I collected the tools, and as I collected them I collected the stories on them. I started 23 years ago and I’d write down [each] story,” Williams said.
Published earlier this year, “Grandfather’s Tool Chest” follows several other books that Williams has written, mainly covering Adirondack history, including “The Saga of Nicholas Stoner,” “Inside the Adirondack Blueline,” and several books in the Images of America series.
For 25 years, Williams also wrote a column on the Adirondacks that appeared in The Leader-Herald and several other local newspapers.
His Gloversville home is filled with Adirondack furniture and decor, from the chairs to the preserved burl wood; all a reminder of a life spent in the woods.

Growing up in Northville, Williams was a Boy Scout and spent as much time outside as he could.
“To me, the outdoors was my home. I spent all my time traipsing the mountains and lakes. It was just part of my life and I never wanted to leave it,” Williams said. “I’m 87 and I think I owe my good health, my stamina and everything to the life I lived. I have five children; four boys and a daughter. They were all in scouting and we spent all our spare time in mountains and lakes.”
That spare time usually came during the summer months, when Williams was on break from his work as an educator. He was the superintendent of schools in Speculator for about five years before becoming the principal of Gloversville’s Kingsborough Elementary School.
Beyond being in the woods and mountains, writing about the Adirondacks was another way to stay connected to the landscape and its history.
“It was a stress reliever to have something like that to do,” Williams said. “My whole love was of the Adirondacks and . . . I wanted to share what I knew and what I enjoyed with other people.”
A desire to pass Adirondack history down led to his first book on Nicholas Stoner.
“The children didn’t seem to know the local history so I used Nick Stoner as a character to tell local history. So I’d go into the classrooms . . . and I would tell stories about Nick Stoner,” Williams said.
He finally decided to write down all the stories he told in the classroom and publish them. The first print run sold out and Williams said the book is still selling 50 years later.
“It’s amazing how popular it’s been but it’s all local history and it’s the story of Nick Stoner who was one of our local heroes of the day,” Williams said.
Writing about the tools in his collection, many of which are from the Adirondacks, has been another way of keeping Adirondack history alive.
“The tools tell the story; as you pick up each tool there’s a story that goes with it. There’s a reason why that tool was created and there’s a lot of good stories,” Williams said. “I go to senior citizen groups [to present about the tools] but . . . You can tell the stories to any age level . . . Every tool brings back memories because you did something with that tool.”
His grandfather was a carpenter and he still has his tool chest, a photograph of which is featured on the cover of the book, and Williams has been amassing tools for several decades.
Figuring out the stories that go with each has been an interesting process, one that he’s had some help with along the way.
In one case, Williams had collected what’s called a bung-starter, used to get bungs out of barrels. Yet, because there was a hammer-like end to it, Williams always thought that it actually may have been used to install the bungs not remove them.
However, after one of his community presentations about tools, an 82-year-old who had used bung-starters before approached Williams and set the record straight, demonstrating how to use it properly.
“If he hadn’t told me that story, I’d be going around saying to people I think it’s to put the bung in the barrel,” Williams said.
However, there are plenty of tools in his collection that he, nor any of the museums or other historians he’s contacted, know what they would have been used for.
“Then you have the other thing that happens which is somebody invents a tool, one person will use it for one purpose, and another person will use it for another purpose. They’re not always what you think they are,” Williams said.
One such tool is racquet-like, with a u-shape piece of cedar. Many think it’s a rug beater, however, it was actually used as a feather bed fluffer, according to Williams.
“Grandfather’s Tool Chest” is filled with oddities and nostalgic vignettes alike, documenting 400 tools and their uses. It’s available at Mysteries on Main Street in Johnstown, the Adirondack Country Store in Northville and the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce. The author will also hold a book signing event at the Adirondack Country Store from 1 – 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 27. For more information visit 

By Indiana Nash

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