Nestled among the century-old wooden hand tools on one of several worktables at Stanley “Stan” Laubinger’s home is a framed quote attributed to Woodworking Magazine author Willard Anderson.
“There is a deep reverence in using a tool that has been used by generations of woodworkers,” it reads. “Every tool is a history unto itself, telling a story for those willing to look and listen. They have seen hard work and deserve to continue to be put to good use. You bring honor to the tool and to yourself when you preserve these implements.”
For Laubinger, the quote sums up his longtime drive to salvage and preserve. He said restoring antiquated tools is not just honorable; it is an essential act of historic preservation, one worthy of many of his waking hours. He has fixed up more than a dozen farm equipment engines and pieces of machinery dating back as early as 1902. In addition, he and his wife Mary have collected thousands of vintage tools, fishing lures, toy trucks and other nostalgic items. They’re displayed proudly in various cases and work spaces around the couple’s Sullivan home.
“I’ve always liked old stuff, I guess,” Laubinger said. “There’s really interesting stuff here. Some of it almost got lost forever.”
The first engine Laubinger restored was a small washing machine motor nearly 20 years ago. He’d received the engine as a gift from his former employer. He’s proud of the project but more fond of the 1918 Fairbanks Morse engine he acquired from a farm in Japan, Missouri.
Its previous owner, Bill Schulte, had just returned home after World War I when he shop-built himself a transportation machine for the farm. Laubinger purchased it around seven years ago after it had spent five decades in a barn gathering what he estimated was about a 3-inch layer of dust. He paid $100 for it and said then it was his goal to get the engine working and take the piece to a tractor show.
“I’ll set up and just sit, and people come up and ask questions. That’s the whole idea of doing this,” Laubinger said. “Most people are just fascinated with the mechanics of it and the fact that it’s 100-odd years old and still running.”
For Laubinger, getting each piece working again is often as simple as giving the century-old objects “a good power-wash.” From there, he’ll apply oil or other products and use his mechanic skills to tinker with any faulty parts. He said he’s found a few companies where he can order replacement parts salvaged from other antique machines. He frequently watches YouTube videos or asks for help in Facebook groups where people across the world with similar interest in vintage equipment problem-solve together.
He also salvages and restores wooden tools from the late 1800s and early 1900s — things like axes, wrenches and drill presses — and displays them at mens’ nights at churches or at the Franklin County Historical Society, where he is a longtime member.
“They’re all what I call ‘stuff you’d find on a farm,’ ” he said. “Nobody wanted them, so I took them and fixed them up. They’re really educational and neat to see.”
Laubinger grew up learning the mechanics of more modern machinery. His family owned a Century Farm in Beaufort, and he remembers helping and troubleshooting equipment from an early age.
When he was 13, his family purchased an adjacent farm that had no electricity. Laubinger stumbled upon the antiquated washing machine, which used no electricity, that the owners had left behind in the basement. He dug it out from knee-deep water, loaded it on a tractor and hauled it home, later bringing it with him when he moved off the farm as an adult.
“That’s kind of sentimental,” he said. “I guess you could say I’ve always been interested in that stuff.”
Although the hand-powered engine is kept with the rest of Laubinger’s traveling exhibit, the washing machine, which his mom and sister helped clean up, is kept in a former-garage-turned-amateur-history-museum at his home.
The entrance to the room is decorated with a faded sign that was colored by his now-adult granddaughter when she was a girl. It reads, “The Old Mantiques,” and it acts as a catchall descriptor for the treasures Laubinger keeps inside. More than 1,500 fishing lures, some from pre-1900 and from the 1800s, are organized on shelves and behind a makeshift display case — made with windowed doors from the old Sullivan High School library. Fishing poles, three of which were handmade by Laubinger’s father-in-law, hang above the door. On the right are shelves of vintage toy trucks, an old record player with vinyl records and a small collection of history books.
He began collecting in earnest around 30 years ago, around the same time he moved to his home, which formerly belonged to his wife’s parents. A framed portrait of his wife, Mary, hangs by the door to the “micro-museum.”
“She didn’t believe in love at first sight, but I did,” Laubinger said, smiling. “We met at a basketball game. She had a curfew and asked me to take her home because her girlfriend was running late. By the next day, I knew.”
He shares his passion for collecting with Mary, who maintains her own collections of glassware, vintage kitchenware, dolls and wicker baskets. The couple has been married 51 years and has two children, one of whom lives next door. Laubinger said teaching his own children and grandchildren, as well as the children at the summer camps he visits, about what daily life was like in bygone eras is one of the most rewarding parts of his hobby.
“The most important part is preserving these tools and showing others how they work so they aren’t lost forever,” Laubinger said. “You dont ever want to lose track of our history. These tools are what made this country prosperous.”