What started as a simple collection of antique vehicle license plates has grown over the years into a vast array of classic and unique tools lining the walls of the shop Bill Self of Camden uses to restore classic cars. Self said he started collecting many years ago.
“Really, since I was a kid. Some of these belonged to my daddy and some belonged to my grandfather. We started putting them up on the wall here 12 or 13 years ago,” Self said inside the shop. “Up ‘til then I had them packed away in wooden boxes and trunks packed in a barn. We built the shop here for the cars and my wife, Montez, bought some license tags at a yard sale … we had the tags in the barn for about 20 years and I was cleaning up the barn and she said she was going to hang the tags on the wall, so that’s what started it.”
Self said in the early days of auto manufacturing the companies also made tools that could be used only on their make of vehicle. Ford made tools to work on Fords, Chevrolet made their own tools and so on. Many of the wrenches had multiple heads so the tool could be used on several bolts and nuts on the car or truck.
“A lot of these tools were for farm equipment and others from motor companies and people back then didn’t have the tools. They never needed them before, so the companies started making their own tools as a separate division of their main operations,” Self said. “They’d send a kit with an oil can, a couple of wrenches, an adjustable wrench, a screwdriver and things like that.”
Self said he and his wife look at yard sales, auctions and estate sales for items for the collection. Montez Self recalled a special find she made in an old home on a trip to West Virginia. She said she wanted to look at the upstairs area of the home but the staircase was especially steep. She asked Bill to help her but he declined. Other family members also refused to help her up the steps. She said she felt something interesting was up there so she climbed the stairs on her own and found a box. None of her family members would help her carry the box, but then they wanted to know what was in it and she wouldn’t let them look until they got the box home.
“We got home and I opened it up. It was a 1901 Singer sewing machine and it purrs like a baby, just like a cat,” Montez said. “Singer told me to please don’t sell it. They said they would give me a good price for it. They didn’t even have one of those. Anywhere we go, if we see something interesting, we’ll stop.”
Tools are not the only things Self has accumulated. He has a cannonball from the Revolutionary War that is slightly misshapen.
“They used to heat them up real hot before they would fire it and when they shot it into a building it could start a fire. But getting it that hot and then shooting it made it get out of shape,” he said.
Self has a 1937 Chevrolet he bought already restored and a 1936 Plymouth he has restored over several years. He takes them to car shows and parades throughout the area.