Three years ago, Dan Schmidt visited a garage sale for a retiree who was moving away. Marked for sale were multiple toolboxes the retiree claimed he had to get rid of. So, Schmidt made the seller an offer on the contents of the whole garage — establishing a new hobby for the criminal defense attorney: tool collecting.

Schmidt’s hobby soon turned into a passion, as he commonly found himself attending swap meets near his hometown of Indio, Calif. And, when Schmidt heard about a Klein Tools-sponsored contest rewarding the oldest pair of Klein pliers, he felt compelled to find the potential winning pair.

Much to his surprise, a pair of pliers manufactured in 1904 that he purchased for $3 in March emerged as the eldest tool, beating out 850 entries. Schmidt was awarded a grand prize of $2,500 in cash and $2,500 in Klein tools for his $3 jewel.

“I waited until May 30 to submit them, not knowing if I really had something worth submitting or not,” Schmidt said. “I got a call the next day, and the individual on the phone asked me if I’d be willing to send in the pliers for inspection. So, I packaged them in a prepaid FedEx box they provided, and, a week later, I got the call that I won. It feels great.

“I knew I had a special pair, but felt there’s no way I could’ve won the contest. When I got the call a week later, I thought they just wanted to let me down easy, but they told me I won. I couldn’t believe it. I feel very proud and excited to have my pliers identified as the oldest. It’s really cool.”

The contest is the second of its kind as Klein ran a similar competition 30 years ago. For a company that is more than 150 years old, the hope was to drag some real old pliers out of the woodwork.

“It sort of brings you back in time to see how things used to be compared to how they are now, but it’s more to preserve the history,” said Mark Klein, vice president of domestic sales. “Klein Tools is such an old company, we’re almost like a book, and there were a lot of chapters that came before (the current generation). So to get a glimpse and to read about all these people who came before us and passed on their pliers, it means a lot to the family.”

Schmidt’s pliers, which included a special nickel factory plating which cost an additional 30 cents, actually sold for more new in 1904 ($3.60) than he bought them for in 2013. Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index inflation calculator only goes back to 1913, that $3.60 in 1913 would be the equivalent of $84.71 today.

The contest was judged by several members of the Klein Tools family, including Mark Klein’s father Mat Klein III, who is the chairman of the company. According to Thomas Barton, product marketing manager, the judging sessions were must-see, noting the judges took the competition very seriously.

“Looking back, I wish that I had videotaped it,” Barton said, laughing. “You would not believe how seriously these guys took it. … They just couldn’t get enough of it, going back and forth, debating which tool was the oldest. There’s no doubt in my mind we had the right judges.”

“Everyone was acting like kids in a candy shop,” said Mark Klein.

The judges eventually settled on Schmidt’s pair as the oldest, who discovered the contest through tool collector forums on the Internet, where he constantly scans for collection-boosting American-made tools.

“It was just a matter of watching all the chit-chat on the site as people started describing what they found,” Schmidt said. “I realized I’d seen some Klein pliers out there in the swap meets, so I got in to it, and kept going until I found a pair that was quite a bit different than any I’d ever seen.”

As for the prize, Schmidt said the $2,500 check was already spoken for by his wife, which was “preordained long before a winner was announced.”As an avid tool user, Schmidt was more than happy about winning the tools. “I had an awful lot of sucking up to do after spending a lot of what would’ve been family time out at these swap meets (searching for the pliers),” Schmidt said. “She was delighted to get the check, and what she does with it is entirely up to her, but this definitely boosted my credibility, in her eyes, at least, about being a swap meet guy, so she’s not complaining as much now as she has in the past.”

And for someone who’s been married 22 years now, he’s very pleased with the outcome. “It’s a $2,500 check that I never could’ve counted on receiving, so it’s a cheap price to pay for marital happiness,” he quipped.

The contest saw a range of entries. At nearly 90 years old, Gerald Schumacher was the oldest contestant. His pair of 1956 9-inch pliers were the oldest pair from an original owner.

The contest even included a 13 year old, Brody Tonelotti, who loves tools and is an avid garage sale participant. He found a 1952 pair in an old toolbox and submitted them for consideration. “It was joyful to read some of these submissions,” Mark Klein said. “Learning about the history of these pliers, being passed down from one generation to the next, it was a really neat experience to be a part of.”

Publication date: 9/2/2013

Want more HVAC industry news and information? Join The NEWS on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn today!