Some called it a tile shovel, tile spade or a crumber, but the last “What’s This?” item had a big purpose on the farm.
“This tile shovel has been around the farm since I was old enough to remember,” said Dick Ewald of Manitowoc, Wis., who submitted the item. “I retired from dairy farming in ‘98 and maintained much of the land to rent out, keeping many old farm tools.
“When tiling was in its heyday, big tiling machines would trench out many main lines through fields to discharge points. These projects were expensive in ‘those days’ — ‘30s through the ‘60s — so small and shorter ‘legs’ were many times hand dug, putting tile down and connecting them to the main lines for field drainage .
“Since clay and cement tile were the predecessor to the newer plastics plowed-in with a huge knife behind larger tractors or tracked machines. Plastics needed no open trench.
“Laying tile by hand digging trenches needed to have a level rather smooth bottom so the clay or cement tile fit together end to end, fairly level and even. This is where the tile shovel came into play, to clean, level and smooth the bottom of the trench before putting down the tile and fitting them together and covering, then closing the trench.”
Since nearly every farm had this item, many reader responses were on track, but depending on where they were, the uses had some variations. Here are some of the responses.
“It’s hard to tell from the photo, but if this is a concave piece of steel, I believe it is a tool that we called a ‘spoon.’ It was used to remove loose dirt from the bottom of a tile line ditch when we dug them by hand with a tile spade.” Dr. Larry Stuckey, Plattsmouth, Neb.
“The picture I think is a shovel to clean out a road culvert.” Gary Kubicek, Oak, Neb.
“The tool is a trench hoe used to clean out the dirt in the bottom of a trench. I have one and used it occasionally.” Robert Braden, Lincoln, Neb.
“The item is a crumber or tile scoop. It was used to clean dirt crumbs and high spots off the hand dug tile lines so tile would lay flat. It was used for individual clay tile lines before the tiles we laid by machine.” Randy Irlbeck, Dedham, Iowa
“It looks like a shovel we used on construction 45 years ago to clean out the bottom of a trench.” Dave Bruning, Bruning, Neb.
“We would say it is a hog trough cleaner or any type of livestock trough cleaner. Thanks for the good reading.” Betty Wissing
“The picture is a crumber. When putting clay tile in the ground by hand, this tool would aid in removing any loose dirt (crumbs) and uneven surface from the bottom of the tile ditch. It had a long handle so you could stand beside the tile ditch and reach down with the crumber.” Paul D. Longfellow, Lenox, Iowa
“It’s called several names, including tiler’s spade and trenching tool. I know because I used one.” Melvin Sporrer, Portsmouth, Iowa
“Tile shovel or spade.” Jerry Slota, Washta, Iowa
“I believe is a trench cleaner, used to get the dirt out of a trench so that water lines or foundations could be placed.” Lowell Poppe, Scribner, Neb.
“It looks a lot like a “tile spade” or tile shovel when tiling was done by hand.” Barbara Watson, Iowa