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WEEPING WATER -- Ever needed a 5-foot pipe wrench? A log chain? Or a 12-inch bolt an inch-and-a-half in diameter?

They're in stock at Meeske's.

Ever see a cork cutter or Baxter wrench? How about a tomahawk greaser or undertaker's screwdriver?

They're on display at Meeske's.

It all started back in 1939, when Art Meeske moved to Weeping Water. The third of 12 children, he left the family farm in Wisner to open a hardware store.

His children grew up working alongside him in the downtown Weeping Water business. In 1972, sons Gayle and Tom bought the store from their father, and they provide -- as the sign out front says -- everything in hardware.

Most of their customers come from town, the rural areas of Cass County, the mining companies nearby.

"We try to keep something for everybody and change with the customer," Tom said. "As we've grown, we've bought a building next to a building, first to use it as a warehouse, then make it a part of the store. It's not very shoppable, but we've made it work."

They've expanded the main hardware store twice and used a building up the street as a warehouse before using it as a housewares and seasonal merchandise store. That building now also carries toys, sporting goods and clothing.

In addition, they bought Murray Building & Supply in 1999. The lumberyard, 15 miles away, also sells hardware, plumbing and electrical supplies.

Their reputation of inventory and service brings business from unexpected places.

"We have some customers in Denver and Florida who call for a few insecticide products," Gayle said. "They were regular customers when they lived in this area, and they know these bug sprays work."

A contractor drilling in Lincoln who recently broke his 5-foot pipe wrench shopped all over Lincoln and Omaha to get a repair, with no success. Then he called Meeske's.

"The boss's runner said he'd been in the area eight years ago and was impressed with the depth of merchandise when he stopped in back then," Gayle said. "So he called to see if we could help."

Opening earlier than usual the next morning, Meeske's sold the runner a new pipe wrench.

"A repair in Lincoln would have been a special order costing them $375 just for the top jaw," said Gayle Meeske. "We sold them a brand new wrench for $349. This gentleman had just remembered us from stopping in when working in the area eight years prior. I'm so glad he remembered us."

In addition to selling new tools, the Meeskes display old tools customers have given them over the years.

"Each tool has a personality," Gayle said. "They are ornate, so many were handmade for a personalized job. It's fascinating how they were used."

They have a tomahawk greaser, a turn-of-the-century buggy leaf spring lubricating tool.

Their Decatur Coffin Co. undertaker's screwdriver is a ratcheting tool with no gearing to go in reverse. Who needs to open a coffin?

They also have a cork cutter, cork press and cork cutter sharpener. All three came to the store from different sources at different times. In the past, corks were commonly used as stoppers in apothecary jars.

An old tool still in use at the front counter is an Automatic pencil sharpener that's more than 100 years old. Tom Meeske gave it to his brother for Gayle's 70th birthday.

"We have a show-and-tell in our hardware store," said Gayle Meeske. "We're proud of the heritage, the store has been real good to us, the town has been good to us."

Customers will say the Meeskes have been good to the community. Since 1939, they've supplied everything in hardware, and more. 

Reach Robert Becker at 473-2630 or rbecker@journalstar.com.

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