The timing was right when we asked Team FIN member Scott McPheeters to cover the National Hardware Show in Chicago, IL. His mind has been on tools lately: To keep up with his growing, 3,000-acre farm, he's building a 300,000-bu. grain storage facility.

The Gothenberg, NE, farmer attended the show with his 12-year-old son Clark, who has a keen eye for tools, and Mike Sayer, McPheeters' mechanic of 15 years. We asked them to seek out tools to maintain machinery and farm buildings and to search for other innovative items.

Loosen big filters

Channellock's new slip-joint pliers is big enough to fit around and loosen large oil filters found on tractors and other equipment. "I haven't seen a tool big enough to fit the 4- or 5-in.-dia. filters we have on our machines," says Scott McPheeters.

Model 212 is a 12-in. tongue-and-groove pliers with a jaw capacity of 23/4 to 41/4 in.; model 215 is 15 in. and has a jaw capacity of 2_1/2 to 5_1/2 in. An offset head helps you to reach filters in tight spots and also gives increased leverage for stubborn filters.

Mechanic Mike Sayer thinks that both models are solidly built and that they will work much better than the filter removal systems that are on the market for larger filters. "We've always used the 'belt and bar' system: Wrap a belt around the filter, insert a bar and wrench the filter off," he notes. "This ought to make oil changes a quicker job." Price: $23, model 212; $28, model 215. Contact Channellock, Dept. FIN, Box 519, Meadville, PA 16335, 800/724-3018.

Use every drop

According to the manufacturer of Bottom of the Bottle (BOB), 4% of oil and fluid products poured from a quart bottle is wasted because it drains back into the bottle and is then thrown away.

"Anybody who uses quart jugs wastes product because some of it goes back into the bottle," Scott McPheeters says. "And the neck of oil bottles just isn't long enough to fit into the oil fill opening of the engine so the residual product is usually just thrown away." BOB's manufacturer, Plastic Oil Products, claims that the clean oil left in bottles amounts to about 137 million qts. (nearly 3_1/2 Valdez oil spills) that are dumped into landfills each year.

BOB is a rack in which five standard motor oil bottles can be inverted; two or more units can be hooked together. Gravity drains the trapped oil into one container. A special mounting stand holds BOB on a flat surface, or it can be mounted to a wall or pegboard.

Mechanic Mike Sayer thinks it is a good tool to save oil and protect the environment. "There's really quite a bit of oil left in the bottle and we need to conserve any way we can," he says. Price: $10. Contact Plastic Oil Products, Dept. FIN, 4869 S. Bradley Rd., Suite 18B-258, Santa Maria, CA 93455, 805/937-3050.

Handy cleanup

>From manufacturing plants to farm shops, Lava hand soap has been cleaning greasy, grimy hands for more than 100 years. Now you can wash up with the pumice soap without water. Lava comes in water-free hand cleaner towels in bulk or pocket-size containers.

At McPheeters' farm, containers of the towels are now kept in the combine, pickups, service truck and shop. "It'll get anything off your hands and it even smells good, like lemons," McPheeters says. Suggest-ed retail price of the bulk container: $13. Contact WD-40 Co., Dept. FIN, Box 80607, San Diego, CA 92138, 619/275-1400.

You can take it with you

No matter how far you are from an electrical outlet, you can get the advantages of an AC outlet using power from your vehicle's 12v DC battery and Statpower's new Portawattz power inverters.

The inverters come in wattage ranging from 600 (enough power to run a desktop computer with a printer, most electrical tools, a microwave oven for a hot lunch in the field or any size television set) to 3,000 (enough power for an entire house).

McPheeters has been testing a few inverters for the company. "We have a service truck with a generator but it seems that it's never in the right spot at the right time," he says. "I wired up the 1,000W Portawattz to my pickup and used a right-angle grinder to fix a rough spot on one of my header snouts, right there, right on the spot!"

Models have two or three AC receptacles to supply power to tools and appliances simultaneously. Housing is rugged aluminum and features an on/off switch with LED indicator and a warning light that illuminates when input voltage drops to 10.7v. Suggested price range: $170 to $950. Contact Statpower Technologies Corp., Dept. FIN, 7725 Lougheed Hwy., Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada V5A 4V8, 800/670-0707.

Power up your drill

Turn your _3/8- or _1/2-in. drill (cordless or electrical) into an impact driver with the Torq-Mate accessory. It chucks right into your existing drill and works off its speed. It is suited for cordless tools 12v and up or electrical tools with 1,000 or more rpm. It accepts sockets and standard or metric drill bits. Aside from tightening and loosening nuts and bolts more easily, it can remove rusty fasteners and prevent stripping screw heads, and it allows you to drive screws with one hand. McPheeters used it to replace a tarp on his semi. He says that some of the screws were rusty and even "flat-headed" but that the Torq-Mate removed them easily and worked better than his impact driver. Suggested retail price: $30. Contact Jacobs, Div. of Danaher Tool Group, Dept. FIN, Box 3767, Lancaster, PA 17604, 800/866-5753.

Get a grip

Hauling a toolbox full of tools up and down a grain elevator ladder or from site to site isn't just a hassle; it can be backbreaking and even dangerous. Stanley Tool's MaxGrip can replace a handful of tools because it's two tools in one: an adjustable wrench and locking pliers. It holds tight to fasteners and can help prevent burring or damaging fasteners or sensitive materials. It also helps free up your hands for maneuvering in tight spots. Price $25. Contact Stanley Tool Works, Dept. FIN, 600 Myrtle St., New Brighton, CT 06052, 800/782-6539.

Rules that measure up

How often have you tossed out a "perfectly good" tape measure because it got wet or muddy? A new tape rule from KDS Corporation can be washed off after use and stays retractable, yet never rusts or corrodes, according to the company.

The stainless steel, double-sided tape is coated with nylon and rolls inside a plastic case. As shown in the photo at left, the tape rule can be submersed in water without causing damage. Rules are available in 25-ft. lengths. Suggested retail price: $20. Contact KDS Corp., Dept. FIN, 1515 S.E. 97th Ave., Vancouver, WA 98664, 360/256-0112.

Stanley claims its new Fat Max tape rule has the longest standout in the industry at a length of 11 ft. The 25-ft. rule features a rigid, 11/4-in.-thick, Mylar-wrapped steel blade that stays stiff at standout. (However, the company says the Fat Max is not completely rustproof.) A horseshoe-shaped blade hook catches onto objects to hold the tape in place while measuring. The housing is compact because the tape is wound tighter than most rules. Suggested retail price: $22. Contact Stanley Tool Works, Dept. FIN, 600 Myrtle St., New Brighton, CT 06052, 800/782-6539.

A Chicago parade

It wasn't just a parade of tools that we discovered in Chicago this past August. The city's "Cows on Parade" was in full swing and featured 300 life-size, fiberglass bovine decorated by local and nationally known artists.

A Chicago businessman proposed the idea of making cows into objects d'art after he saw the cows displayed in Zurich, Switzer-land. They are modeled after the Brown Swiss milking cow, which is not dehorned.

The bevy of beauties was scattered throughout the city and attracted some curious attention. An artist launched his own art project and placed homemade "cow pies" beneath some of the cows; party goers went on a cow-tipping rampage; and horses pulling the city's carriages were so spooked by the painted cows that they had to share their stables with one of them for awhile to get used to them.

To view all 300 cows, go to the Chicago Tribune's Web site.