No Frivolities on the Farm

Depression-era hardships stripped luxuries out of the budget

trew_patent

A patent illustration for a tractor umbrella.

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In the late 1930s, drought, hard times and little money finally ended and our lot on the family farm began to change.

The long-sought rains fell and the weeds came. We worked in the fields from “can see to can’t see,” stopping only at dark because our tractors had no headlights.

My father and uncle C.B. Trew remedied this by fastening headlights from an abandoned truck to a tractor. They mounted a car generator adjacent to the power belt-pulley, added a v-belt and presto: We had enough light that Dad could see to plant wheat at night.

My first significant innovation was making a tractor seat cushion from gunnysacks. I folded five sacks carefully, tied the corners with string and that old hot metal tractor seat became bearable. Mother wrapped our 1-gallon glass water jugs in gunnysacks. If they were soaked, the sacks kept the contents cool most of the afternoon.

Power steering was still 20 years in the future. Our old tractors required both hands and feet of this young driver to cut a decent corner. The problem was helped when Uncle C.B. made and installed steering wheel knobs on the tractors. With a little practice, a beautiful corner could be turned with one hand by spinning the knob at just the right instant.

My grandfather considered the “jerk-rope plow lift” the greatest invention of his time. He was a lightweight and had problems pulling the plow handles down to lift the plows from the soil. John Deere invented a mechanical lift, actuated by jerking a rope, and the turning wheels of the plow lifted themselves out of the ground. Grandpa considered it a miracle.

The old saying “nothing is invented until there is a need” is a true statement. None of our tractors had cabs or sunshades. We just endured as we worked. One long, hard winter when snow was so deep a tractor was required to get around, Dad invented a “poor man’s cab” to protect the driver from blowing snow and wind.

Using scrap iron, baling wire, a bolt or two and an old truck tarp, he fashioned a wrap around the tractor, tying it with a lariat rope. A shield was placed in front of the driver and a saddle blanket stretched across the back behind the seat to close out the wind. Gunnysacks were stuffed into the holes. The engine heat kept the driver warm. This was our first step toward an enclosed cab and a degree of comfort for the tractor driver.

I’ve written before about ordering wheel kits from Montgomery Ward & Co. to replace the steel-lugged wheels on our tractors. The transition from lugs to rubber tires, and from no weights to wheels filled with concrete and tires filled with water, took three years to complete.

I don’t have a clue as to why sunshades or umbrellas were not used long before they became popular. I venture a guess that such luxuries were considered frivolous to the survivors of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl who had suffered so many hard years.  FC

Delbert Trew is a freelance writer, retired rancher and supervisor of the Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, Texas. Contact him at Trew Ranch, Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002; (806) 779-3164; e-mail:  trewblue@centramedia.net .