Revisiting the Scrap Drives

Classic machinery was lost to scrap drives to push through World Wars

Leslie C. McDaniel

Leslie C. McDaniel

Content Tools

Vintage iron seems invincible. But collectors know otherwise. More than rust, more than age, the scrap drives of two World Wars have posed the biggest threat to vintage iron in this century. Some five decades have passed since those drives swept barns, sheds and pastures clean; since Civil War cannons were hauled away from park pedestals for a battlefield reincarnation. In times of international conflict, machinery long regarded as junk was melted down for the war effort. Fifty years later, collectors shake their heads, speechless at the prospect. 

The approach of Veteran's Day, though, puts that loss in its proper perspective. Classic machinery, no matter how elegantly designed, was ultimately little more than nuts and bolts. Made by man, it could easily enough be remade to fit another purpose. As a nation braced against a foe, the sentimental value of an old piece of machinery was of little importance.

Today, of course, the Victory Garden is a quaint piece of nostalgia. War-time shortages of everything from sugar to gas to nylon are all but unimaginable. When kids today hear the word "kaiser", they think of a piece of bread. Ration books are something you see in a museum. And what was once considered junk is now eyed as an investment. Times change.

The collector, the restorer, the historian will likely see things differently. But the use of that classic machinery as material for the war effort was the epitome of the American spirit. It was a "can do," "pull yourself up by your own bootstrap" approach that has long been the trademark of this new world. The pieces that survived the scrap drives are rare, to be sure; but those that were touched by fire – and were irretrievably lost – are somehow more dear.

It is nearly November, a time when we draw close to the hearth; a time when, however, briefly, we reflect on what is important in our lives. At Veteran's Day, flags wave over the silent city. Patriotism, duty and sacrifice are not popular notions at the close of the century. Fragments of a rusty old mower, abandoned and somehow overlooked in a windbreak, bring to mind a time when they were. FC