Farm Collector Blogs > First Things

Shopping at the Swap Meet

by Leslie McManus


Tags: gifts, swap meet,

When it comes time to procure a gift for me, the last place my husband heads is the mall.

  http://www.farmcollector.com/uploadedImages/FCM/Blogs/First_Things/FC-MH10-lm-ledger-01.jpg 
  What girlish dreams are built of: A 1937-38 John Deere pocket ledger found at a swap meet. (Click the image for a larger version.)

He would, as he readily admits, “rather take a beating.” Instead, he does what any clear thinking man would do when shopping for his wife: He trolls the swap meets at tractor shows.

Swap meet souvenirs are not generally the kind of thing girlish dreams are made of. But girlish dreams are so far behind me that they don’t even show up in the rearview mirror. I still perk up when presented with flowers, but these days, I am utterly charmed by a carefully chosen antiquity.

It started when he presented me with a very old barn pulley, a companion piece to a hay trolley I’d adopted. Later finds included an antique watch fob, a bullet pencil, a set of magazines from 1918, a vintage porcelain sign and a box full of cobalt blue glass bottles. Each had special meaning and significance, and each is a cherished gift.

But it is hard to imagine how he will top his most recent score: a 1937-38 John Deere pocket ledger printed with the name of the hardware store once owned by my great-uncle. This is the kind of thing you could spend decades searching for and never come close to.

I like everything about the ledger, from its pristine condition to the fact that it was produced in the company’s centennial year. I like the obscure information it contains (4 gills equal 1 pint, 1 nautical knot equals 1.15 miles, and a pint’s a pound – “or very nearly” – of water, wheat, butter, sugar and blackberries). I like the intricate drawings of tractors and implements, and the old-fashioned state abbreviations: Kans., Nebr. and S. Dak. And I especially like the picture in my mind’s eye of a simple exchange between the businessman and the customer as one gives the other a modest little booklet – a booklet that would fall, impossibly and inexplicably, into my hands nearly 75 years later.

Make no mistake: I would never refuse flowers and candy. But treasures uncovered at the swap meet are solid and enduring, and that, as it turns out, is exactly the kind of thing girlish dreams are built of.