Remembering WWII Scrap Metal Drives

Many collectors now mourn the effects of scrap metal drives on America's supply of antique farm equipment, but at the time patriotism and the war effort were far more important than old iron history.

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Often we hear mournful references to the scrap metal drives of World War II, as collectors muse about now-scarce antique tractors. I was about 9 years old when Ochiltree County, Texas, carried out scrap iron drives supporting the war effort.

Each community in the county organized into groups with leaders and workers going from farm to farm, filling grain trucks with scrap iron, copper, brass and lead. We competed to see who could gather the most, with War Bonds as prizes. Every man, woman and child had their own war stamp book. When it was pasted full of stamps, it could be redeemed for a $25 War Bond.

Ironically, worn-out farm equipment was now in great demand. Tractors and implements that had been used through the Dust Bowl and Great Depression, repaired and wired up year after year before finally being abandoned, were now eagerly sought. We used log chains and tractors to pull out horse-drawn equipment that had been buried in Dust Bowl dirt for 10 years, then tossed it aboard trucks for smelting and reuse by the military.

Wagon tires, rims and other pieces of old wooden farm wagons were retrieved from fencerows and loaded onto trucks. We laughed at an enemy stopped by horseshoes, single-tree ends and broken gears from a McCormick-Deering broadcast binder.

We loaded blackened, cast iron wash-pots and blacksmith forges that had been used for years until modernization finally reached remote rural areas. Almost every farm had old steel tractor wheel rims with lugs still attached dating to the 1930s, before modern rubber tires were widely available.

Bucket after bucket of "knuckle-buster" and monkey wrenches were emptied into the trucks as an old timer stood by, reflecting on the tools' service through the years. I have often wondered what was going through the old timers' minds as these abandoned relics disappeared into piles of scrap.

Everyone kept a small magnet in a pocket to check for copper, lead or brass. Those metals, more vital to the war effort than regular scrap, were kept separate. Today I look back at that time knowing many pieces of scrap should have been placed in museums, but the needs of war were much greater than the needs of culture.

The huge rows of gathered junk iron were piled at the back of the playground behind Perryton School before being loaded on trucks and rail cars. Not only did the scrap drives aid the war effort, they cleaned out a lot of unwanted junk from the Panhandle countryside.

We celebrated the success of the drives with parties and War Bond rallies. Patriotism crackled through the air as we sang, saluted and pledged our efforts to the battles ahead. Almost every family had at least one member serving in the military. Those too young and those too old were steadfastly united in love and sacrifice for our country.

There was never a doubt in our minds about how the war would end, because we were out there gathering up scrap iron and buying bonds with every spare penny, making sure America would remain free and the greatest nation on earth.

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.