Happy Anniversary! It’s been exactly one year since we sat down to visit for the first time. I appreciate all the correspondence I have received. Even though I cannot respond to everyone, I do read every email and letter I get. I appreciate all you readers out there taking time to let me know what the view from your back roads looks like. I really look forward to our visits!
We are all collectors. That is the reason this magazine exists. Some like old tools, others fancy hit-and-miss engines, and some find pleasure in antique tractors. Yet others lean toward small engines like Maytags, Briggs & Strattons and Clintons.
No matter what we accumulate in our shops, there is one thing we all collect. We hold them dear and every so often we shake off the dust and bring them out of storage. They always bring a peaceful smile to my face. While I am wandering the back roads, my mind often drifts to some previous life memory. These memories are pulled out of storage by various things. It might be something I saw in that small town I just passed through or some piece of old iron sitting in a fence row. Sometimes they just seem to pop into my head of their own accord. The life experiences that provide these memories are probably everyone’s single most cherished and collected item. My problem is I live my life with my feet on both sides of the line: One in the “here and now,” the other firmly planted on the other side, trying to pull me back to a time long past.
Wandering through the back roads, my mind drifts back down the line and my imagination kicks in. I can almost put myself back in time, if only in my mind, as if it was 1930. I picture folks walking along a now abandoned Main Street, making idle chitchat with a neighbor. The weather, crop conditions, and the new addition to their herd are well-covered topics. A couple of farmers chat in the barber shop as the local radio station softly plays on the counter-top AM radio. Women are busy in the grocery or maybe buying fabric to make a new Sunday dress.
My desire to experience those times is so strong at times it almost hurts. I know the past was not easy, and I know people worked a lot harder back then. The struggle of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl took a generation of people who possessed a great amount of physical and mental strength, but even with all the advancements that are supposed to make life easier, I really do think something has been lost.
I have had the opportunity to experience many things in life that, if they are not already extinct, they are on a fast track there. I remember my first trip to the barber shop when I was a kid, courtesy of my grandpa. Later in life, I actually talked a barber into giving me a shave with a straight razor! I remember my first drive-in movie (“Smokey and the Bandit”)! I have eaten at some wonderful restaurants that have roots back down the line; same goes with some of the motels I have stayed in. In those moments of wishing I could go back, I remind myself that I have plenty of memories and experiences to be thankful for. Over the course of the next year, we will visit some of these places together and discuss some of the people I have met and places I have been blessed to experience.
Back down the line
Today’s visit is going to touch on another habit I have. When I am out rammy kackin’, which is what I call it when I am out looking for vintage treasures, I often come across an old homemade tool or piece of equipment that really gets me thinking. One of the things that fascinates me about the older generation is their creativity and ability to make use of things when resources (whether that’s money or material) are scarce. If you watch farming videos online, some producers seem to have every piece of equipment known to man. Their toolboxes are full of tools, many of which require no cord. A while back, I took a trip to the Oklahoma panhandle with my friend Tyler Nighswonger to pick up a tractor he’d bought. As we were stomping around looking at some other equipment, I asked if I could look around in the old wooden shop.
This shop had seen better days. The roof was about blown off and most of the walls had succumbed to the elements. I thought about the farmer who built this building, which would hold maybe one John Deere D, maybe two. He probably thought he was in tall cotton. You could see what was left of the workbenches he had made and the small vise mounted on one of the workbenches. The old concrete (probably hand-mixed) crumbled beneath my feet. Glass jars with the lids nailed to the rafters served as a reliable place for extra nuts, bolts and nails.
By today’s standards it didn’t amount to much, but to that farmer, I bet that little wooden shop was more than he could ask for. He was probably very proud of the shop, even considered it a sign of his accomplishments. Many farmers back then were very industrious and creative when it came to making things work and squeezing out a living on the farm. I love coming across an old shop, barn or some old piece of homemade equipment. It was very enjoyable to stand in the farmer’s shoes and understand why he did what he did.
A hard-to-describe scene from 1915
Over the years, I have wandered through many old shops and barns like the one out by Hardesty, Oklahoma, and I have come across many pieces of homemade farm equipment forgotten in the weeds. When I look at this picture postcard my mind immediately goes back to those places.
The year is 1915 in the state of Indiana, going off the license tag on the car, anyway. It would seem this young man was faced with a hit-and-miss engine that would not run, so he took a tire off his car and belted the wheel to what appears to be a pump jack. The first thing I noticed was the young man on the left seems to have a smile of accomplishment on his face. I think we all have had that smile before. He is holding what appears to be an adjustable wrench. The other thing I noticed about him was his shoes. I have never seen shoes like that before. They almost look like house shoes or slippers. They do not seem to be boots; maybe this house is located in town?
It looks like the back left wheel is turning, but I do not see water coming out of the spigot. The cistern is covered in wooden boards and looks like it is pretty big, and it even looks like some of the boards have been wet, but I see no water coming out.
The other interesting thing I noticed is that, as you would expect, the young man has the right wheel up off the ground. It looks like a jack underneath the axle is holding it up. That makes sense, but if that car ever came off the jack, look out!
Digging deep into the details
I would love to know what kind of car that is. I am sure one of you readers will be able to identify it. It looks like it would be from the early 1900s; it is probably a Ford Model T. One strange thing I see on the car is, off the right side, right above the fender, the young kid has his hand on something that looks like a handle. I wonder what that is. It may not belong to the car, but it is hard to tell.
I’d also like to know the make and model of that hit-and-miss engine. I have just recently gotten involved in stationary engines and I am not knowledgeable enough to identify it. It is probably not very good advertisement, with it being in pieces and broke down in the picture postcard. You can see the crank with the two flywheels lying next to him and make out the magneto next to the muffler. She must have broken down pretty good.
This makeshift power unit must have really impressed some neighbors, it looks like a father and his daughter and son are admiring the man’s handiwork. Maybe they were just friends stopping by to say hello, or this could be a 1915 example of photo bombing: Who knows? The visitors are well dressed; maybe they are on their way home from church.
Just left of the little boy, between him and the car, is what looks to me to be a short concrete pillar with a ball on the top. Just right of the young mechanic is another one by a tree. I wonder if these were hitching posts for horses. Behind them is another building; I don’t know if it is a barn or a house. I tend to lean in the direction that this scene took place in town, but I am not sure. I can make out shovel handles sticking out of a wheelbarrow, but that could very well have been in town. Just right of the well-dressed man is out a wagon, but again, in 1915, that could have been in town.
To the left of the young mechanic are what looks like two ropes that go up. I wonder if he didn’t have some kind of block-and-tackle hung up above the hit-and-miss engines to help him lift parts. At the end of the rope, right below what appears to be a jacket hung on a peg, you can make out a hook. The last thing I thought was interesting is right below the shelf with the glass and two oil cans on it. There you see a funnel and a jug. When I enlarge the photo, it looks like that jug has a corn cob shoved in the opening to keep whatever is in there from leaking. I thought that was pretty cool.
Harvesting wheat in Colorado
Some of you may know that, for the last few years, I have had the opportunity to harvest wheat near Denver, Colorado. It’s a long story how I came to know Pat Simon, the farmer I help; maybe one of these days we can sit down and I will tell you about it.
I headed up there July 1, trying to arrive in time to get a little windshield time in. One of my favorite things to do is operate a combine, so most of the time you don’t have to ask me twice if I am interested. It is also nice that I get paid, so it is like getting a paid vacation.
Wheat yields were all over the place. We cut some really good wheat and then some that was about average, but all in all, it was a great harvest. We ended up cutting just under 6,000 acres in 17 days.
One of the most interesting things about cutting wheat up there is that Mr. Simon farms ground right around Denver International Airport. The fields are sowed to wheat every other year, so this year I was on fields I had not been on before.
A remnant of the past in the heart of the city
For the fields we cut by the airport, we were required to move the equipment inside the safety fence. That was an experience in itself. The first day we got there in the morning and presented our driver’s licenses. By the time we got approved and they got somebody over there to open the gates, it was about 2 p.m. They proceeded to tell us we had to be out by 4 p.m. Apparently the individuals in charge of security are unfamiliar with harvest hours.
When we returned the next day, it didn’t take so long to get through. Having left the three combines inside the gate, we got a lot accomplished. There were two days we couldn’t cut all day: the day we got booted from inside the airport, and another day when we got rained out. It is pretty rare to get totally rained out cutting around Denver, because the showers seem to be small and localized. Generally, we can move and find dry wheat.
On the day we got rained out, Louis and Willem (two guys from South Africa who work for Pat) took me to downtown Denver. Most people would not look forward to this at all, but I love going to the heart of big cities and looking for evidence of their history. I was successful on this trip, as Louis, Willem and I found the old John Deere building and the old Studebaker building.
It was too dark to take pictures, so when harvest was completed, I came back with my friend, Earl Williams, and his wife. We also went to what was originally the Denver Union Stock Yard Co. (today known as the National Western Center). They were in the process of tearing down the old stockyards to make way for new development. I report with great sadness that all the old pens are now gone, as are the old packing plant buildings across the street. I hate progress sometimes, but at least I took the time to visit last year and get some pictures before the demolition.
Before we part ways, I want to wish everybody a merry Christmas and happy new year! I hope you enjoyed getting together as much as I have and I look forward to seeing you again. Until our next visit, remember to take time out of your busy schedule and enjoy the view from the back roads. FC
Anthony Lovelace lives in Alva, Oklahoma. He enjoys traveling and collects anything old, has a very small cow herd, and writes. Write him at P.O. Box 174, Alva, OK 73717; email: email@example.com.