In Praise of Baling Wire and Duct Tape

Jokes about farmers who squeeze every bit of usefulness out of everything on the farm have been around as long, well, as there have been farmers.

While some regard such behavior as the ideal, others mock it. True enough, thrift can be carried ridiculously far, but rooted as it is in a time when each man made his own way without benefit of government handouts, it speaks to admirable traits such as resourcefulness, discipline and creativity.

Today of course we live in a material world with (at least until recently) easy credit. We trade up and super-size it. Lately, though, an ailing economy has made many reconsider the farmer’s approach. These days a two-edged sword of economy and environmentalism is cutting swaths through consumerism. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Cobblers are busy, service shops are swamped and canning jars are in short supply. Suddenly it’s chic to be thrifty. Poor Richard is become a media darling.

Thriftiness generates its own rewards, to be sure. But what really appeals to me about the farmer’s philosophy is the way it engenders resourcefulness and creativity. The Depression-era kids who knew there was no budget for toys wasted no time in building their own — and suffered no permanent scarring as a result.

As they matured, those kids knew how things worked, knew how to fix things. And a good many knew how to make things (read about Harold Fleisch, who built three working steam engines from scratch). That kind of ingenuity is at the heart of the antique farm equipment hobby.

In the July 2009 issue of Farm Collector, resourcefulness is part of nearly every article. Toy makers experimented with new materialsexperimental gas engines turned up in a junkyarda cotton farmer invented implements to make the job easiera unique tractor launched a new transmission … even the issue’s “What-Is-It” department continues that theme, featuring a handmade tool. The purpose of the crude but sturdy piece may never be known, but clearly it was useful to its maker or it would never have survived this long.

There’s not much glamour associated with baling wire and duct tape. Often it’s little more than a quick fix. But it is a gentle reminder of wisdom. As Benjamin Franklin urged, “For age and want save while you may, no morning sun lasts a whole day.”

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment