Old Truck Reveals Its History

A dilapidated old truck had a rough life and had plenty to show for it.

| June 2015

A farmer has to have many skills. He must understand soil and seed. He must be aware of weather patterns and attuned to the seasons. He must be self-motivated.

And beginning in the early part of the 20th century, he had to have some ability to use and maintain mechanical equipment. Some small farmers were good in all of those areas. Others had weaknesses in one or more. Success or failure depended on being able to adapt to all requirements, at least to an adequate degree.

People who lived around farmers as mechanization was taking place often told stories about those who had a hard time adapting to the new way of farming. My late father told of an old-time farmer who bought a Model T Ford in the 1920s. The man was so used to driving horses that when he came to a sharp corner on the road on his way to town, he often tipped the car on its side. He would pull back on the steering wheel and yell, “Whoa!” but of course the car’s speed didn’t decrease enough to safely round the corner. Passers-by tipped the Model T back on its wheels and the farmer continued on his way to town. That happened many times, not just once. Everyone could identify the man’s Model T: It looked new on one side and was badly smashed on the other.

Reputations earned

From age 13 on, I worked every summer on local dryland hay and grain farms. The long hours spent day after day in large, flat fields were barely tolerable; time went slowly at that age. About the only thing that made things bearable (the low pay wasn’t one of them, as kids were expected to work for about half of what adults earned) was hands-on experience with tractors and a few other complex mechanical objects. Basic pull-behind implements were boring, but hay balers and grain combines with pulleys, gears, belts and other moving parts were fascinating. Watching them work, learning to lubricate and adjust them, I found farm work a little more bearable. I was fortunate in one respect: All my employers maintained their equipment well.

In our area, farmers were known for what kind of operation they ran. Some were “good” farmers, some were “okay” farmers and then there were those I called “raised eyebrow” farmers, meaning their practices were considered not up to snuff. I never heard other farmers criticize them, but it was understood that they were doing a bad job. Their lapses were easily seen in their fields; their vehicles were easily identified by their sad condition. Some were popularly referred to as “manure mobiles.” Lack of financial success was reflected in their farmsteads and personal activities.

Free to a good home

Those marginal farmers from the 1950s are long gone now, but occasionally one runs across a reminder of how they did things. A few years ago, the Idaho Fish & Game Department bought a large swath of land in the far corner of our county to use as a wildlife refuge. Some of the land is swampy in the spring and waterfowl use it as a stopping-off place during yearly migration from southern climes. New requirements for the land made any trace of human activities there unacceptable; the area was to revert to unspoiled nature. Surviving buildings on the one farm located there could not remain.