Old Outbuildings Hold Real Treasures

Rural America’s outbuildings reveal many treasures, like a 1937 Fiat.

| January 2014

The television series “American Pickers: Antique Archaeology” is popular with people who are interested in unusual old stuff. The series is based on the premise that individuals accumulate items over time that many years later are desirable and monetarily valuable to one degree or another. If you have watched it, you realize that rural America is where the series takes place.

That is probably because a certain amount of space is necessary to store stuff, and outbuildings on farms meet that need. Outbuildings are as much a part of a farm or ranch as the main dwelling. It is sometimes amazing how many small buildings have sprung up at long established farmsteads over the years. In every case, most are still considered important for the owner’s operation. You can be sure that at least one of these nondescript structures on every farm holds some item of interest to the average person. Only rarely does it come to light for others to see.

Not exactly a car hauler

Some years ago I was contacted by a distant relative who asked if I could transport an old car for him. He knew I used World War II army trucks on a regular basis and just assumed one of them was large enough to haul a car. While it is true that I have several tandem axle military trucks in good running condition, I informed him that they were not licensed. When I told him that the only truck currently on the road was a 1941 Dodge WC 1/2-ton, I thought he would understand it was too small for the job. To my surprise he informed me the car in question was extremely small so my truck should haul it without difficulty. I reluctantly agreed to consider his request.

The ranch on which he lived is about 10 miles from my home. It is located at the very first settlement site in our mountain valley. His family had lived there continuously since 1880 and at least a dozen outbuildings of various sizes were clustered around the main house and a huge barn.

Not knowing how it would be possible to load a car on my little flatbed truck, I took my brother and two of my sons along for assistance, if needed. When we arrived, the usual farm pickups were sitting around but we saw no old car of any kind. We were told it was still in the shed where it had been stored since the early 1950s. It had belonged to the rancher’s wife’s first husband, who was killed in a mining accident. She had kept it protected from the elements all those years as sort of a memorial to him. It now had to be moved. That is where we came in.

Blinking in the daylight

Part of a large woodpile had to be moved and then the doors of a shed that hadn’t been opened in several decades were swung open. What we saw in the dark interior was the outline of a little green-and-white car covered by years of dust. A closer examination revealed it was a 1937 Fiat in surprisingly good shape. I told the owner that even though the car was much smaller than any I had seen before, I really didn’t think it would fit on my truck. He insisted we try loading it anyway.