Rural America’s outbuildings reveal many treasures, like a 1937 Fiat.
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.
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.
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.
An air compressor was produced and, wonder of wonder, all of the car’s tires held air. With plenty of manpower the Fiat was wrestled out of the shed into the first daylight it had been exposed to since the Truman administration. The plan for loading consisted of winching it on to a tilt-bed trailer. When the trailer was raised back to level, it would be about the same height as the truck bed so the car could be rolled on to the truck.
The plan worked quite well except for one thing. Just as I expected, the Dodge truck’s bed was much too short. That wasn’t allowed to foil the effort. Two heavy planks were procured and laid lengthwise so they stuck out in the back. The little Fiat was then rolled on the planks and chained down. The owner was correct that my truck could handle the car. Its weight was no problem. Even the length, although unsightly, was within the number of feet that cargo can legally extend behind the vehicle. The required red warning flags were later fastened to the ends of the planks.
A garden hose was used to spray off most of the accumulated dust so the little car looked really quite presentable. Its only obviously missing parts were the front bumper and one hubcap. The trip transporting the Fiat was uneventful except for one thing. Everyone we passed found our little procession extremely interesting, to the point that more than one attempt to buy the Fiat had to be rebuffed. A few weeks later a phone call was received; the caller asked about the Fiat’s availability for purchase. The caller had recorded the Dodge truck’s license plate and traced me through the Department of Transportation. He was disappointed to receive the same negative answer the others had.
The cute little Fiat is again ensconced in a farm outbuilding, one of many throughout the country that hold items that would interest Farm Collector readers. Unlike the vast majority of unique items stored on farms, it had its moment in the sun in recent times. The faithful old Dodge army truck still hauls things, but it has retired from being an automobile transporter. FC
A retired high school history teacher, Clell Ballard has worked on farms since he was in grade school, including 53 summers spent working on his uncle’s dryland hay and grain ranch. He also is a dealer of World War II-era military vehicles and parts. Contact him at (208) 764-2313 (and bear in mind the time difference with Mountain Standard Time) or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.