Remembering WWII Scrap Metal Drives

Many collectors now mourn the effects of scrap metal drives on America's supply of antique farm equipment, but at the time patriotism and the war effort were far more important than old iron history.

| November 2008

Often we hear mournful references to the scrap metal drives of World War II, as collectors muse about now-scarce antique tractors. I was about 9 years old when Ochiltree County, Texas, carried out scrap iron drives supporting the war effort.

Each community in the county organized into groups with leaders and workers going from farm to farm, filling grain trucks with scrap iron, copper, brass and lead. We competed to see who could gather the most, with War Bonds as prizes. Every man, woman and child had their own war stamp book. When it was pasted full of stamps, it could be redeemed for a $25 War Bond.

Ironically, worn-out farm equipment was now in great demand. Tractors and implements that had been used through the Dust Bowl and Great Depression, repaired and wired up year after year before finally being abandoned, were now eagerly sought. We used log chains and tractors to pull out horse-drawn equipment that had been buried in Dust Bowl dirt for 10 years, then tossed it aboard trucks for smelting and reuse by the military.

Wagon tires, rims and other pieces of old wooden farm wagons were retrieved from fencerows and loaded onto trucks. We laughed at an enemy stopped by horseshoes, single-tree ends and broken gears from a McCormick-Deering broadcast binder.

We loaded blackened, cast iron wash-pots and blacksmith forges that had been used for years until modernization finally reached remote rural areas. Almost every farm had old steel tractor wheel rims with lugs still attached dating to the 1930s, before modern rubber tires were widely available.

Bucket after bucket of "knuckle-buster" and monkey wrenches were emptied into the trucks as an old timer stood by, reflecting on the tools' service through the years. I have often wondered what was going through the old timers' minds as these abandoned relics disappeared into piles of scrap.