Farm Collector


Another long-forgotten chore of the past was remembering to drain the radiators on all the water-cooled engines in your possession. Until alcohol and antifreezes were invented to keep radiator contents from freezing, draining both the radiator and the engine block was a necessity.

Once the crops were planted in the fall, all engines were drained of water and many pieces of equipment were jacked up and blocks placed underneath the axles to protect tires after they went flat in cold weather.

Problems with draining engines occurred in two ways: One, the little brass petcock, which had not been moved since the last fall, was now corroded and refused to turn, or the location of the petcock was hidden from view and could not be found. Most engine owners sincerely believed that the engineers who designed the device purposely concealed the petcocks from sight, or placed them in hard-to-reach places. We were Ford people and on the V8s of the time, petcocks were located on the lower radiator hoses and were very hard to reach. Old Henry sure took some cussing over that design error.

I’ve read where people such as doctors, who required vehicles that would reliably start in cold weather, drained the water from the radiator into buckets and placed the buckets inside their home by the fire. Warm water poured into a radiator made for easier starting. I knew one doctor who parked his car in a garage, placed an old quilt over the hood of his car and lit a kerosene lantern, which he pushed under the oil pan for heat.

Remember the old-time windshield defrosters? I bought one recently at an antique store. Measuring about 16 inches-by-10 inches, oval in shape, and fastened to the windshield glass with two rubber suction cups, the metal frame held fine wires heated by 6-volt battery current. While driving, you had to lean forward to see out of the small clear space, but those heated wires kept the ice thawed in most kinds of weather.

How many of you carried teakettles of warm water outside to pour on your car windshield to melt the frost away? This was before plastic ice scrapers and credit cards, so we used metal putty knives and kitchen spatulas. You had to be careful though, or you would scratch the glass.

Us farm kids knew better than to stick our tongues to cold metal where it would freeze. However, we did try to sit by a window on the school bus. Seated there, you could blow your breath onto the glass to make a peephole from which you could watch the winter landscape going by.

I missed the time when travelers heated bricks or soapstone to carry along under heavy blankets in order to travel in cold weather. I think I remember when our car had a gasoline heater underneath the dashboard. If you remember such a device, let me know how it worked.

Well, guess I’ll close this article and go turn up the thermostat. I’m also glad all my vehicle’s antifreeze tested okay as now I’m ready for winter.

– Delbert Trew is a freelance writer, retired rancher and supervisor of the Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, Texas. Contact him at Trew Ranch, Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002; (806) 779-3164; e-mail:

  • Published on Nov 1, 2004
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