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Woster: Frugality, sometimes, is a way of life

One or two of the folks in the county did buy new stuff now and then. The rest of us looked at them out of the corners of our eyes as they drove past.

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A random photograph of a beat-up, rusted-out grain truck has me remembering just how frugal my dad and his big brother were in their farming partnership.

I guess almost everybody was back in those days. My best memories of farm days are from the 1950s. People of my parents’ generation had lived through the Depression. It hadn’t ended so very long ago. The memories remained sharp. Frugality wasn’t a virtue then as much as a way of life. The old truck is just one example of that.

If you drove down a back road and saw it falling apart in the weeds, you probably wouldn’t give it a second look. It’s an International, a two-ton vehicle, my cousin Leo remembers. In its day, it hauled a whole lot of wheat from our fields to Shanard’s Elevator in Reliance. Its day passed decades ago, and now it rusts alone.

The truck box is gone. Maybe the wooden slats had salvage value. I can’t tell from the photo, but I wouldn’t doubt the hoist has been taken, too. It probably still was useful to someone. The story goes that the truck came without a hoist. My dad and uncle bought a hoist and, using another grain truck as a guide, installed the thing themselves. It raised the front of the box so the grain could slide into the grate in the floor of the elevator building. As best I can remember, the self-installed hoist always worked.

Even in the International’s heyday, the red coat of paint on the cab was faded. Red remains visible in spots, but it’s mixed with some yellow, maybe some blue and a whole lot of rust. Paint on abandoned trucks and cars seems to peel a lot faster than it does on a vehicle being used regularly. I suppose it’s the same way a vacant house in the country falls apart more quickly than does one that still provides shelter to a family or an old couple living out their years. You may say houses and cars don’t feel love. I’m not sure I agree.

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Back when I drove grain trucks for my dad, the International was the new vehicle in the harvest. For as long as I can remember, we had a blue Ford. Cousin Leo says it was a one-ton truck, and I reckon he’s right. I have a great memory for some things, but he’s the historian for most anything any of us needs to know about the old days on the farm. The Ford held something like 150 or 160 bushels of wheat without seeds spilling over the sides. The “new’’ International held close to twice that amount. Imagine a teen-ager used to driving the old Ford and suddenly sliding behind the wheel of a two-ton monster. Why, even the glove box was bigger, which meant I could stuff more books in it for times when I waited for another hopper-load of grain.

For my dad and my uncle – and for most of the farm families I knew in the 1950s – new didn’t really mean right off the dealer’s lot. I can’t remember when we bought a new vehicle, not for farm work and not for personal use. One or two of the folks in the county did buy new stuff now and then. The rest of us looked at them out of the corners of our eyes as they drove past.

Dad and Uncle Frank drove to every dealer in a 100-mile radius before buying a second-hand combine, truck or tractor. I often heard one or the other of them say, “This will be plenty good enough for what we need.’’ That’s how it was back then. Good enough was, well, good enough. It seemed easier to dicker over a used vehicle. Besides, half the value of a new one bounced away on the ruts and snow drifts and rough section lines of farm country.

I see by the news there’s a pent-up demand for new and used vehicles of all sorts. If Dad and Uncle Frank were alive, they’d just shake their heads, change the oil in the International and get back to harvesting wheat.

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A regular opinion piece by columnist Terry Woster