The Farm Chronicles: Farm Cars

We all know the utility of a pick-up truck on the farm. The pick-up is a necessity. Before pick-up trucks, the buckboard wagon was the utility vehicle. Point is, you can throw fence posts, wire, tools, and gasoline in the back and drive that old truck anywhere on the farm. If you didn’t get stuck somewhere, you had enough supplies and tools to keep you busy all day. A pick-up on the farm, well, many people just felt naked without one. The pick-up has a storied history on farms, but many people are unaware of the legacy of the farm car. The farm car eventually replaced the horse and buggy, but not without its many challenges and after years of trials and tribulation in gaining the trust of the farmer.

A picture I love is of my Dad holding a dog in front of the barn in 1930. He is dressed with a blousy shirt, baggy pants, with high-laced boots, wearing a newsboy hat. While I know the picture is of him and his dog, the rest of the picture tells a story of a farm car. To the left is the carriage of an early model, possibly Ford Model T, convertible. The tires are missing, exposing the rims, but there is a tire laying in the grass beside the right rear wheel. The right rear fender is missing. The top is missing. In fact, the top is laying on the ground about four yards behind the car. The picture informs us a bit about the story behind the story and many years of frustration that in their wisdom farmers kept the horse and buggy “just in case.”

Dad told stories about that car; how he would have to crank it all day to get it started, then he was either too tired or it was too late to go where he wanted to go. Often, they had to hitch up the team of horses to pull start it. Once it got on the road, keeping tires on the rim were also a challenge. Those old country roads were rough. Dad was expert at fixing inner tubes and using a simple crowbar to get the tire and tube back on the wheel. My grandfather, Mom’s dad, was so frustrated with flat tires that he would get out of the car, kick the wheel, cuss at the car, throw the jack and tire iron as far as he could, and kick and cuss some more. Then he would go get the jack and tire iron and fix the flat, mumbling under his breath. Mom said she thought all men did that tire-changing ritual. She was shocked with Dad, who just quietly changed the tire.

Dad taught Mom how to drive in an old farm car. As the story goes, one time they were putzing down old 627 by the Mahoning creek and Mom had to slow down. She instinctively pulled back on the steering wheel and the entire wheel just came off the steering column. She screamed and handed it to my Dad, who immediately jumped over and put on the brakes before they ended up in the creek—a creek that often flooded over the road, causing many farm cars to need a team of horses to pull them out. Even when I was a kid, there was always problems getting our cars started, fixing flat tires, and keeping mufflers secure. We always said a prayer before turning the key. Psalm 20:7 says, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.” Who knew the farm car would bring us closer to God?

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Bill Wilson

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