Friday, January 14, 2011

A different age, and a different people

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While walking in the woods, I came upon a scene from another world.


At first, I thought I was walking up on a kids fort, built to repel zombie hordes and alien gurls from planet icky. A few steps closer, and that image fell apart. A rough looking pile of discarded lumber and sheet steel morphed into a beast from a forgotten age. A time when people made do, got by, and asked for little.


Under the layer of rusted steel and rotted barn timber lay the chassis of a vehicle last seen on the road long before I was born.
It's drive shaft still in place, it's wire spoke rims like something from a museum. From it's nose, bolted and riveted in place... a tongue still arched out seeking a team of horses decades since died away.

This archaic bit of farmers refuse spoke of a former life, when little was wasted. In my mind, I can picture the old gentleman who must have made it. Fashioned from what was on hand, using the derelict running gear and a few spare timbers, a wagon appeared where junk used to be. Not pretty, not worldly, and clearly not to last forever, but perhaps giving a few years service before finding its final resting place. "Aye, that'll do" is what he would have said when it was finished. Only to be pressed into service at dawn the next morning, hauling stones grown in the field.

How long ago? There is no way to tell... maybe the car died in the 1940's, during the war years, and nothing else was to be found for the job. I do know this... alongside the wagon and of the same vintage, there were two car tires with fourteen inch oak trees grown through the holes in the center. I also know this.... there was no path to tow this beast to its grave. The woods were grown before I was, but the wagon was there first.

There was a time when this sort of frugality was normal existence for most folks. It wasn't a matter of 'buy a new one', but more like 'build it or do without'. An age when every rural berg had a mechanics shop where a forge still breathed fire, heating the drafty building against the winters cold. Most farmers would build their own gear when they could, and trade for it when they couldn't.

This was a time, when my long passed father was a boy perhaps, that people could get by that way. No man need go hungry who could and would work, and a family that ate well and slept warm was counted successful. There was a garden behind each home, and not for the flowers. People ate because they worked... and the more they worked the better they did.

A world like that could sustain itself through hard times, if it even noticed they had gotten harder. The connection from work to food to mouth was direct and plain. The house was warm because wood was cut and coal was hauled.

Sitting by that rusting old hulk, hearing the far distant sounds of passing trucks, I was taken back to that former time, like watching ghosts in the mist. They spoke to me, wordless, by example, and passed a message of sorrow for skills lost and character foundered. I recalled some of the folks I meet each day, and how those ghosts from the past would have stared at them in discord, unable to comprehend what they saw. People who's hand is always palm up, callouses unknown, waiting, demanding, that others sweat and sacrifice for them.

So many people alive today... that will leave less of a legacy than the farmer who built this rusty old wagon so long ago.

2 comments:

og said...

My father was born in November of 1929.

"use it up, wear it out, make it do" was what I heard all my life. I still do, my truck has 391,00 miles, I still shoot and love firearms made before my fahter was born, I have some tools that were made before my grandfather was born.

I still make impromptu tools on my own, out of found things, and they work fine.

Great post.

ORPO1 said...

In the summer of 1990 we were on vacation and went to what had been my grandfather's farm in Phillips County Montana. There was a toolbar that had old rusty duck feet on it. It was all of 12 feet. And alongside was the offset disc. These were pulled by Grandpa behind an old John Deere Tractor. I was on the lap of this wonderful man for some of the work then.
And we picked rock by hand and hauled it on a "stone boat"