Today’s post comes to us from Clyde.
I am aware, in a way few people are, of an historical change. An age died in America, with some very few small pockets left, in about 1957-1960. This age started thousands of years ago in Europe and came to America with the first immigrants, although I suspect the Native Peoples practiced it.
I call it the Age of Reduced, Reused, Re-Reused
It was an age by necessity of self-sufficiency. Time Team, a British archaeology show I enjoy, often discovered how even the Romans would reuse, as did the stone age and iron age peoples. The age died slowly. In the early and mid 19th Century people recognized it was passing. Thoreau and Emerson commented on its dying. Thoreau’s Walden experiment was to some extent about self-sufficiency. His cabin was built of reused materials. I think the experimental communities of that era that interest Bill were strong on self-sufficiency in reaction to this change.
In much of rural America the age was still very much alive through the depression and the two post-war eras. I lived it as a child beside my parents and our neighbors. We lived reduced lives, reduced in the material sense. Ready cash was rare. Toys were few and often handmade. It is the reuse and re-reuse part that strikes me now.
I showed you awhile back me wearing a hand-me-down coat from my sister. In most of the pictures of me before the age of about 12 I am wearing baggy clothing cut down as best my mother could from my brother’s clothes, who was 7 years older than me. People gave my mother old woolen coats, as all coats were then, which she cut in strips and hooked or braided into rugs. My sister still has a rug or two. Her quilts were made of recycled cloth or from remnants she purchased in bundles from Sears Roebuck. The only things she threw away to be dumped on our rock pile were a few cans and bottles. No foodstuff was tossed.
However, it was in the world of my father where I was more aware of the reusing and re-reusing. In the early 50’s people in town were giving up their backyard sheds and now too-small garages. We would demo them, often with other men from the valley. Once we brought one home whole, but I do not remember how. It was my job to remove the boards as carefully as possible. From an early age another of my jobs was to straighten the not-too-rusted nails to reuse. It is a tricky business which gave me a few purple fingernails. We shared the lumber and nails with others or used it to build our own sheds. We built a large machine shed using only recycled wood for the walls, not the roof.
And there were the vehicles. In my very early youth many jokers could be seen around the valley. Jokers were old trucks cut down and rebuilt to serve as tractors or utility vehicles. The header picture is my rendering of the joker my father and my uncle built out of an old logging truck when we lived in the Superior National Forest. The joker moved us down to our farm. After I drew this as best I could from memory, a clearer picture emerged in my memory of a shorter box and chains hanging on it and lots of grease. But you get the idea. This was our tractor for the first year or two we had the farm. Then my father bought a 1923 Farmall and overhauled it, three times. Compare that with Ben’s picture of his tractor in his most recent blog. I am, of course, envious of that tractor of his. That joker became the frame for our all-purpose heavy-duty trailer, which hauled our hayrack, logs, and things like rocks in a box built for it.
By the way, I long thought joker was a local term. However, my research says it was widely used.
The men of the valley in my childhood had many skills, or they traded them. My father had a buddy Martin, who was a genius with engines, but weak at carpentry, plumbing, and electricity, which my father could do well. Martin was often in our workshop working on our vehicles or rebuilding engines of older cars to sell.
Let me tell you the story of our 1936 Chevrolet four-door sedan, which was our family car until about 1953, with its suicide back doors and with both front and back pneumonia holes.
At that point Martin overhauled the engine and transmission while my father cut it down into a pseudo-pickup, always called the puddlejumper.
When I was 12 my father took me down in the mowed hayfield and showed me the basics of how it drove differently than the Farmall. I then spent an hour or more driving around practicing the techniques of using a stick shift.
A few years later the engine died for sure. Now my father turned the box on the back into a dumping trailer, with a hand crank to elevate the front of the box to dump it. I have a story about that, but I will let it pass.
Such men and women still exist in very small numbers, often in the most rural places. Otherwise the only reuse and re-reuse commodity I can think of are children’s clothing passed from family to family.
In 1960 we started to talk about planned obsolescence. The last two years have shown how weak we are at self-sufficiency. I doubt very many people think about it in those terms.
I suspect this community is stronger than most on recycling, retaining, reusing and maybe even re-reusing. Are your roots strong on self-sufficiency?