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The utility of farm cars once included hauling feed and livestock and hiding love letters

Mychal Wilmes reminisces about the cars his family drove.

The steering wheel of an older model car.
Mychal Wilmes remembers how his family spent little on cars and used them to haul things like feed and livestock until they bought their first pickup.
Courtesy / Pixabay
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Dad and Mom could not afford to worry about appearances when it involved automobiles. Reality meant that often they purchased second- and third-hand cars.

The four-door rigs were by necessity dual-purpose. The backseat was removed when Dad transported purchased calves from the auction barn or when feed was transported from the elevator. Despite complaints that the livestock made a mess in the backseat and caused a stink, Dad said he couldn’t afford to buy a pickup.

Our first pickup truck — a blue Ford — arrived in the mid-1960s. It was cause for a celebration that included farm name signage on the driver’s door. The vehicle gained a tiny amount of fame when a neighbor borrowed it to haul full cans to a milk dump to highlight low prices.

Dad did not donate our milk because he could ill afford a smaller milk check.

By the time I graduated high school, each of my brothers had their own vehicles. Often their cars were old and could be had for as little as $25 and for as much as $50. I did not have a car until my next-closest in age brother agreed to sell me his 1962 Ford Galaxy 500.

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It was a peach but with imperfections. Like other models from that era, it rusted badly. Bondo, a polyester putty marketed by 3M since 1955, could handle that problem.

I also started paying attention to the JC Whitney catalog, which offered a raft of aftermarket auto parts and accessories that would transform the Ford into a masterpiece. The knowledge that I could not afford chrome rims and other things did not dampen my enthusiasm.

After the Bondo dried, it was time to give the car a paint makeover. “Are you sure you know what you are doing’’ became a constant refrain after gallons of Allis Chalmers orange began showing up in the shed.

The Ford Galaxy resembled a giant pumpkin after painting was done. “It seemed to have been a good idea at the time" was the only answer available when friends and relatives poked fun at the car’s appearance.

My brother came to my rescue once again when I needed his pickup to all hog feed home from the grain elevator. He owned a mid- to late-1950s Studebaker, which was a Scotsman. It sold when new for much less than other models and had its share of what I thought were fancy bells and whistles.

The pumpkin car, which it came to be called, became a talking point when it sped down the road, but the attention died not long after the engine conked out as the odometer cracked 100,000 miles. It made its way to the pasture graveyard and not long after the Studebaker shared its fate.

I tried to convince my brother that his pickup was much too good to let die, but he said it was a hunk of junk and that I could repair it myself. I was sitting in it thinking about the possibilities when I opened the cubbyhole door and found a few letters that his now-wife had written him when they were courting.

Curiosity or perhaps the devil made it impossible not to read at least one. After putting it back in the cubbyhole, I felt ashamed. Some secrets are best kept as secrets. Much later in life wrote my own letters, and if preserved would be the source of embarrassment.

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Writing letters was both stressful and exciting, given that a response would likely not be coming inside a week or even longer. Writing was much better than a telephone call on a party line, during which parents, siblings and neighbors could listen in to.

As a senior, I wrote a poem to an intended date and handed it to her. No response was received, which was crushing. At a 25-year class reunion, she said that she cherished the poem but did not fully understand what I was trying to ask.

“Why didn’t you just ask me?" she said.

I failed because of the K.I.S.S. principle, which means “Keep it simple, stupid."

Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minnesota, with his wife, Kathy.

Related Topics: MYCHAL WILMESRURAL LIFE
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