Depression Era: Taking a trip in a Model T Truck

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By Capper's Staff | Mar 9, 2012

During the depression era, I was living in northern Missouri when Mom and Dad packed all of our meager belongings into Dad’s Model “T” truck and set out for the land of plenty in central Iowa. Dad had taken a job as a hired hand on a large farm. I was six years old. It was early spring and although the trip was only one hundred and fifty miles, in my mind it was halfway across country. The roads in those early days were all dirt and in the spring turned to mud.

Dad’s overloaded and overworked truck could go no more than twenty-five miles without the radiator heating up. When this happened, the steam came out like Old Faithful and caused the motor to die. Dad knew all of this in advance and carried two, five-gallon cans of water. After the motor cooled down, fresh water was added and then came the swear words as Dad tried to restart the engine. After all these years I can still hear that truck magneto making strange buzzing sounds as Dad cranked the engine. The motor would make a few “putt putts” and Dad would run to the steering wheel to advance the spark. After a few unsuccessful tries and some choice language, he told Mom to advance the spark when the motor “putted.” Now Mom figured if a little spark advance was good, a lot would be better. This set the stage for the coming attraction.

Dad cranked, the motor “putted,” and Mom jammed the spark all the way up. The motor backfired with the sound of an M-80, the crank kicked back, sending Dad sprawling through the mud. The sparks flew, not from the truck, but from Dad. Mom was trying to keep from laughing. I couldn’t suppress my laughter. Dad was mumbling under his breath and wiping mud from his face. Evidently Dad gave up ownership of that truck right on the spot as he called it the son of someone else that I didn’t know. Mom never did tell him she advanced the spark all the way up. Three days later, after umpteen gallons of water, two flat tires, muddy and exhausted, we arrived at our small farmhouse in central Iowa. Dad drove that truck that was the son of somebody else into the farmyard, and as he came to a stop, the radiator started hissing, and rumbling and gurgling. All of a sudden there was a terrific explosion and my Dad’s pride and joy, his naked woman radiator cap, shot straight into the air. I just know that lady beat John Glenn by forty years as the first person to orbit the earth.

We never did find that radiator cap and once again Dad disowned that truck.

That trip from Missouri to Iowa stands tall in my memory, even after sixty-four years. I gained a very liberal education in English, most of it not in the dictionary, and just think, I hadn’t even started school yet. 

Eugene K. Carson
Montezuma, Iowa

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.

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