Unfolding the Map
We get to a rural area of Lake Winnipesaukee with William Leat Heat-Moon (LHM) where he remarks on the pickups he sees. I grew up with pickups and have lots of memories about them and the DIY culture in small towns that makes them necessary. If you want to know where Lake Winnipesaukee is located, do some DIY at the map.
"I took route 104 up to the motel congestion of the west side of Lake Winnipesaukee - the lake with a hundred thirty different spellings and almost as many translations from the Indian (the best is 'the smile of the Great Spirit') - and then around to the north shore into quieter country. On this corner of the lake, instead of stationwagons with wet swimtrunks tied to antennas and door handles, there were worn pickups, each hauling at least one rusty something."
Blue Highways: Part 8, Chapter 10
Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire
The words that catch my eye in the quote above are "worn pickups, each hauling at least one rusty something."
If you have read a few of my posts as we journey with LHM together in Blue Highways, you know that I grew up in a small town in Northern California. One of the facets of living in a small town is that the number of services and amenities available to people is limited. Sure, you can probably find every service that is needed, or every item that you want, but there are still restricted choices. What if, for some reason, you don't trust or like the service? What if the model and make is no longer available?
By necessity, people who live in small towns are usually DIYers in some way, shape or form. They do their own landscaping, their own gardening, their own building. If repairs need to be made on automobiles, many of them do it themselves unless the job is so complicated that it needs to go to a shop.
And because hauling needs to be done, people in small towns own pickups. A typical two-car family will often have a sedan of some type, and a pickup. I grew up with a succession of pickups that my father owned. The first I remember was his International Harvester and his last truck before he died was a Ford F150, I think, but I'm not quite sure.
Not only that, but in my town every truck had some things that were standard accoutrements. Each truck had a gun rack, because almost everyone went hunting at some point or another during the year. Each truck also usually came equipped with a chain saw, because almost every home was heated by a fireplace or stove. In the forests around where I lived, downed trees were often available to be cut up for firewood with the appropriate permits. A chain saw could also be used to clear a downed tree on the road. Often an industrious group of drivers could clear a road before the official highway maintenance people got there. Every truck also had something called a "come-along," which was a type of pulley that one used if one got stuck in the mud or in a river somewhere, one could wrap a chain around a tree, attach it to the come-along, and pull themselves out of their predicament.
In a town full of full to partial DIYers, it often meant that one didn't necessarily need to go to the stores to buy things. Chances are that someone had a needed item if you looked around carefully enough. My father had a barn, where he kept a lot of stuff. A wide range of tools, some useful, some not, for various purposes. Lumber, for that room he was going to redo. Nuts, bolts, nails and screws that he had saved from various other projects that might come in handy. Old appliances that just might be able to be fixed some day. The barn was probably a chemical nightmare, as he kept old cans of paint well past the time that they were useful. Seeds for gardening that he had saved over the years. Various bits of metal. My father was only a partial DIYer, and didn't have a lot of skills in fix-it or repair or metalworking, but yet he kept these things just in case they were needed.
My next door neighbor, Mr. Cleary, was more skilled in a lot of things, and his barn showed it. He was skilled in auto mechanics, and had all but the most heavy equipment needed to repair his family's cars. If he ever needed to put the car up in the air, he knew a few people who had the lifts to allow him to do that.
And, like LHM describes about Lake Winnipesaukee, I too often saw people hauling things around in their trucks - old rusty things that didn't seem like they would have a purpose, but they did. If it was an old metal frame of something, barely recognizable as former office shelving, for instance, it could be put to use for something. Perhaps it could be reconfigured into a rack to hold stuff in the barn, or a planter for out in the garden. Old appliances could be scavenged for parts that might fit into newer appliances that with a twist here and a poke there could be made to run for another few years. Old cars, sitting in yards, could either be repaired with scavenged parts from other vehicles or serve as parts supplies themselves, donating their innards like people donate kidneys, so that other cars might live longer. If anything was thrown away, it was because it either had no conceived further use or because it had been scavenged for everything that it was worth.
One of the most popular radio shows on our local radio station was the Swap Shop. People called in to Ellie, the host, and said what they were looking for. Others would call in and announce what they had. Sometimes they were selling, sometimes they were willing to trade. But it was another indication that the store was often the last step in the chain to finding something one needed.
I make it sound like our town, and perhaps other rural areas around the country, were filled with hoarders. Unlike hoarders, who collect for no discernible purpose other than their obsession, there was a purpose in the collection of things. They served purposes and, since my parents' generation grew up in the Great Depression, there was perhaps a drive to wring all possible usefulness out of every item they purchased and, if someone else could use what they couldn't, to make sure that it was available to them when needed. It stands in stark contrast to today, where we are used to things working until they die, and then they are thrown away and another cheap model is bought. Every town used to have a few shops where appliances were fixed, even small appliances like toasters. Now, a toaster dies and we just run to Wal Mart and pick up another.
In a month or so, I will go back to my hometown to visit my mom. I'll hear and see her neighbor, with his garage and shed, working on some piece of equipment that needs repair. I'll see the pickup trucks with their chain saws and their gun racks and come-alongs, many perhaps more modern looking but with the same accessories as yesteryear. And, I'll take another stroll through my dad's barn, where many of the things that he left still sit, waiting for their new purpose to be discovered.
In the spirit of what they are now calling the DIY generation, Debbie Harry teamed up with punk rockers Rachelle Garniez and Palmyra Delran on a song called Do It Yourself. The song aims to encourage kids to learn about doing things on their own. The song can be found on the album KinderAngst.
And of course, it wouldn't be complete without a song about pickup trucks. Would you believe that most of the songs about pickup trucks are in the country music genre? Here is legendary Texas artist Jerry Jeff Walker singing his poignant Pickup Truck Song.
If you want to know more about Lake Winnipesaukee
Next up: Melvin Village, New Hampshire