Civil Defense

New Plymouth Red Cross

New Plymouth Red Cross rolling bandages

During WWII, patriotic fever raged in our town. The town went overboard with parades, bond rallies, and we even had a super big scrap metal drive.  The SE corner of Maple and Main (where the bank building was later built) was empty. So the town turned that half a block into a super-sized scrap metal pile. I was in the 2nd grade then, and it was beyond exciting!

This photo courtesy Duane Ness.

The pile grew daily as farmers scraped up old iron piles (we all had) for any piece that we couldn’t see an immediate use for patching something. Iron piles were a blessing so many times for farmers who had some implement break — especially in the era of 1938-1947 when we couldn’t buy implements because of the war, and couldn’t get parts, and couldn’t afford them if we could. So iron piles were the source of make-do repairs on old beaten down implements.  Iron piles (which all the women folk called junk piles and hated!) saved us time and again, saved us a crop, and lots of work. And, so, were dear to our hearts.

To give our iron piles up for the war effort was akin to parting with loved ones!  But, patriotism was raging, and many a potentially useable piece of junk was given over to the growing mountain of scrap metal on main street.  Any junk has potential!

I scratched through it every chance I had. It was an adventure. I found a treasure in it many days.  Someone years before had lost a pistol — most likely while riding a horse across the sagebrush — didn’t discover the loss until too late to track down where he had lost it.  This was a common fate of many pistols throughout the west.  So it lay in the dirt somewhere until a farmer working his farm saw it — a completely ruined, unusable rusty mess, and gave it up to the scrap drive.  In the huge pile, eventually 20′ high for almost half a block, were many similar, lost and then found, treasures.  It was exciting for a small boy to find, identify, and then play with for a time.  Our scrap pile only stayed here for six months or so before being turned in.  This scrap drive would reverberate through farming for decades as it demolished, junked, and melted down irretrievably so much of Americana that years later would become so valuable to restore.  It was like watching the last Passenger Pigeons going into the barrels!

The scrap metal pile also demanded tin, a very strategic material.  Tin was used in those days to line cigarette packs.  Cigarettes had never really been all that popular in and around town. Way too expensive.  Instead chewing tobacco and snuff took its place, However, many tobacco containers of whatever, used tin wraps of some type–the “cellophane” of the 30s and 40s.. These and beer bottles tend to get thrown out of a car along country roads. So along all the roads, wherever, me and my little red wagon searched the bar pits.  I amassed a big compressed ball of both tin, and lead — to the tune of around 18″ in diameter. I could barely lift them!  But, into the huge scrap pile they went.  The old beer bottles were returned for a refundable 1-2 cents/bottle.  I must have covered every road within five miles — both sides. Going away from towns (and bars) were the best pickings! Some roads twice over two years as the thrown out stuff was renewed.


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