The Prairie Spy

Alan “Lindy” Linda

One winter, back a few years, I purchased a 1976 International Harvester Scout, which I observed languishing in a roadside lot each day as I drove by on my way to work. It looked lonely, neglected, and of course, since my farming family has had a long acquaintance with red Farmall equipment, attractive.

Not attractive in a surface fashion, the way something new is attractive, nor in a cosmetic manner, the way a well-made-up woman is attractive. No. It was attractive because of the snow blade mounted on the front, and because it had the IH insignia on the hood. Those two things, along with its obvious need for a good home, were all it took. I stopped.

The outside temp was hovering around zero. The owner of the small lot came out when I pulled up, and walked alongside me over to the Scout. As I got closer, it became shockingly apparent that here was a vehicle near a ghastly death by rust. I touched it gingerly. Several flakes of rust settled into the snow at my feet. I looked at the salesman, who had already eagerly fetched a battery, installed it, and showed me proudly how the snow plow lifted and lowered. “See that,” he said.

His good mood sagged considerably when I asked: “Will it start?”

He said slowly: “I don’t know. Go ahead and try if you want. Mainly I got it for the blade.” Obviously he didn’t buy it for show, unless somewhere there is a contest for what can run the farthest the rustiest.

I got in, and looked around. Dozens of dangling wires hung like limp spaghetti from beneath the dash. Parts from the disassembled floor shifter were strewn about the torn up carpet. The glove compartment door was gone. Cracks in the windshield. Floppy rear view mirror. Headliner hanging down. Poor, poor Scout.

It started right up. Amazing! He reached in and said: “Check this out,” and he pushed a button. Several horns began to play Dixie. His look said: “See? I told you this was a great machine.”

“But will it move?” I asked him, as I looked down at the shifter mechanism on the floor to my right. I could see the ground through the hole where the shifter had been. 

“Oh sure,” he replied as he motioned me to get out so he could get in. He grabbed the carpenter’s hammer that was there, and began to hammer on and claw pull the cable that stuck up out of the floor. I stood beside the driver’s side door while he alternated pulling with hammering. Suddenly, the Scout took off. The look on his face as he roared away was one of pure wonderment. He gave me a victorious thumbs up out the window as he tore across the parking lot, snow flying from the blade. It went about 40 feet and stopped. I walked over to his door, through the window of which I could see him giving that hammer hell.

Finally he gave up. We agreed on a price, and I was the owner of a machine that no one in their right mind would want. I dragged it home and went to work on it.

It took a solid week of tender loving care, but I can now plow snow with it. I put treated lumber between the rusty floor and the frame, and the seats no longer tip you out of it when you open the door. The brakes are iffy but I drop the blade if I want to stop.

There is a 5.5-gallon Evinrude gas tank in the back because the actual gas tank lost the race with the fenders to see who would rust out and fall off first. After several hours repairing the exhaust manifold, I find that it’s just simpler to wear ear plugs.

Not too long ago, I sent a picture of it to a magazine that has pictures of pretty IH machinery in it, machinery that someone has fixed all up, completely overhauled, painted, and restored to like new conditions: machinery that they then don’t use because they don’t want to get it dirty. I told the magazine that they were missing the point completely; that they should run a picture of a machine that runs despite all evidence to the contrary; that holds together in an apparent denial of gravity vs. corrosion.

I told them: It always starts; always runs; always does this despite rumbling and vibrating in ways that suggest imminent disaster. This, I told them, is the true measure of a great machine.

They didn’t put me in their magazine. Maybe it’s the Evinrude gas tank. I probably should have painted it International Harvester red or something. I’m a little disappointed in them and their stuffy ways.

Don’t call me on the phone. I’m outside plowing snow.