The Roadster and Rusty the Squirrel

Clabe and his three younger sons had just taken the top off the old truck, shortened the seat, and lowered the windshield. Rusty is on the fender.

The summer of 1934 was so hot (up to 112 degrees) and dry in Dexter, Iowa. And the only jobs for someone out of work, as was Clabe Wilson, was Government-funded part time work.

Tough times for a family with five kids at home.

Clabe and his sons–Dale (13), Danny (11), and Junior (9)–were in the shed one day with their old Ford. One of the boys said, “Why don’t you take the top off–it looks too high.” Clabe just picked up the hammer and knocked it off.

“You ought to have heard them laugh,” he said. “We cut down the seat and cut off half of the windshield. It looks like a sports roadster.”

About the same time, they found a baby squirrel, apparently an orphan. They brought it home, fed it bread and milk, and named him Rusty.

A September clipping about Rusty from a Dexter Sentinel said, “He is especially fond of peaches and will also eat all the bread and butter you will offer him. He climbs all over anyone who will pick him up, nosing into pockets and sleeves in search of any hidden crumbs of food. He is quite the cutest pet we have seen in some time.”

Clabe was running the town pump four 1/2 days a week, a WPA job. And he planned to get some “government wood”–get a load for a day’s work.

Wilsons two older sons were lucky enough to get on with the U.S. Navy during those Depression days.

Wilsons took a picture of Rusty and the roadster with Doris’s free Kodak box camera to send those Navy brothers. (Kodak gave a few to several towns to distribute to those born in 1918. Doris got the last one.)

This story is also told in Leora’s Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression.




  1. My dad when he was in his 70s got an old Ford to fix up. It was the same model that he had driven long ago. It kept him busy for several years, but once it was rehabbed, he lost interest in it. I need to write about that for Mom’s blog, I guess.

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