Clabe Wilson’s Model T Truck

Delbert and Donald Wilson drove their dad’s Model T Truck to Des Moines in January 1934 to talk to the Navy Recruitment Office about joining the Navy. Yes, it was snowing. Grandmother Goff’s Dexter house is in the distance.

Donald and Delbert Wilson, January 18, 1934. “Just arrived home to Dexter from Des Moines where they were looking after navy business.” They also brought their younger brothers a sled.

The next month, the brothers left for Norfolk, Virginia, to serve four years in the U.S. Navy. The truck wasn’t mentioned in letters to them from the folks until August 1, when their dad Clabe writes, “The kids and I got the old ‘Struggle Buggy’ out of the shed Mon. for the first time since you boys left.”

Six months, and the family had done everything on foot. Clabe had a government job of keeping the town pump oiled, but he could walk to work.

“We went out to look for wood and wound up in Dale City. Stopped and saw Uncle Alberts–they are getting old fast. The country over there [rural Guthrie County] is all burned up. The worst I ever saw. We saw teams [of horses] all along the road hauling water from the river. The cattle have eaten the brush just as high as they can reach.”

The next time we hear anything about the truck is that September, also from Clabe, “I suppose Mom told you about the Ford. The kids and I were out in the shed one day and they said, ‘Why don’t you take the top off–it looks too high.’ I just picked up the hammer and knocked it off. You ought to have heard them laugh. We cut down the seat and cut off half of the wind shield. It looks like a sports roadster.”

That “Model T roadster” is on the cover of Leora’s Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression, where Junior is on the hood, looking down at their pet squirrel Rusty on the fender.

Here’s another photo taken the same day:

Dale is in the driver’s seat. Junior is on the hood. Danny is looking at Rusty, who is hard to see on the corner of the windscreen. October 1934, Dexter, Iowa

Clabe sold the roadster before January 1935, when Leora needed surgery for the chunk of needle embedded in her hand. They had to catch rides with neighbors, and even the doctor once.

The summer of 1935, Clabe felt well enough to tackle fieldwork and was desperate to find a job. He trudged and hitch-hiked deeper into Dallas County, eventually finding a man who would hire him.

That story is in Chapter 31 in Leora’s Dexter Stories. A relative of the Peitzman family, who is also a historian and preservationist, formerly with the State Historical Society of Iowa and the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, wrote an endorsement for the book.

Clabe Wilson didn’t own another vehicle until after they moved to Minburn in 1939.


      • I spent some time researching 1920s slang. When I was in elementary school, our elderly landlady actually used the phrase “Hubba hubba zing zing” to refer to herself in her younger and wilder days.

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