Depression Kids Were The Very Soul Of Private Enterprise, Part Ii


Last week I left off at the point where some teenagers from my neighborhood were out scouting for valuable scrap metal and found a fat brass railing running uphill beside a set of abandoned concrete steps. With Petey Disarro working as the anchorman at the bottom of the railing, they put everything they had into hauling on it to get the uprights to give way. Which they did, sending several hundred pounds of brass railing, which ended in a three-inch round ball, crashing right into Petey’s — well, you know, the worst possible place.

How much poor Petey knew about it as the rest of the kids loaded all that lovely brass onto their handmade wagon I have no idea. All I can remember about that moment is Petey rolling around and saying, “Oh, oh, oh.”

He said it a lot. And for a long time too.

Reminds me of a true story I read about our Native American brethren. Seems one tribe captured a brave from another tribe and was dancing around him at the campfire trying to put a scare into him with some very nasty personal threats. The captured brave, to show his disdain, snuggled his backside right up to the fire and roasted off a pair of rather irreplaceable units. His captors were so impressed by this feat of derring-do they decided he was worthy of being adopted into the tribe. But then someone pointed out that he was now “spoiled,” so they tomahawked him. Sad, but true.

I imagine Petey felt a bit like that brave. I take it he recovered, though. Joined the Marines a couple of years later, and I reckon he must have passed the physical.

They do check for that, don’t they?

Anyway, kids back in those Depression days had a genuine talent for making money. For one thing if you gave us a tool, you gave us an occupation.

One cloudy March day during the scrap drive mania, three of us chanced upon a rusted old pair of hedge clippers and an old cast iron push lawn mower behind an apartment building up the street.

Neither of them had any brass in them, so they were a bust as far as scrap metal went. Iron sold, I think, for about a nickel a ton. It sure took a heap of it to add up to a quarter’s worth.

Anyway, we set to work right there, grinning from ear to ear. We knew we were going to make money with them. Mowing lawns? Trimming hedges? Big time stuff! Just 8 years old and set for life.

So we began fixing a rusted-shut hedge clipper with one wooden handle, and an old cast iron lawn mower that was a solid block of rust. Dom and Buddy began chipping away at the lawn mower while I started on the clippers.

I scraped away at the rusted old blades with a piece of flat sandstone for darn near half an hour before I even got the blades to open. The rust was so thick on them those blades looked like they were suffering from the hedge clipper version of smallpox. And scraping away with that flat old piece of sandstone wasn’t making much of an impression.

But then I had an idea: Water. What if I soaked the blades in water? There was an old washtub up there in that tall grass.So I hauled water up there where we were working, filled the washtub up to the leak, tossed in the clippers, and continued scraping.

Surprisingly, the rust came off a lot faster. In another hour I had all the loose stuff off and was working on the clippers, now out of the water, with a piece of sandpaper. In maybe another hour that old hedge clipper was shining. Still wouldn’t cut cheese, but it was shining.

By the end of the afternoon, after having been fitted with a section of broomstick for a handle and worked on with file and a whole lot of elbow grease it would actually cut something.

We abandoned the lawn mower for the time being, setting it in the washtub full of water to soak the rust loose. Next day, off we went to the top of Ward’s Hill where the rich folks lived. In one day, three of us earned over $2 with those old hedge clippers, more hard cash than any of us had ever had.

We had a very hard time getting return engagements, though. Something wrong with our hedge cutting technique perhaps. Well, you know. We were only 8.

The lawn mower?

We forgot all about it ’til one hot, sweaty day in August. Hauling it out of the tub of water, we took a look and decided it was a hopeless cause, but Dom Disarro gave it a hard shove and the blades actually turned a little.

Seeing that, all three of us got behind it and pushed like maniacs, sweating buckets under a blazing sun. After 10 minutes, the lawn mower had rolled over just five feet of totally unchanged grass, and three half-dead kids lay sprawled out on their backs.

It may still be there in that tall grass. Anybody want to buy a genuine antique lawn mower?



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