Freight Days

Pie Town, NM

Datil, New Mexico

This rare photo is from an unknown source. I believe it was taken during the mid-1930s at Datil, New Mexico, a small place some 50 miles west of Socorro on US 60.

During this era, what was destined to become the Interstate Commerce Commission and later the Department of Transportation recognized the future of the trucking industry and moved to regulate it. Those already transporting goods for hire were issued applications which, when returned, provided authority to continue their present routes. Permits were issued, reflecting this authority. Hence, the numbers associated with Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico as seen on the rear door.

Obviously, this particular vehicle didn’t travel all three states. Road conditions would prohibit that. Instead, a freight company owned a fleet of cars and trucks. Each vehicle was required to show that three-state authority. Greyhound, Overnight, Watson Brothers, Roadway, and scores of others in the business followed through with these applications, and nearly a century later many are still on the road.

But back to the photo.

The seven cardboard boxes tied on the rear of the car, next to the suitcases, are probably live, day-old baby chicks or ducklings, 60 in each box, en route to their destinations. I’m old enough to recall fowl transported in such a manner.

Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward, operated as a middleman between the manufacturer/warehouseman and consumers. They mailed out catalogs the size of a Chicago Telephone Book. And that was how we collectively shopped for much of what we owned.

My grandparents, owners/operators of Tanglewood Farm ordered their day-old chicks from Montgomery Ward, who, in turn alerted a chicken hatchery located within a few hours of the Tanglewood Farm. Plans were set in motion. Fertile eggs were placed in an incubator, the date of shipping projected, and then a postcard was mailed to Tanglewood. As promised, the chicks arrived at the Foster Post Office, or perhaps Collier’s General Store, both located a bit further than two miles from the farm.

Why was such an operation set into motion? Roads. US 40, for example, the only coast-to-coast highway at the time was gravel. The state, county, and township roads usually were dirt when the weather was sunny, and mud when it was raining.

This car in the photo was the precursor to Railway Express, Parcel Post, UPS, FedEx, and others. Telephones were unreliable and expensive. Computers, FAX machines, and drones were still far in the future.

I remember living at Tanglewood Farm. The closest shopping was Butler, 20 miles northeast. Those who desired a greater selection traveled on to Kansas City, an additional 70 miles – on gravel roads.

I recall when the roads became such that trips to Kansas City was no longer an impossibility. How elated we all were. As a result, Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward no longer held such a prominent place in our lives.

Today, some 80 years later, our computer monitor is the catalog. The merchandise we order arrives by truck, UPS, FedEx, USPS, and in some instances, drone.

Of course we no longer order chickens, feed grinders, and bathtubs from afar, but should there be a demand, someone would develop a way.

There is truth to the statement: There is nothing new under the sun.

Have we have come full circle? Are we are back to shopping without leaving the house, like in the olden days?

5 thoughts on “Freight Days

  1. This is a brilliant idea, to find a picture to examine and tell its story, looking closely for clues. I am delighted by the improbability of choosing a Volkswagen as a delivery vehicle! Now I need to look again. Perhaps it just looks like a VW. At any rate, a real contrast to the semis of today. I lived in a town of 700 on the prairies of South Dakota. Most of our toys and clothing were purchased from the Montgomery Ward catalogue. One year severe weather kept them from delivering our Xmas so our parents shopped for what they could in our little town. I believe my doll that Xmas was from the Super Value Grocery store. It was huge–about 3 feet tall and not of the top quality, but very flashy and BIG. I remember seeing them in a row above the vegetable and fruit counter. At any rate, we had Xmas and we kids were not even really aware of the drama of our mother trying to pull together Xmas from the local Gambles Store, hardware store, drugstore and Joy Paine’s tiny dry goods/clothing shop. Then, two weeks later when the mail came in–Xmas again when all our real presents arrived. Two of everything that year!

    I loved your posting.


    • I don’t recall such extremes in our weather when I was a kid. More mud than snow. Our mail carrier owned three Model A Fords, so he could always keep one running. The narrow tires cut through the mud better. Thanks for following.


      • One year the snow was so high that it completely covered main street. They just dug a tunnel down the middle of the street and tunneled into stores…I could step out of my second story bedroom window onto a snowbank.


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