I'm a fan of a couple TV shows that are popular right now. "Yukon Men" and "Alaska the Last Frontier," both show how difficult life can be in the far north, and how resourceful those people are who call that region home are.
One episode of "Yukon Men" showed a couple men discover a 70 year old bulldozer in the bush. With hard work and ingenuity, they used a piece of cardboard and a mop handle to nurse the vehicle back to life after it had lain idle for several decades. Impressive.
In a couple episodes of "Alaska the Last Frontier," I've heard one person or another point out that people in the lower 48 states have lost the ability to make-do. While I have to agree that the level of ingenuity shown by people on those shows is impressive, and admitting that it is not as common down here as it once was, I have to argue that, at least in my part of the country, and some others I've visited, ingenuity is alive and well.
When I was a kid, and my dad told me to do something that I really didn't want to, like other kids, I sometimes said, "But Dad, I can't!"
I learned pretty quickly that Dad's reply was more often than not, "Can't never done nothin'!" meaning, of course, you can accomplish pretty much anything you set your mind to. As Henry Ford once said, "Whether you believe you can or you believe you can't, you are right."
Dad not only said it, he lived it. He owned a trucking company for many years. When Harold Towery asked if Dad could move a house for him, Dad didn't hesitate to answer, "yes," despite the fact that he had never moved one before and had only a general idea how to do it. Dad and Harold are both gone now, but the impressive structure they moved to its current location on a corner across from Malden High School will stand as a testament to their ingenuity and can-do attitude for years to come.
Some of you know my friend, Dean. He told me a story about the time a train derailed east of Malden, dumping a valuable cargo. The only access to the site was a muddy field road. The railroad representatives failed in attempts to find a truck driver who would risk the road until they asked Dad. "Yes I can," was Dad's reply, and Dean was quick to volunteer to drive a second truck. The two of them made trips back and forth on the "impassable" road until the mess was cleaned up.
Dean is another one who doesn't accept the limitations that others rely on. Whenever I ask Dean how to do something with a car, or ask him if something can even be done, he'll chuckle a little and say, "Let me think about it." Usually, before long, Dean has gotten back to me with a way to accomplish my goal. From what I hear, mechanics from some of the big dealerships call him for help with car repairs they can't figure out.
A couple years ago, I loaned Dean a wood stove that I designed and had built out of a piece of steel pipe. Dean uses it to heat his garage but, when I used it, my design enabled us to heat the house toasty warm. It would hold a fire all night long so that I could start a fire when the weather turned off cold, and just keep feeding it all winter long, without having to restart it or get up in the middle of the night to stoke it. I'd designed it with a grate so that air fed the fire from underneath and the wood burned down to nothing but ashes. It also had a cleanout so that I could remove those ashes while the fire was still hot. The stove also had a cook surface that turned out many gallons of the best venison chili I've ever eaten.
A few months back, I sent one of my sons a cell phone picture of an old walk-behind garden tractor I came across at the 100 mile yard sale. It was in very bad shape, having sat unused for decades. It was badly rusted, with a rotten tire and parts missing or broken. I sent the picture more as a way to show him the rare item than anything else but J.B. got back to me almost immediately asking me to buy the tractor for him and hold it until he could get home. I did. Not long ago, he sent me a picture of the tractor, almost indistinguishable from a brand new one. And it runs!
I once helped Dad repair a fertilizer truck using a bent nail and a friend of mine temporarily fixed a leaky radiator with a raw egg. As a kid I used to keep another friend's pet snakes supplied with live mice I caught in a trap I'd made using a plastic trash can and Mom's broom. As a teenager I helped a friend drill wells with a water pump, some PVC pipe, and a bit made using old spindles from a cotton picker. A few years back, I built a wood stove for my hunting tent out of an old barrel, and I did not use one of those kits you can buy. The stove wouldn't hold a hot fire all night without stoking, but it didn't need much. It had a cook top that produced plenty of bacon and eggs, pancakes, burgers, and more to fill up hungry hunters in the snowy mountains. It also heated enough water that I could take a warm bath in a large storage tub that had contained our gear on the drive out to Colorado.
I've given examples of my family and friends, but we are hardly exceptions. I've seen other people do some amazing things. Around here, trailers made from the beds of old pickups are so common that people hardly notice them anymore. I've seen a motorcycle run on ethanol made in a still powered by the sun. I've also seen a welder that looked like nothing more than wires sticking out from under the hood of a pickup. I saw a wrecker once that used a hand crank and an old transmission to lift cars just like the ones that come from the factory, albeit a bit slower. I've even seen a tractor cobbled together using the original John Deere transmission plus the engine and transmission from an old Fiat car, and running on bus tires.
No, ingenuity is not dead in the lower 48. Although not as common as it once was, ingenuity is alive and well. If the denizens of the last frontier don't believe it, I invite them to come visit me. I'll take them for a drive around the back roads of southeast Missouri. They may just have to eat their words.