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Clips of Time: Hoover Carts

Updated: Apr 19, 2021

In our Facebook Live series, Clips of Time, we shared a variety of historical topics using newspaper clippings as jumping off points. This Clips of Time is all about Hoover Carts. Below is some background information and the newspaper clippings Melody read in this week's video in case you would like to read them yourself.

If you have ever taken a field trip at the Tobacco Farm Life Museum you probably know that we talk about how the farmer made use of everything. Maybe it was the feed and flour sacks used for clothes or the fertilizer bags used as quilt backs. Maybe it was the horseshoes and rope reused for children’s games. It might have even been the way the families made use of every part of the animal during food processing. Or it might have been the handmade tools from other metal items on the farm. Whatever it was the farmers were known for getting the most use out of what they had. Necessity truly is the mother of invention.

The biggest reason for this was that the farmers did not have a lot of excess income, so they made do with what they had, or they borrowed from the neighboring farm. This was especially true during the Great Depression, which started in 1929 but mostly lasted through the 1930’s. While much of the US had experienced a time of economic boom in the 1920s due to industrialization, farmers continued to struggle to make ends meet. However, some of the economic affluence of the 20s found its way to rural areas and some residents began to purchase automobiles.

However, after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 fuel became too expensive and the cars became yard decorations. However, the farming communities that were familiar with making use of everything, soon started modifying the cars so they could be pulled by mules or removing parts from the cars to make their wagons more comfortable to ride in, by replacing the wagon wheels with the rubber tires from the cars.

Unfortunately for President Herbert Hoover, the 31st President of the United States, who took office the same year the Great Depression began, he was often associated with its troubles. Therefore, he became the namesake for these repurposed buggies named Hoover Carts.

The carts would find their way to parades, often times led by the opposing political party, with the individuals expressing their discontent with the current times. But I also think the carts were shown off as a way of personal success and pride in their ability to refabricate from what they had.

A chapter in Bob Boyette’s book Treasured Times and an article from The Johnstonian-Sun published in Selma, NC both give local examples of Hoover Carts and their role in parades.

Hoover Cart Was a Unique Vehicle, published in the Kenly News, July 8, 1987 by Rob Boyette

"It was a vehicle of the times. The unique depression chariot was called the Hoover cart – after the president who people blamed for the hard times. The two wheel carts, built by farmers, became their primary means of transportation during the early 1930’s. using the car’s rear axle, rear wheels and at least one spring, farmers would build a cart with a bench type seat for two to be drawn by their mule. A Hoover cart, with its balloon automobile tires, rode easier than the steel rimmed buggy. After the initial construction there was not any operating costs since the farmer raised the mule’s feed, and he had to have his mule to work his farm.

There were so many Hoover carts that many towns had parades honoring the vehicle. Mr. Bleen Hinnant, currently Kenly resident, remembers going to the Goldsboro Hoover Cart Parade. He did not remember the one held in Smithfield in October, 1932. He said many farmers were forced to build the carts because “they could not afford either the gas or the annual auto license fee.” Gasoline sold for about 20 cents per gallon during the depression.

The Smithfield parade was sponsored by the Johnston County Democratic Executive Committee. “The Smithfield Herald” called it a “fitting adjunct to the 1932 Democratic rally.” If you know your history then you know President Hoover was a Republican.

When reading about the parade, one can appreciate the hard times. Total prize money was $38. First prize winner received only $15, while fourth place paid $2.50. Five dollars was given for the “most comical” cart. Everyone who entered a cart did get some merchandise from Smithfield merchants. Prize money was furnished by the Democratic Executive Committee and tobacco warehouses.

The winning cart’s owner hand an oil cloth roof “as protections from the burning rays of the sun.” The second-place winner was the most substantial rig in the parade.” It was two-seated and took two mules to pull it. It combined a 1900-model carriage and 1920-Model Ford axle and wheels. The owner rode backwards. He claimed, “he had been going backwards for four years and was tired of it.”

One young boy from Smithfield had a Hoover cart drawn by his pony. He carried a placard announcing when he became 21 he would vote against Hoover. The cart that won “most comical” was “manpowered,” It had a dilapidated barber’s chair for a seat.

There were 47 Hoover vehicles in the parade. Osbon Starling of Pine Level was one of six who did not win a prize but did get honorable mention for his rig. The October 7, 1932 edition of “the Smithfield Herald” tells about the depression vehicle parade."

The next article is from Selma’s The Johnstonian-Sun from Thursday, October 6, 1932. Procured from the DigitalNC Database. This author did not think the scene was as lighthearted as Mr. Boyette’s memories portrayed.

The Hoover Cart Parades

"By frequently staging some Hoover cart parade,

Many people are acknowledging mistakes they’ve made.

They bought new cars and rode as long as they could,

And then they dismantled both the body and the hood.

They took two wheels and the axle from the rear,

And rigged them up into a much prized souvenir.

This souvenir they are using as a token of the past,

Because they are coming to their senses at last.

They rode and rode, and saw their bank account dwindle,

And continue to ride with two wheels and the spindle.

They advertise to the world they’ve been free to spend,

And have been too much on the go throughout the week-end.

Instead of staging parades in their contempt for Hoover,

Each one should confess he’s been too much of a rover.

The empty seats at the churches on Saturday and Sunday,

Has caused many of a fellow to spend a blue Monday.

Instead of giving this thing the name “Hoover Cart”,

They should remember that the blame is on their part.

They are advertising to the world how silly they’ve been,

And to try to lay it on Hoover is a shame and sin.

Churches have been made to suffer for lack of support,

And the jails have been filled from cases in the courts.

Mortgages and taxes have taken thousands of homes away

Because they rode and they rode both night and day.

They are now being used as a mere political tool,

By parading the streets with two wheels and a mule.

It is a frank admission as to how their money went,

But they are trying to discredit our President.

Just Note the auto skeletons about any town or city,

And if you don’t stop and sigh, you are void of pity.

It is a sad spectacle to everyone who passes by-

And as to the depression – that’s the answer why."

In Conclusion: What history tells us is that we as humans are good at adapting to situations. Many of us are making unique and creative adaptations to life during the Coronavirus. The drive-by birthday party parades are a great example of this. What are you doing to adapt to our current situation?

You can find all of our Clips of Time videos on our Facebook page or on our YouTube Channel.

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