by Wilson J. Gaidry, III
The 1928 Chevrolet truck
I recently restored a 1928 Chevrolet truck that had been on Residence Plantation since purchased in 1928. This truck played an important role in the operation of the plantation during the Great Depression years, 1927-1939. During the depression sugarcane prices dropped and plantations had to be innovative and diversify to survive; many plantations in Terrebonne Parish went bankrupt and the owners that had the plantations for years lost them to banks and investment companies.
By the time of the Depression, Residence Plantation already had (besides sugarcane) a milk and egg operation, but beginning about 1927 it diversified farther into a truck crop operation, supplying vegetables for the grocery stores in New Orleans. Potatoes, snap beans, cabbage, okra, corn and sweet potatoes were the main vegetables grown and shipped on Mondays and Fridays to the French market in New Orleans.
Every Sunday and Thursday the old 1928 Chevy truck was loaded with produce and it took all evening and much of the night to reach the New Orleans French Market. There they would rent a stall in the French market to park the truck, and at first light grocery store owners would secure from the farmers the vegetables that they needed. There were no super markets in New Orleans; rather, corner grocery stores. Almost every city block had a grocery store, and the store owners would come around. Sometimes a dozen or so would be in a bidding war with the farmers heckling over the price. Back in those days many families didn't have a car and those that did had only one that the husband took to work leaving the housewife to have to walk to get groceries.
The personal sacrifice and physical effort to grow, harvest and get the produce to market was a monumental effort. There was very little mechanization, and all the harvest had to be done by hand. Imagine picking vegetables in the hot sun most of the day, then loading them into a truck and driving all night to New Orleans, spending the day selling them, then driving back to Terrebonne parish, experiencing numerous flat tires that had to be fixed by hand with a hand air pump, and mechanical problems. But people had to do whatever was necessary to save the family farm. It was a duty understood.
In 1913 Chevrolet began producing cars and by 1918 the first Chevrolet truck was available. It was produced in chassis only and the customer had to build the body and that is why the wooden body is so crude; it was probably homemade by a local wagon maker; the first complete factory that built truck was not produced until 1931. This plantation truck had a one-ton hauling capacity and a 36 horse power overhead valve engine.