The Enduring Wheelbarrow

We had always tried to instill in both our kids the habit of carefully considering the “old and proven” before rushing into the “new and improved.”

I wasn’t surprised when one afternoon I saw our son pushing up our driveway an old wheelbarrow he’d found a couple of blocks away. He’d struggled to free it from a curbside pile of junk destined for the landfill.

Its rough appearance bore evidence of a hard and already lengthy life, most likely in the hands of a building contractor—the rolled over lip of the heavy steel bed dented in places, the bed covered with a layer of rust and patches of concrete, axle covered with hardened grease, tire cracked with age, oak handles weathered by sun and rain. Yet, I agreed with my son that as bad as the wheelbarrow looked, it appeared to still be sturdy and usable.

I pushed it to a dry place under my lumber rack, greased the axle, cautiously pumped some air into the tire, and treated the handles with a wood preservative. Not a week had passed before I used it to move some soil from a shrub bed on one side of the lot to the other. That first load, however, convinced me of its worth. The icing on the cake was that it had been rescued from sure destruction.

I’ve always tended to associate one happening with another, my attempt to apply a simple yet logical pattern to everyday living. In that context, I knew that old didn’t automatically mean unserviceable, inefficient, or otherwise undesirable.

As for the wheelbarrow, I wasn’t even sure it was possible to replace it with one of like quality. My best guess was that it had been made somewhere in industrial Mid-America, heavy gauge steel bed on a steel and oak frame, a wheelbarrow strong enough to hold heavy loads, pushed over uneven ground by tough muscled workers who had to get the job done no matter what.

How ironic, I thought, that after such a tough life and a near miss with destruction, that wheelbarrow was now entering a second life by serving me, a gentle guy living on a one-acre spread in suburbia.

I see that applying not only to such mechanical things as cars and trucks or things structural, such as a house, but also to the softer and human sides of life.

Sure, there is and will always be a need or desire for the “new and improved.” Much of the promise, however, is superficial—designed to sell and last for a much shorter time to create an urgency to replace rather than repair.

The same applies to supposedly new and dramatic changes in how we communicate or expedite the causing of things to happen. Take a closer look and you’ll find a striking similarity between it and the reasoning used years before. The challenge isn’t necessarily a matter of automatically adopting the new, but rather of knowing how best to attach or coordinate it with tried and true fundamentals. So many times, the so-called “new” amounts to not much more than a different touch of the cosmetic brush.

As for wheelbarrows, technology and marketing have led to the common use of fiberglass, thinner steel, and brighter colors. Debatable, however, is whether over the long haul they continue to be as strong and capable.

Now for the punchline: It’s been 34 years since my son rescued that wheelbarrow. During all that time and despite many heavy loads of bricks, dirt, and gravel plus much lighter leaves, grass, and tree limbs, no part of that wheelbarrow has cracked, split, come apart, broken, fallen off, or needed replacing. Remarkably, even the original tire is still holding air.

That’s how it should be with all our experiences. Whether machine or human being, never assume age means it’s not capable of doing what must be done.