Getting our two cents worth


A penny saved is a penny earned…It all adds up…Every little bit helps. They were simple, everyday sayings. They were life philosophies. They were the way we were brought up. So, growing up on our South Dakota farm, when we decided we needed a bit of cash for something special, we went hunting for pop bottles! The grocery stores in Erwin and De Smet paid two cents per bottle.

Early spring made for easier hunting, before the brome in the road ditches grew waist-high. Delmer rode the red Roadmaster. Mine was a smaller version, passed down from my older siblings. If those bicycles had had odometers, they would have racked up thousands of miles over the years! With a gunny sack draped over Delmer’s handle bars, we headed down the road.

Eagle eyes scanned the ditches on both sides. Sometimes the clear or green glass sparkled in the sunlight, begging to be found. Sometimes the bottles needed to be rescued from a tuft of last year’s grass. A few laid in dirt that had washed from a field in recent thunderstorms. When we spotted one, we pulled off the road, footed down our kickstands and at least one of us descended into the ditch. We took turns unless there were lots to gather.

If Dad had burned the ditch, the pickings were easy to spot. Our shoes may have gotten a little sooty, but we were raking in the dough!

Not all the roads around sections were gravel-coated. Minimum maintenance paths led to the approaches for some of the fields. Down the hill on one particular dirt road, after splashing through two mud puddles, we hit the jackpot—a whole pile of bottles! “Why would anyone throw bottles out here?” I questioned as we carefully added them to the bag. Delmer replied something about parking. I still didn’t get it. “Why would anyone park here?” (I was the youngest, most spoiled AND most naïve!)

The gunny sack was getting pretty heavy, but we spotted green glass shining in the ditch at the corner a half mile from home. We were both grabbing bottles when we heard a car approaching. Delmer checked to make sure our bikes were far off the road as the vehicle barreled closer. A couple of teenagers yelled something out the open window. Delmer’s fists clenched as he stared up at them. Barely half their size, I know my brother would have fought if he needed to. All of a sudden, a bottle flew out and we jumped out of its path. The car sped off, leaving behind a cloud of dust and an echo of wild laughter.

My brother glared after them. As I happily retrieved the bottle, I placated my brother, “They aren’t very smart. How can they throw away good money like that?”

When we got home, we rode straight to the cattle tank. We washed and rinsed those bottles and let them dry in the sun. Next trip to town, we would haul them in and collect the cash.

There were always things to do and lessons to learn when we grew up on the farm. Economics. Old-fashioned values. No matter what, it seems we always got more than our two cents worth!

Columnist DeAnn Kruempel grew up near De Smet, S.D., and has lived in North Dakota and Iowa all her adult life. She now lives near Logan, Iowa, and can be reached at deannkruempelauthor@gmail.com.

Read more!

Read more fun stories of growing up on the farm in “Putting On the Big Boots,” “Back to Forward,” and “Once Upon a Midwest Sunset.” These books, along with Kruempel’s “Promises to Keep” series, are available on Amazon. Signed copies can also be purchased at the Harrison County Welcome Center AND the Loess Hills Visitor Center & Gift Shop in Moorhead. All make excellent gifts! Contact her at deannkruempelauthor@gmail.com