Testing the Code

The Idaho Tradition Gets a Workout

By Clell G. Ballard

In the sparsely populated areas of rural Idaho, people go by a code of honor:  “Don’t mess with things that don’t belong to you.” As strange as it may seem to city dwellers, something can be left in the same spot for a surprisingly long time without being touched by anyone.

For example, a late-1920s Model A Ford sat off the side of a regularly used county road near Fairfield for several decades. To be more accurate, only part of the vehicle remained visible for at least a dozen years—until the ravages of time accounted for its final state of almost total decay, when scrap collectors hauled it away—but you get my point.

The honor code of the West can be traced to its wide-open spaces. Distances between places are so great that there is sometimes no alternative to leaving things where they are, particularly if they will be needed at that spot again soon. It is just too difficult and time-consuming to transport everything home. That’s why farm machinery can be seen sitting miles and miles from the nearest farm or ranch. I don’t want people messing with things I have to leave out, so it naturally follows that I won’t mess with other people’s things.

But there is another side to this code. What about things that are no good anymore and their owners just abandon them where they sit? Many things fall into that category. If you cannot transport good things home because of great distances, it’s only logical that nobody will go to a lot of effort to transport something they consider worthless to a proper disposal site. This explains why you see all sorts of things just sitting off to the side of rural Idaho roads or out in a field somewhere.

Once it is determined that something has been abandoned, the honor code no longer applies and people are welcome to take whatever suits their fancy. Usually that works pretty well but occasionally the problem arises of determining when something has made the transition from an important item into an abandoned hunk of junk.

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Clell G. Ballard

About Clell G. Ballard

Clell G. Ballard has lived his whole life in Camas County. He earned a Master’s degree in diplomatic history and for thirty-five years, he taught high school students in Fairfield. In the summers, he dry-land farmed with his uncle. Since 1980, Clell has had more than two hundred articles published. He has written regularly for Skinned Knuckles and Farm Collector magazines. He and his wife Marilyn, the district librarian, have five grown children.

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