The covert was at the bottom of a long dirt road that connected the farm at the top of the hill to the river. In a rainy year we’d find woodcock on the hillside, and in a dry year I’d drop my Jeep CJ5 into four-wheel high and wade on through the river to get to the other side. I was not surprised that the floor boards rotted out, and my only question was why they didn’t rust sooner. I beat the heck out of that rig, so chalk one up for good old American craftsmanship.
Near the hillside’s aspen and white birch stands stood an old cattle barn. The barn resembled my CJ, as it was still standing but a little worse for the wear. New England barns are historically painted red, for frugal colonists preserved the rough hewn clapboard by painting them with the blood from slaughtered animals. The color on this barn was pretty good, so evidently it had been painted recently. Most likely Benjamin Moore’s Latex Exterior covered up traces from cattle and sheep.
My buddies and I passed it on our way in and out of the covert for more than a decade. Until now it looked the same every time. There was no livestock, no silage, no open stanchions, and no full milking parlors. It was always quiet until the bells started clanging when we cut the dogs loose.
None of us ever thought to stop and peer through the windows. We were curious, but it also seemed a bit invasive. If truth be told, the real reason was because we wanted to run our dogs. We named the spot The Old Barn Covert for two reasons: The first was obvious, that there was a barn, but the second was wise; there are so many old barns in New England that no one knew where we were hunting. It’s the same with the Covered Bridge Covert and the Old Farmer’s Covert, too.
Never did we see tire tracks after a rain; never did we see a soul; never was a gunshot heard. But then one day, way, way in the distance, I heard a motor running. I drove slowly, not because I was scared or nervous, but because I was fearful that the land had changed hands and that I was about to see posted signs. I drove closer, and when I got near the barn I heard the generator that lit up the barn like a football stadium on Friday night. The door was open, and a gray-haired man shuffled about. I eased the CJ5 to a stop.
Thankfully, he smiled.
“A Jeep man!” he said. “That’s gotta be a late ’70s inline four-banger.”
“Good eye,” I said. “She’s a ’78.”
“Well, well, well,” he said. “You might want to have a look at this.”
In the barn sat an old Willy’s M38A1, complete with U.S. Army markings and serial numbers. It was perfect—fully restored, right down to the canvas top, the spare gas tank, and the canvas saddlebags. Before I could look under the hood, I thought I had my first barn find.
“Are you taking her for a spin?” I asked. “She’ll turn some heads for sure.”
“She does indeed,” the man said. “I bought her when I got out of the service and have loved her my whole life. There are only 27,000 original miles on her. But time marches on, and it’s time for me to let her go to her next owner. She’s for sale.”
The provenance of this Jeep was incredible, so much so that I was hopeful.
“Any thought on a price?”
“I don’t know yet,” he said. “I put her on the Internet, and my email blew up. There is a long list of gentlemen suitors. A fella is coming all the way from Texas tomorrow, a fella from Tennessee the day after, and next week a guy from California. That’s just the beginning.
“You look like you’re a hunter, and I’ve got a collection of firearms I’m willing to sell. I’ve got some hunting books and artwork, too. C’mon inside.”
Did I find any firearms of interest? Not that time. But there were a few other items that caught my eye. One was a cork black duck decoy. Sure, it was a little brittle, but that comes with the turf. Alongside it was a high-density pintail decoy that was a little worse for the wear. Barn mice had chewed the bill, so I’ll need a replacement, and I’ll have to patch the shot holes in the body and head, too. I’m not sure how they got into a decoy floating on the water, but hey, that’s none of my businesses.
The setter and woodcock ashtray harkens back to a better time. Remember when smoking and bird hunting were so popular you’d combine them? And the Remington hand trap shows a level of quality commonly found in such products. I still throw crossers in the sand pit with my family, and it works just fine.
Barn and yard sale finds have almost become a thing of the past, thanks in large part to the development of the Internet. But sometimes you wind up in the right place at the right time, and when you do it’s magic. In fact, I just might take a poke down some dirt roads next week. Who knows what’s out there waiting to be discovered . . .