DURING a whirlwind nine-day witnessing campaign in August/September 1929, over 10,000 preachers fanned out across the United States. They placed a quarter of a million books and booklets in the hands of the people. Among those Kingdom proclaimers were some one thousand colporteurs. How their number had grown! The Bulletin* declared it “almost unbelievable” that the pioneer ranks had tripled from 1927 to 1929.
Late in 1929, there was a financial crash. On Black Tuesday—October 29, 1929—collapsing prices on the New York Stock Exchange created shock waves that plunged the global economic system into the Great Depression. Banks failed by the thousands. Farms stopped operating. Giant factories shut their doors. Millions lost their jobs. In 1933, U.S. home foreclosures peaked at 1,000 per day.
How could full-time preachers manage during such a crisis? One answer was a home on wheels. Rent free and tax free, a house car or a trailer enabled many pioneers to pursue their ministry with the least possible expense.* And during convention time, a mobile home served as a free hotel room. In 1934, the Bulletin supplied detailed plans for a compact but comfortable abode with such practical features as a water system, a cooking stove, a fold-up bed, and insulation against the cold.
Resourceful preachers around the world set about building their homes on wheels. “Noah had no boat-building experience,” recalled Victor Blackwell, “and I had no experience in or knowledge of building a house trailer.” But build he did.
Avery and Lovenia Bristow had a house car. Said Avery, “I was like a turtle in its shell—my home was always with me.” The Bristows pioneered with Harvey and Anne Conrow, whose mobile home had tar-paper walls. Pieces of the paper fell off every time they moved their home. “No one ever saw a trailer like it before,” recalled Avery, “and no one has ever seen one like it since!” But Avery said that the Conrows and their two sons were “the happiest family you ever saw.” Harvey Conrow wrote, “We never wanted for anything, and we felt completely secure in Jehovah’s service and under his loving care.” The four Conrows later attended Gilead School and were assigned to Peru as missionaries.
The Battainos too pioneered as a family. After Giusto and Vincenza learned that they were to be parents, they transformed a 1929 Model A Ford truck into a home that “seemed like a fine hotel” compared with the tents they had lived in before. With their little girl, they continued in the assignment they loved, preaching to Italians living in the United States.
The good news found many listening ears, but poor and jobless people could seldom contribute money toward Bible literature. Instead, they offered all kinds of goods in a fair exchange. Two pioneers listed 64 types of items given to them by interested ones. The list read “like an inventory from a country store.”
Fred Anderson met a farmer who wanted a set of our books and offered in exchange a pair of glasses that had been his mother’s. At the next farm, a man showed interest in our literature but said, “I don’t have glasses to read with.” When he wore his neighbor’s glasses, however, he could read the books just fine and gladly contributed for the books and glasses.
Herbert Abbott carried a portable chicken coop in his car. After trading for three or four chickens, he took them to market, sold them, and filled his gas tank. “Were we down to the last dime at times? Oh yes,” he wrote, “but we did not let that stop us. If we had gas in the tank, we would go on, placing our faith and trust in Jehovah.”
Reliance on Jehovah and hardy determination carried his people through those difficult years. During one rainstorm Maxwell and Emmy Lewis escaped from their trailer just in time to see it cut in half by a falling tree. “These things were no obstacles,” Maxwell wrote, “just incidents, and the thought of giving up never entered our minds. There was much work to be done, and we intended to do it.” Undeterred and with the help of loving friends, Maxwell and Emmy rebuilt their home on wheels.
In our own challenging times, the same self-sacrificing spirit characterizes millions of zealous Witnesses of Jehovah. After all, like those early pioneers, we are determined to continue in the preaching activity until Jehovah says the work is done.
Now called Our Kingdom Ministry.
In those times, most pioneers did no secular work. They received Bible literature at reduced rates and used contributions from placements for their modest living expenses.