Farm Collector Blogs > First Things

Consider the Past

by Leslie McManus

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In the old iron hobby, we all talk about preserving the past. But it’s interesting to actually consider the past, as well. During a recent early morning walk, I found myself imagining my surroundings 100 years ago.

First came the matter of the road. Today, it’s a well-maintained two-lane county road. One hundred years ago, it was a dirt road, probably not a lot wider than a wagon. As I looked backward, the traffic count instantly plummeted and the average speed, measured by true horsepower, reached perhaps 8 mph depending on the team and the load. The road would have dipped down to the creek, where adjacent landowners built a bridge of timbers, a crude forerunner of today’s concrete span designed by engineers.

A half-hour before sunrise, it’s quiet in my rural neighborhood. One hundred years ago, the day starts earlier. Horses are fed and watered; milking gets underway before the heat of the day settles over the land; cans of milk cool in a concrete tank filled with well water. In the barn, a bit of corn is run through the sheller for the chickens.

Horse-powered hay loaders are winding down their work in the fields; hay carriers grab load after load, filling the mow. “You can never have too much hay,” the farmer says. A few have contracted with a custom operator who brings in a hay press, amazing in its power and output.

Harvest is still a ways off, but if there is a need for motive power, a fire’s being started in a steam engine. If there is a tractor in this township in 1912, it is a noteworthy rarity. Likely every area farm has at least one stationary engine to give a boost on big jobs. No electricity: no air conditioning, no fans. Windows open; sound and dust drift through. Windmills creak as a breeze kicks up; water is pumped for household use.

Sunrise, a hundred years later: less doing and more going. The first wave of commuters rips down the road, one hand on the steering wheel, the other wrapped around a cell phone. Fewer farmers; bigger holdings. Seas of soybeans ripple in the breeze; the corn is taller than most men. Summer in farm country: What will it look like in another 100 years? FC