If you spend much time in the old iron hobby, you begin to be a bit of a student of life a century ago. One hundred years ago, the business of tractor manufacture was about to break wide open. Steam traction engines and portable gas engines were popular labor-saving devices, but farm laborers paid increasing attention to the siren’s call of factory work. World War I loomed on the horizon, American women did not yet have the right to vote and a new employee at Ford Motor Co. was paid $2.40 ($56.28 today) for nine hours’ work.
Today we hold a magnifying glass over a decades-old photograph, examining every detail as if it held a clue to life in the past. We are less focused on life 100 years from now. Will anyone even care about antique farm equipment then? And if they do, what will capture their interest? Will it be the New Generation tractors of the 1960s or the earliest days of GPS-guided tractors of the 1980s? Will the tractors of the 1920s and ’30s even merit museum display space, or will they long since have been sold for scrap?
And what, pray tell, will collectors 100 years hence use as reference material? Today’s technology makes photography immediate and accessible. But that same technology will inevitably be rendered dusty and archaic in no time. Remember film? Heck, remember floppy discs? With cameras in every cell phone and the pace of “modern living” what it is, albums packed with printed photographs are quick becoming a thing of the past. The century-old postcards, journals, letters and newspaper accounts we pore over today are dinosaurs too. What sources will amateur historians 100 years from now dig through? Blogs? Emails? Text messages?
Whether we mean to or not, we leave tracks. But how will the legacy of our times be understood? I often think of the blacksmith who fashioned an elegant little 1-inch-wide representation of a horseshoe and gave it to me for luck. “A hundred years from now, somebody will find that,” he mused. “And he’ll say, ‘Damn! Horses back then were tiny!’” Preserving the past is an inexact science. Looking back or looking forward, beware of tiny horses! FC