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Consider the Unimaginable

Author Photo
By Leslie McManus

What might you do if you had time in abundant supply, but very little freedom?

flax seeds
Flax seed.

In these pages, we often drop back for a look at early tractors, steam traction engines or stationary gas engines. We think about what it would be like to try to farm with such comparatively primitive machines.

Sometimes we look at windmills and reflect on the challenges of a stretch of time when the wind didn’t blow. We consider the danger or inefficiency of early farm equipment or early designs that made no provision whatsoever for the operator’s comfort.

But in this issue of Farm Collector, we drop further back and learn about the almost unimaginably complicated and time-consuming process of creating a fabric – linen – from a plant. In this issue, a Missouri man shares the story of the tools used to convert flax into a product that could be worked in a spinning wheel, eventually producing linen.

It was, by and large, women’s work. Speaking as a woman, I sympathize with my forebears who transformed a plant into cloth through a slow and tedious process. After all that toil, I cannot imagine the heartbreak of a ripped shirt.

Then, via Clell Ballard’s article on homesteaders’ “prove-up shacks,” my mind wandered to what it would be like to live in a primitive one-room dwelling with gaps between each board. Rain, snow and wind were basically invited in, as were grasshoppers and mice. The womenfolk were probably so totally engaged in keeping children alive and the family fed that order and cleanliness in such a shack were the least of their worries.

And finally, through an article by Phil Badger, we learn of the way vehicles and tractors were fueled in Europe during World War II, when gasoline was nearly impossible to obtain. If some unimaginable emergency created a similar scenario in this country, I fear the moxie needed to replicate that solution might be in short supply.

Ever find yourself frustrated by a slow delivery (that is, one that takes maybe three days to arrive from the opposite side of the country) or a balky computer or a vexing problem with your tractor or mower? Take a minute to consider aspects of life 150 or 200 years ago that are unimaginable today. A little perspective is a useful thing!

Updated on Jun 19, 2021  |  Originally Published on Jun 4, 2021

Farm Collector Magazine

Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment