FIRST THINGS


| December 2004



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Leslie McManusLeslie McManus

Necessity is the mother of invention. Nothing spurs progress as surely as need. In an article recalling the 'marsh' tractor of his youth (see page 28 of this issue), Ervin Briese remembers a time when wild marsh hay was fed to livestock. The wild hay had little nutritive value, he notes, but the price was right: Other than the labor and tractor involved in harvesting, it was free.

Ervin goes on to recount the process of building a marsh tractor, a machine used for only one function: to harvest wild hay. The marsh tractor was an early exercise in recycling, putting to work a Model T Ford running gear, wheels and rear frame from a grain binder, and extensions from an old lumber wagon. The creation was, as he notes, ingenious; but also very resourceful. And it was only the beginning. Years later, Ervin disassembled that homemade contraption, recycling once again. Side rails from the frame went into a two-wheel trailer that he's still using 50 years later... sprockets from the bull wheels form the base of a stool made from a dump rake seat ... and the engine itself was put in order and sold for parts.

In times gone by, possessions were far less disposable than they are today. Collector Stan Wolf, featured in an article beginning on page 22, counts among his favorite treasures a wagon jack built 150 years ago for his grandfather by a local blacksmith. The piece remains in pristine condition, the reflection of the care it received over the years. 'We take things like this for granted today,' Stan muses. 'Back then you had to take care because you couldn't just go to the farm store and buy another.'

And that's just it. Cash and resources were once much less readily available than they are today. We've come to accept the fact that many of the things we buy are impermanent. Garages, barns, cellars and attics are packed with more things than our grandparents owned in a lifetime, but the lasting value is far less. Perhaps our era of plenty helps us more fully appreciate the workmanship evident in a 150-year-old wagon jack, or the resourcefulness of a farmer who found a way to feed his livestock during the Depression. Still, it begs the question: What remnant of your life, your work, will you leave to your grandchildren?

Leslie McManus, Editor lmcmanus@ogdenpubs.com