First Things

Progress of the Past

| February 2009

The Progress Edition - a special issue trumpeting growth and expansion of local business - was long a routine part of the community newspaper's annual schedule. Articles in this issue of Farm Collector would be a good fit for a Progress Edition … at least, one published in the early years of the 1900s.

Leading the way is a fascinating profile by Bill Vossler on inventor Adolph Ronning. Ronning's inventions spanned every aspect of industry, including farm equipment. A prolific inventor, he won his first patent before graduating from high school in 1912 (well before the advent of another form of "progress," the television). Ronning went on to make a career as an inventor, something hard to do then and nearly impossible to do now.

The mechanized corn picker was another sign of progress, one that looms large in the memories of retired teacher Dale Geise, whose essay "The Day the Cavalry Arrived" appears in this issue. As a boy, Dale was well familiar with the early winter chore that seemed unending. "Is it possible that tens of millions of ears hanging from Iowa cornstalks were once taken, one at a time, by hand?" he muses.

And then there's the Model T Ford Snowmobile. For those with fresh memories of horse and buggy, the Model T had revolutionized transit by 1922, when the Snowmobile conversion kit came along. This development, though, is somewhat harder for me to categorize as "progress." Imagine a time when life's rhythms were directed by sunrise, sunset and prevailing weather conditions. Imagine a time when snow-covered roads meant staying close to home; when trips to town were more about meeting basic needs, before shopping became entertainment.

Still, it's impossible not to smile at the giddy response that surely greeted something like the Snowmobile kit. In an era when industrial technology was evolving so rapidly, every advancement must have felt like a stunning innovation designed to improve the lot of mankind. Today, of course, innovation rarely receives automatic acclaim: Lessons have been learned, and experience is a stern taskmaster. Oh to have known those sweet, heady days when almost anything seemed possible. Progress creates its own momentum: These articles capture a bit of that. Enjoy this Progress Edition from the past!

Leslie McManus, Editor