| May/June 1974

Union City, Indiana

Coming into this world around the turn of the century might well have portended a very bleak life, indeed, for the average Missouri farm lad even at the very most. News of what happened in the big, wide world beyond the line fence barely trickled through. And even if it did, it was at best a week or two late. But nobody cared, for there were the manly chores a little boy had to face up to, such as helping Dad milk the cows, chopping kindling and lugging it in for Mom's big wood range to boil the coffee and fry the bacon 'n eggs in time for breakfast with just enough time to run back and crank the DeLaval cream separator and wash up in time for breakfast. And then, with lunch pail in one hand and bookstrap over shoulder, it was off to the one-room school, down the mud road, trekking 'cross field 'n glen and fording 'cricks' to lug in the fire wood and stroke the classroom fire and yank on the belfry rope in time for teacher to begin the morning class.

It was a long time before the era of the fabulous luxury of rapid communication known as the crystal radio. Only a few of the more affluent boasted investment in such cultural extravagances as a tin-horn crank Edison talking machine or foot-pedal reed organ to entertain their guests with an Uncle Josh cylinder record or gather round and sing hymns in the front parlor. Certainly there were no such things as daily newspapers, for the mails barely trickled through, fetching at best only a weekly gossip column from the country seat and a farm magazine or seed catalog or two. Indeed, the only efficient and rapid 'news editing' was done around the pot-bellied stove down at the country store with a generous spicing of florid accounts and personal opinions tossed in for good measure. Nobody ever heard of an A.P. or U.P.I. by-line. And who cared anyhow what with the constant relay of village gossips dropping by, grinding out their verbal 'newsprint' from morn till night, world without end Amen?

Oh yes, someone had mentioned that, in the big cities, there were such contraptions called 'telephones'. But it was a long time before the country store would up-grade its news-gathering media and editorial potential by having one of the new-fangled hand-cranked models installed on the center post, over by the gossip bench beside the pot-bellied stove.

'I was born back in 1901, and that was really back in the horse and buggy days,' says J. W. Harlan of Independence, Mo. 'By the year of 1972, I think I have seen more so-called progress than since the beginning of time.' (And who's to doubt your claim, Joe? Not I.)

'The rural mail routes had just been established and our only contact with the outside world was a weekly newspaper, or some farm magazines,' says J. W. 'I recall the first gasoline engines that came out, but the steam engine - the only power except man and horsepower was just getting a good start.'