I’m writing this column one week to the day from my 70th birthday. In some media, it will be published on my birthday. Passing such a milestone gives me pause to reflect upon how much the world has changed since 1943, how lucky I am to have lived during this halcyon era of American history, and my fervent hope that history isn’t going to record my era as the nation’s “best 70 years.”
I feel privileged to be amongst the youngest folks still alive who experienced the learning atmosphere of a good teacher in a good one-room rural school. My thanks to Mrs. Martina Street for laying the bedrock of my education that continued through seven years of college.
I feel privileged to have lived on a family farm during the transition from “horse” power to “horsepower” in American agriculture — the mid-1940s through the early 1950s. Still bright in my early childhood memory is riding on the back of a gray Belgian draft horse mare, one of a team, pulling a buck rake or a sulky rake and delivering loose hay to the hay crew operating a stationary hay baler.
I fondly remember watching my pappy, Czar E. Yield, and a crew of neighbors, hauling shocks of oat bundles to a threshing machine in our cow lot and throwing the bundles with pitchforks into that noisy, giant machine — and watching with excitement as the pile of oat straw grew to immense size in my childish eyes.
I can recall as if yesterday the excitement of the day the local Allis Chalmers dealer delivered to our tenant farm a Model WD tractor and a full line of brand new orange farming equipment — two-bottom plow, two-row planter and cultivator, 8-foot disk, and a 5-foot All-Crop Harvester combine.
Ours was a typical family farm of the day, milk cows we milked by hand, bucket calves it was my job to feed, a flock of chickens from which I gathered eggs, a few sows that I slopped from a barrel of fermenting barley, fed ear corn, and helped farrow, a few beef cows whose calves provided beef for the family, and, of course, always a riding horse as transportation to explore the entire community — Mousey, Major and Taffy were the ones I put the most days and mileage on.
In addition to the livestock, we had fruit trees, picked wild berries and persimmons, and always had a huge garden. Our cellar was always filled with good things to eat for the winter. The crank telephone hung on the wall. Our “number” was three-shorts and a long.
I recall the Saturday nights in the thriving downtowns of either Moran or Bronson, Kan., when it was hard to find a parking spot, the merchants had a drawing for merchandise after the movie — indoor at Moran, outdoor at Bronson. We hauled our cream and eggs weekly to sell at Dawson’s Produce.
During those years up through high school, I learned to hunt rabbits, squirrels and quail. I went on coyote roundups. I thrilled to the sight of my first wild deer. I learned about gun safety the hard way. Be careless and the gun “disappeared” until I pledged and demonstrated more firearm responsibility. My classmates and I routinely carried our rifles and shotguns to school and no one worried about a mass shooting.
As the years flew by, more ag inventions entered my life. A Surge milking machine, an ice-bank milk cooler, a twine-tied hay baler and hydraulics. Chain saws and wood splitters replaced crosscut saws, wedges and mauls.
I recall coal oil lamps, then a single electric light from a generator, then Dad spending one winter working for the Rural Electrification Administration installing electric poles and lines for full-fledged electricity. Indoor plumbing replaced the chilly, hot, stinky two-hole outhouse. Window air conditioning. Ah, such comfort! Television, test-patterns, antennae, entertainment and news right in our home
When I got out of high school, the rate of change came as an onslaught. College, marriage, children, changing jobs, Sputnik, the man on the moon, the Hubble spacecraft exploring the universe, remote-controlled scientific rovers on Mars, punch-card calculators, car AC, power steering, cruise control, LP music albums, 8-track tapes, CDs, computers, digital TV and photography, the internet, I-pods, E-Bay, ATMs, wire bank deposits, cell phones, texting, Facebook and Tweets, CAT-scans, full-body imaging, terrorist attacks, military drones and remote-controlled wars.
Across rural America, farmers left by the millions as government policy squeezed them off the land and into the urban labor force. Rural towns began drying up. Schools consolidated, then closed. Farms got bigger. Equipment got bigger. GPS arrived. Corporate ag got a foothold and grew. Banks got bigger. The divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots” widened. And, most tellingly, pervasive government got bigger and, step-by-step, Americans accepted the encroachment on their freedoms and rights.
Which brings us today with today’s vision for the future. I hope it’s bright. I fear it’s going to be a struggle for the next generation. I hope that’s just the thinking of a 70-year-old man, blinded to the future by his own clinging to the past.
So, in closing for this week, here are a few words of wisdom about the future from former president John F. Kennedy. Of the future he said: “Change is the law of life. And, those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future ... Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”
Have a good ’un. ❖
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