Recently a bunch of us went for hike through the back lanes of a farm at the height of maple sugar season. While the gleaming modern tractor sat at the ready, the sides of the lanes were strewn with abandoned farm machinery of a previous era.
Built of sturdy iron, these machines may slump in the weeds, but they rust very slowly and look as though, with a little effort and repair, they could be pulled from under their layers of dead grasses and put to work again. The shaft to hook up a team of horses is still there. The hard seat for the driver who now only had to handle the team but also the stiff levers lifting and lowering the cutting heads, blades and whatever else needed moving. Strictly muscle power. No hydraulics here.
From before the era of springs and rubber tires, these old workers display their teeth-jolting iron wheels that squealed, clattered and jounced on every rock and stone.
Many still have dabs of paint. A few can conjure living memory. But the teams of horses are long gone. However, they are testaments to agricultural ingenuity with mostly began in the 19th century. Commerce was booming, towns and cities grew, railroads threaded the land, science was making leaps and bound.
Yet, in agriculture, farmers complained of tools from the time of the pharaohs, the scythe, the flail, the pitchfork, back breaking stoop labour. Inventors turned their attention and thought surely they do better than that. The mechanical mower appeared, the binder, the corn planter, the cultivator, the thresher with its fire breathing steam engine to drive it.
So, the hulks lying in the long grass mark steps to freedom for farmers and the efficiency that feeds us all. There was a time when only 5% of the population was urban. The rest were needed to dig and harvest, hoe and sweat and toil to get our food.
Today the percentage is the other way round. We can sit in our comfy desk chairs because now huge tractors till the fields, enfolding the farmer in an air conditioned cab complete with entertainment, touch screen displays, instant communication with both people and attached machinery, GPS, and even adjustable auto guidance, eliminating the need to steer.
Self driving tractors are close on the horizon, eliminating the need to step into the field at all. One farmer, in comfort, can do the work of crowds of our ancestors.
So I say, let the iron hulks rust in peace. As steps along the way, they’ve done their job, earned their rest. And I can loll in my spine caressing ergonomic chair, thankful there is no acre of weeds in the corn that I am expected to hoe.