Machines Replaced Horses, Then People...

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Reprinted from On The Tractor Seat, newsletter of EDGE OTA Branch #30, with permission.

A few days back, my wife and I were discussing the problem of unemployment and crime in America and the industrialized countries of the world. Since then, it has occurred to me that this condition just may be insurmountable in today's society.

An analogy could be made comparing our current situation to the revolution in farming that took place with the advent of the tractor.

I was born in 1915 on a rather large farm in eastern Kansas. My father farmed about 600 acres that were mostly grain. At that time all the power for the pulling farm equipment was furnished by horses and mules. My father loved his draft stock and took great pride in their quality.

As I recall, my father had a draft team he used only for hauling farm produce to market. This was a team of beautiful matched Percherons, which were Dad's pride and joy. Also included in his personal stable was his fine team of carriage horses used only to pull the surrey we used to go to church, town and on social trips. Added to this was Mother's personal buggy mare that she drove to ladies' aid and the grocery store.

I had three brothers, all in their late teens, and each of them had his own riding horse or pony. The two older ones had their own buggies and driving horses.

And then there were the horses and mules that tilled the fields. There were never fewer than eight mules and four horses on the farm for that purpose.

Beginning in 1918, after World War I, many of the farmers began to purchase automobiles. My father put his fine team of sorrel carriage horses out to pasture until my mother convinced him that he no longer needed them now that we owned an automobile. It was a sad day in my father's life when he sold his beautiful driving team to a horse buyer. He knew that they would be resold to the packing house and butchered for pet food.

Soon after that my father bought his first tractor. Tractors at that time were used primarily for plowing large areas. Few tractors were used for row-crop cultivation. Obtaining a tractor enabled my father to dispose of most of his mules. Some were kept for cultivating and working in the hay fields. Later on, they too were replaced by a tractor.

Next came the purchase of a Model T truck for hauling produce to the market. My father wept when the horse buyer drove his team of matched Percherons out the gate and down the road. I'm sure he realized that day marked the end of the horse era.

Laboring men are becoming obsolete, too. Science and technology have literally caused the need for much manual labor to no longer exist. Take a look at our farms. My father had from three to five men at all times to assist in the farm operation. Today, my nephew farms nearly 2,000 acres using the latest machinery and equipment, and he hires one man only occasionally to assist him. In our modern dairies we now have milking machines, automatic feeders, and automatic barn cleaners. Our hay fields are harvested with automatic mower-swatters and automatic balers, even automatic stackers and loaders.

Look at our factories. Robots are doing the work that people used to do. Now they are even talking about operating trains without engineers.

What are we going to do with the excess labor? We cannot send the farm hands and factory laborers to the packing house like we did our horses and mules. However, we simply have more 'hands' than we have work to do.

It has been stated that 'idle hands are the devil's workshop.' This has certainly manifested itself in the appalling rise in the crime rate throughout the world. There certainly are myriad things that need to be done in the world. Roads, bridges, streets, homes, hospitals and airports, all need to be built. Can we not channel this effort to man's benefit and away from destructive acts?

Tragically, it as simple as this. We can't make dog food out of our surplus labor.