Machines Replaced Horses, Then People…

By Staff

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

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.

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