1958 farm story was dead-on with some predictions, wrong on others

By Linda Emley

I didn’t watch the Super Bowl, but I did listen to it while I was working on a story.
My favorite part of the whole production was Paul Harvey’s “American Farmer” tribute. This commercial touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes because I understand. I’m not a farmer, but I am a county girl. I grew up across the road from my aunt and uncle, who owned a farm. They had a couple of sheep, a few chickens, some milk cows and lots of hay fields.
Their farm had a nice barn and a concrete watering tank where you could sit on the side of the tank and dangle your feet in the water. I even got to help my Uncle Jim milk cows with my very own half-size milk bucket.
My grandparents were also farmers. I loved helping my grandmother collect eggs in her chicken house. I will never forget the day that I stuck my hand in a dark hen’s nest looking for eggs only to find a black snake curled up.
I remember sitting up with my grandmother late one night while she took care of a newborn calf who she had warming by the furnace in their house. We had to keep him warm, so we bottle fed him a mixture that had a shot of whiskey added to the milk.
One of my favorite childhood memories was mowing because nothing’s more calming than riding on a tractor. I loved mowing our yard since we always had a John Deere tractor that made the job easy.
I will never forget the one and only time I decided to get creative and mow our three-acre backyard in small square patterns. I blocked off a square and mowed it, then moved over to the next block.
After it was done, I stood back and marveled at the design that I had cut in the grass. My parents were not as thrilled to see the yard as I was. I didn’t use my creative side on the yard any more, but it was sure a fun one-time project.
We always had a large garden and I loved drinking water out of a garden hose while watering the garden. Oh yes, I’m a country girl. I understand that my childhood memories don’t reflect the real world because the life of a farmer isn’t easy. But I do feel the pride of our American farmers because I appreciate the smell of freshly cut hay.
Many things in life are about timing and Paul Havey’s commercial hit me at a perfect time because I was writing a story about farming as I listened to the Super Bowl.
A few weeks ago I went to Chillicothe to visit the Jerry Litton Foundation. I took a friend who was a FFA member in high school and we had a nice time touring the town. We enjoyed seeing the FFA building where the local high school “ag” classes are held.
While there, we visited with one of the men in charge and he showed us some old magazines in their collection. I loved an article that was in The Missouri College Farmer magazine from May 1958. It told what agriculture was going to be like in the future. The following are some of the highlights from this article. You will see they were right about some things, but there were a few others that they really had no idea about.
The article was titled, “Agriculture in 2008 A.D.,” by Roy Rogers. It started out, “An attempt to peek at agriculture 50 years from now would seem to be futile when we list only a few of the changes that are interwoven with agriculture today that did not exist 50 years ago. A few developments within the last 50 years are the miracles of comnunication such as radio and TV, miracles of transportation such as airplanes, rockets, missiles, atomic-powered submarines, diesel-powered trains, automobiles and trucks on sound-conditioned concrete highways, miracles of power as atomic-powered electric generators, electricity on 94 percent of the farms and many more miracles that we accept as a part of everyday living.”
I’m not really sure why this author mentioned “atomic-powered submarines” in a story about agriculture, but it was interesting to see that he was excited about 94 percent of our farms having electricity.
Some of his predictions about the future included:
“Feed such as hay may be harvested with a machine that puts it in the form of pellets instead of bales.
“Instead of having only one phone on his farm, the farmer of the future may have phones in all of the buildings and in his car or a walkie talkie that will enable him to talk to anyone or enable folks to call him any time of the day.”
“A small machine that is practical enough for every farm to own may be developed that will extract oil from soybeans or some crop we now know nothing about that can be used for fuel in a farm tractor. The other substance from such a crop might conceivably be usable as a feed supplement.
“Atomic energy may be developed to the point where the power to run a tractor or a car for its lifetime may be in the motor and a part of the original purchase price. If not this, then gasoline may be replaced by a solid fuel with boron or some other such substance as a base.
“Milk of the future may be sold concentrated in cans and bought from the shelves in grocery stores. There was a time remember, when our vegetables were delivered to homes. That practice has now disappeared. We may not require refrigeration to keep meat edible. Light rays that sterlize it and keep it from deteriorating may be perfected. Food may be cooked in electronic ovens in minutes on paper plates, thereby reducing still further the time a housewife is required to spend in a kitchen preparing a meal.”
I didn’t like the sound of the “sterlized meat,” but I was glad to see that they finally got something right about the future by predicting microwave ovens. The first commercial microwave, the “Radar Range,” as introduced in 1947. It was the size of a refrigerator and very expensive. It wasn’t until 1967 that a countertop microwave was produced by the Amana Corporation.
Now back to 1958 and a few more of the magazine’s predictions for the future:
“Farmers of the future may rent machinery such as tractors and other heavy equipment as needed instead of owning it and keeping a large amount of capital invested in this element of production. They may even rent the sows that farrow their pigs or the hens that lay their eggs. It’s pretty certain that farms will be larger and therefore we’ll have fewer farmers but not necessarily less people living on farms because ease of transportation will continue the trend for people to live in the country and work at least part of the time in town.
“One-man helicopters to get around over the farm and cars to drive to town that don’t have wheels are also on the drawing boards of the future.
“Yes, the future will bring many exciting changes in our country where free men have the time, the freedom and the incentive to think, invent and to do.
“There’s evidence on every side that the agicultural revolution that started with the mouldboard plow, the reaper and attachment of the gasoline motor to the wheel will continue for several more years.”
I think it will be a few more years before we see one-man helicopters and cars without wheels flying over the fields of Ray County, but I have seen a few ultralights flying around, so this might be closer than we think.
I have some friends who raise chickens and I know they will find it humorous that Roy Rogers predicted in 1958 that we might be renting chickens in the future.
After seeing all our hay farmers had to endure in 2012, I’m sure they could use one of those “machines that turns hay into pellets instead of bales.”
This county girl doesn’t like the sound of hay pellets because I enjoyed spending time in the hay loft of my uncle’s barn. We would spend hours in the loft making tunnels and rooms that were forts. Looking back on it now, I don’t know why our Uncle Jim didn’t kick us out for tearing up his hay loft, but maybe he remembered the fun of being a kid on the farm, too.
Today we don’t have many barns with hay lofts or square bales of hay, but the memories of summer days playing in the hay loft will always be a part of my Ray County history.

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