A Melancholy Mechanical Moment
Oct 24, 2012
I was on a service call today, working on a combine stored in a shed at an abandoned farmstead.It was a cloudy, damp day with mist swirling on the wind. All the leaves are gone, the tree branches rattled in the overgrown grove, and a loose piece of tin banging on an old corncrib drew my attention.
It was one of those massive, round concrete block corncribs, with a driveway through the middle and a built-in bucket elevator in the center of the driveway. Fifty years ago at this time of year, there would have been well-worn wheel tracks in and out of the driveway as the farmer tediously brought in his crop a couple hundred bushels at a time. On a good day, the wind blew through the driveway so the farmer could pull through with the wind at his back, so that all the silks and shucks and dust would blow away from him as he crouched behind the wagon and metered the ears of corn into the bucket conveyor. On a bad day, the wind swirled through the alley without consistency, and the farmer spent the ride back to the field spitting dried silks and bees wings from his mouth and blotting his watering eyes with the backs of his cotton chore gloves.
Today the roof on the corn crib sags to the south. Grass grows long on all sides, and there are no traces of wheel tracks or human activity within 100 yards. What was once the pride of the farm, the centerpiece of crop storage technology, is now a nuisance too expensive to tear down and too outdated to update.
On the way back to the dealership I passed a neighboring farm that's on the cutting edge of modern agricultural technology. Massive grain bins crouch beneath a towering grain leg. The 12-row combine, already put away for the year, was visible through the doors of a machine shed that literally covered an acre. Several semis with grain trailers were neatly lined up on an expanse of crushed rock behind a scale house that I knew was equipped with at least two computers that have more RAM and MEGS than the Apollo space capsule did when it went to the moon.
It struck me that in 50 more years, that state-of-the-art grain handling system will probably be as out of date as the tired old corn crib down the road. Maybe someday a mechanic will drive by and recall the "good ol' days" when we thought we were cutting a fat hog because we were hauling 900 bushels of corn per load and harvesting 250 acres a day.