Fun Stuff

I’m a tinkerer. I love fiddling with stuff, playing with gadgets, and building my own stuff. I’m always scrounging around for interesting little gadgets, widgets and components to messscreen-shot-2017-02-25-at-9-46-26-am with. A while back I picked up a bunch of these LED lighting panels and I’ve been fiddling around with them and I like ’em so much I thought I’d tell you about them.

My office/radio shack is a bit of a black hole when it comes to lighting. The room doesn’t have ceiling lights so we make do with a floor lamp and some desk lamps, but I wanted some under-counter style lighting to make it easier to see the controls on my radios because it was impossible to put a desk lamp near them.

These are 12V LED lighting panels designed to replace dome lights in vehicles. They come in a wide variety of styles and sizes. This particular model comes with a fuse and adaptors to replace the incandescent lights in a car or truck dome light, but it was the LED I was interested in. They’re fairly cheap. I just looked ’em up and they’re going for $8 for a pack of two on Amazon and you might find them cheaper if you look. There are a lot of these out there from various manufacturers and distributors, with prices all over the place. Mine came from a company called Cutequeen Trading (yes, that’s the real name).

For the size they put out an amazing amount of bright, white light. One of them in the recess my TS-990 lives in was more than enough to light up the whole front of the rig plus most of the desk around it. They have a peel and stick adhesive back. Just peel off the protective paper, stick it up, hook up the wires to a 12V source and you’re good to go.

Where do you get 12V from? Well if you’re an amateur radio operator you probably already have a 12V power supply because a lot of amateur radio equipment runs on 12V. In my case I have a big 12V supply that feeds a distribution box with Anderson Power Pole connectors already in place to feed other equipment. I just wired up a plug to fit, added a toggle switch from my junk box to turn it on and off and was ready to go. They only draw about 0.4 amp so the power consumption is fairly modest for the amount of light they produce.

One gotcha was I found if I fed it directly, the thing got real hot real fast. Not to the point of burning my hand if I touched it, but painful. I ended up putting a small resistor in line to drop the voltage a bit (think it was a 480 ohm but not sure now and I’m too lazy to go dig into the wiring behind the desk to look). That kept it from getting hot without reducing the amount of light.

Another issue is that the point where the wired connect to the panel are a bit fragile and won’t tolerate a lot of movement. Avoid putting any stress at all at the point where they connect and they should be okay. I’ve heard from other people fiddling around with LED panels like this that this is a fairly common problem.

I could see these easily being used for interior lighting in an RV or enclosed trailer. It would be very easy to turn several of these into an under-counter lighting system in a house if you have a place to tuck a 12V power supply out of sight. Find a cheap, rechargable battery, some kind of box, mount a few of these on the box and you’d have a fairly inexpensive and pretty bright portable work light or flashlight.

So get out there and fiddle with stuff.

Internet of Spies

If you’ve followed my blogs for any length of time you’ve probably heard me making disparaging remarks about the so called “Internet of Things”, this idea that one day everything will be networked to everything else, and oh, the fun we’ll have!

Your refrigerator will order your food when it gets low. Your cupboard will order food when you get low on staples. Your toilet will monitor your health and report the data to your doctor. Your bed will monitor your sleep habits. You can turn the lights on and off in  your house with your phone. You’ll be able to control the heat and cooling in your home from your cell phone. Your counter top will nag you “Are you sure you really need that cookie? Hmm? Mr. Scale tells me you’ve put on a few pounds…”

Now if you are one of the people who think this is the best thing ever, I have a question for you: Have you actually stopped to think about any of this nonsense?

Let’s have a little chat about the IOT, shall we? Let’s start with this little tidbit:

Bundesnetzagentur removes children’s doll “Cayla” from the market

Now, if you clickety click that link, you’ll find that the Bundeswhatever, a German regulatory agency, banned a children’s doll, declaring it to be little more than a concealed surveillance device because, well, because it pretty much is. Designed to interact with children, it uses an internet connection to monitor everything being said around it, sending it off to some server somewhere. It has little or no security, you don’t know where the information being gathered is being sent or what is being done with it. But you can be sure that someone, somewhere, is probably making money off it by selling the data.

And in case you think this is an isolated incident, it isn’t. Similar complaints have been made about an interactive Barbie doll. Security investigators found that it was a simple matter to use the doll to steal WiFi passwords, login information, files from computers linked to the home network… Fortunately the company that made the software was good about fixing the problems. But legally nothing is being done about what the company actually does with the data because here in the US our government’s policy is that privacy is a wonderful thing, but if someone can make money off violating your privacy so that money can to be used to buy politicians, well, where’s the harm in that, right?

Vizio was just fined $2.2 million for “smart” televisions that were spying on people. The company had installed tracking software in its televisions that tracked everything the owners watched, without telling the buyers of the sets it was doing it. There was a case a few years ago where an internet connected toy in the UK was serving up sexually explicit ads on the toy.

Now consider devices that are even smarter than that, that collect data about your eating habits, what you’re buying at the store, your physical health. There are dozens, hundreds of companies that would love to get their hands on that data to directly market things to you, that would benefit from knowing what your health is like, etc.

Even if the device isn’t actively spying on you, they can be troublesome. If we’ve learned anything about the Internet over the years it’s that it is not a safe place to play in. If a device can possibly be hacked, it will. If not for profit, than just for the sheer pleasure of vandalizing something.

You come home from work and find your garage door open and the garage cleaned out of anything of value because someone hacked your cell phone enabled garage door opener. Your house was emptied too because someone hacked your IOT enabled security system. Oh, and to make things even more fun, they hacked your heating controls and turned your furnace off in January and your house is frozen, the water pipes burst. And just to rub it in, your IOT enabled lights are flashing obscene messages in morse code.

I know this is getting a bit on the long side, but let me babble on here for a while longer before I wrap this up.

Now I readily admit that some of this technology is genuinely useful, especially for someone who is disabled or otherwise challenged. But a lot of it, even most of it, just isn’t. I don’t need to have an app on my cell phone to run my furnace. I have a device hanging on the wall that is connected to nothing but the furnace itself that does it for me. If I want to turn the AC on before I get home from work I can use a non-connected programmable timer that costs less and isn’t hackable.

The same is true of most of this stuff. I don’t need it, you don’t need it. Oh, it may be convenient, but is the convenience of being able to unlock your door with a cell phone worth the security risk? Not really.

It’s all marketing. Most of the convenience, security and safety issues being promoted by the developers of IOT technologies is illusory. The fake fears, the phony convenience, all standard marketing techniques to try to convince you that you really, really need this stuff.


Addendum: Then there is the deliberate outright spying… Like this case in Pennsylvania.

If you can’t be bothered to follow the link to the Wikipedia entry on the case, here’s a run down. A school in Pennsylvania loaded the laptops of all of it’s students with spyware that was capable of monitoring everything the students did for “security” reasons.

Including surreptitiously turning on the cameras in the laptops and recording videos and still images of everything. Including the students in their own homes, in their own rooms, in their own beds. They found over 700 still images that had been captured of one single student, even of him in bed sleeping and changing clothes. And those images were given to other employees of the school district. Since the cameras were active in the bedrooms and homes of other children who had the computers, one can assume that videos and images of them changing clothes, in the nude, etc were also captured. The school turned out to be doing this not just to students, but to teachers as well.

Radio Stuff. Emphasis on Stuff.

So let’s talk amateur radio for a while. Especially about stuff. As in where the hell did all this stuff come from, anyway?

I semi-retired a year or two ago. I generally have my summers off and only work for special events in the theater, fill in if someone calls in sick, deal with emergencies and things like that. Which means I should have lots and lots of spare time to fiddle with radios and stuff like that, right?

Yeah, right…

This morning was the first time in probably a month or more than I had all the equipment

img_0951

Damn, that’s a terrible picture

turned on and actually used it. Much to my surprise it actually all worked. I didn’t have anything start on fire, no smoke, no cats came leaping out from under the desk with all their fur standing on end. I didn’t even have to resort to strong language. Amazing.

I finally put a decent cable on the iambic paddle to replace the cobbled together POS I’d thrown together so I could test it when I first got it.

Then I remembered I don’t do CW in the first place. So how in the world did I end up with not one but two Vibroplex CW keys?

It’s like a lot of other stuff I’ve accumulated over the years. I just — just have it for some reason. There’s a 500 foot long spool of LMR-400 coax sitting in the basement. I just ran across a bag of 50 very good quality PL-259 connectors in a drawer the other day. Right after I’d just bought a bag of 25 of them because I needed one and didn’t think I had any. Under that bag was a VOM I don’t remember ever buying. Which is okay. Can’t have too many VOMs, right? Maybe? I mean, everybody needs six or seven volt ohm meters, right?

Eldest son stayed over night a couple of weeks ago and found a new, never used GAP Titan vertical antenna in the box under the bed in the spare room upstairs. Oh, that’s right, I picked that up about three years ago and never got around to putting it up because it was easier to just string up a dipole. Then I stumbled over a DX-Engineering vertical with the complete mounting kit and all the accessories down in the basement. All still in the boxes. Which I bought because I forgot I had the GAP antenna sitting upstairs.

Where did all this stuff come from? How did I end up with two HF amplifiers? Suppose I could sell one of them, but how the hell do you ship a delicate, 100 pound amplifier full of vacuum tubes and a power supply as big as my head?

Some of the stuff I do need. The big dummy load I use for testing, the big antenna tuner. The oscilloscope comes in damned handy sometimes.

But how did I end up with 200 Anderson Power Pole connectors?

I’m convinced people are breaking into the house late at night and instead of stealing stuff, they’re shoveling more stuff in here.

Granted, some of the stuff is genuinely useful. I picked up some LED light panels intended to replace the dome lights in cars. Got those for about $2 each and they’re great for undercounter lighting. Especially if you already have 12V power supplies running to power other equipment like I do here.

But what in the world am I going to do with all those relays I salvaged from the old boiler controllers when we installed the new heating system at work?

And where in the world did that bloody great IBM mainframe tape drive come from? Okay, so it’s really neat to watch it thread the tape through itself using puffs of air to guide the tape, but come on… I suspect eldest son snuck that into the basement when I wasn’t looking. He’s even worse than I am when it comes to snagging stuff like that.

I was looking for the cable cutter the other day, opened the drawer, and there were six laser tubes rolling around along with front surfaced mirrors and other associated stuff. Found my weight set that I used when I serviced, tested and certified scales. Don’t know why I have that either. Get rid of it? Well, what if I ever need to test a scale, hmm?

 

I need to get rid of some of this — this stuff.

But not my collection of M&M dispensers. No sir… And I really do need six volt ohm meters. And I’d like to hang onto that extra transceiver just in case. And, well, you never know, maybe I’ll actually use that whole drawer full of PL-259 connectors. And the laser tubes…

I’m doomed, aren’t I?

 

Who’s Fault Is It?

Farmers in 10 states can join a possible class action lawsuit against Monsanto over the illegal use of dicamba that damaged their crops because of tine introduction of the company’s Xtend line of GM crops that are immune to the herbicide. AgWeb has a story about it here if you want to take a peek.

Source: Farmers File Class Action Against Monsanto for Dicamba Drift Damage | Agweb.com

The situation is a bit complicated so let me explain what’s going on.

A lot of weeds are becoming resistant to RoundUp and its generic equivalents. Dicamba is an herbicide that has been in use for quite a while already to fight broadleaf weeds, but it wasn’t used in this type of application because it was also toxic to the crops until Monsanto came out with it’s Xtend line which is resistant to it as well as glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp. Monsanto’s plan was to market Xtend seeds along with a new herbicide that blended dicamba with glyphosate in order to deal with weeds that were resistant to glyphosate alone.

The problem comes in because Monsanto started selling the Xtend seed before the new herbicide blend was approved for use by the government.

This is an important point. Dicamba is nasty stuff to work with. It vaporizes very easily while it is being applied, and the vapors can drift for long distances even on a relatively calm day, killing or damaging plants in fields far beyond the field being sprayed. The new herbicide blend contained dicamba in a form that was not as volatile and was safer to use as long as it was applied correctly with the right equipment. The new blend would help to prevent the herbicide drifting.

Even though the new herbicide wasn’t available, Monsanto started selling Xtend seed anyway. And you can see what’s coming, can’t you?

That’s right; now that they had a dicamba resistant seed, some growers drenched their fields with regular dicamba, ignored the application warnings and restrictions, and ended up with herbicide drifting all over the place causing damage to crops in the adjacent fields of other farmers. I’ve heard estimates that the amount of damage caused by drift is as high as 200,000 acres.

Oh, at least one murder that I know of. Yeah. Seriously. They actually shot someone over herbicide drift.

So, as the headline asks, whose fault is it?

The suit claims it’s Monsanto’s fault. They should not have released the new seeds into the market until the new herbicide designed to go with it was ready to go as well. They should have known that some growers would abuse the system and use dicamba herbicides off-label and illegally as soon as they had their hot little hands on the new seeds.

Monsanto says wait just a minute, we didn’t spray the stuff. We warned them not to, and to wait until the new herbicide was ready to go. It’s their fault, not ours.

The other side counters that any rational person should have realized that if the seed was put on sale without the herbicide some growers would use the unapproved and dangerous form of the herbicide…

And so it goes around, and around, and around. This will probably be lurching through the court system for years…

So what is the answer to that question up there? Whose fault is it?

This is one of those situations where I think both sides have a valid point. As Monsanto claims, it did not do the spraying. It’s recommendations for use indicated that Xtend seeds were to be used only with approved herbicides and approved application techniques. Once it sold the seed, it has no control over what the growers do afterwards.

On the other hand, why put seed up for sale where the primary benefit of using it is to enable the use of a herbicide that was not yet legal to use? Monsanto knew there was no reason to buy the new seed unless the growers were going to make use of the seeds capability of withstanding dicamba…

What do I think about all of this? My issues with the whole thing are at a more fundamental level. I think we’ve become locked into methods of food production that are basically unsustainable over the long haul.

And we know that. We know that eventually herbicides are going to fail. They just are. We can’t keep up this endless cycle of having to develop new and ever more toxic herbicides as the old ones fail. It’s the same with insect control. The insect population eventually becomes resistant, and we have to start all over again. BT corn is a good example of this as the insects that are controlled by BT become resistant and begin to spread, and within a few more years we are going to have a root worm problem that was just as bad, if not worse, than it was before BT corn was introduced.


Side Note: I’m going to start trying to move away from talking about agriculture so much in the future. I’m not involved in the business any more, sold the farm a couple of years ago, so why do I still go babbling on and on and on about it when there are other things I’m interested in?

But then I’ve told myself that before and I keep coming back to it for some reason. Oh, well.

I’m going to try to push this onto other things I’m interested in; amateur radio and electronics, amateur astronomy, building furniture and fiddling with wood, photography…

This was never intended to be focused on a single topic in the first place, so I’m going to try to get back to that.

The War On Weeds

So, let’s talk farming. I ran into this article about weed control over at Agweb and it’s actually pretty good so go take a peek at it if you have the time.

Differentiate fact and fiction as you plan your weed control strategy. Source: Myth-Busting Weed and Herbicide Rumors | Agweb.com

Now, the reason this article has popped up (and I’m sure you will see others in the ag press similar to this in the future) is that there are a few new GM crops coming on-line now, modified to work with a couple of new blends of herbicides in an effort to deal with increasing weed resistance to glycophase. The herbicides aren’t really new, though. They are simply blends of previously existing herbicides with glycophase. They incorporate either 2,4-D or dicamba, both of which have been around for decades already. The only thing new about the system is the GM crops that have been engineered to tolerate 2,4-D and/or dicamba.

And they aren’t going to work any better than glycophase alone did. At least not in the long run. Sooner or later weeds will eventually develop resistance to these new blends as well, and we’ll be right back where we are now. In fact, there is already resistance to both of those herbicides “out in the wild” so to speak, because both have been in use for some time.

We have allowed ourselves to become dependent upon a system of weed control that we know is eventually going to fail. So, if we already know that these reformulated mixes are going to eventually fail, why are we bothering with them at at all?

Part of the reason this isn’t going to change any time soon is that over the last few decades we have adopted almost across the board farming techniques that make it difficult, if not impossible, for us to change.

 

How did we do it in the “good old days”? Well, like this:

screen-shot-2017-02-10-at-11-58-31-am

Oliver 70 with cultivator attachment

Now, if this text editor has managed to put the image in the right place, that is an old Oliver 70 with it’s optional corn cultivator rig. I used to drive one of those when I was a kid. For hours. And hours. And hours. And hours. And hours. And.. Well, you get the idea.

It was boring, tedious, took huge amounts of time, huge amounts of fuel. And with how expensive fuel is these days, how expensive labor is, if you can even find labor, how time consuming it is… Well, it isn’t surprising that the agricultural industry has always been looking for something, anything, to try to eliminate weeds that doesn’t involve so much time, labor and expense.

But some alternative to this never ending cycle of herbicide failures is going to have to be found. We’re running out of options. No matter what kind of chemical intervention we may come up with, sooner or later nature will figure out a loophole to work around it because that’s just how nature works.

 

I wish I could tell you that there is a solution to this, but there isn’t. People are experimenting, yes. But so far all of the efforts I’ve seen in trying to get out of this dependency on herbicides have involved techniques that simply can’t be scaled up. I’ve seen flame throwers to burn weeds, steamers to steam weeds, “cookers” that scoop up soil and literally cook it to kill weed seeds… All of them are tedious, time consuming, and worst of all, very energy hungry.

There are some new robotics and AI technologies that are looking promising. I suspect that may be one possible solution; machines that do the cultivation for you using cameras, LIDAR, GPS to guide them. Even systems that can identify weeds by sight and mechanically remove them, leaving the desired plants alone.

But those are years away, maybe decades. But who knows? Maybe there is some kind of “magic bullet” out there. Ah, well, no, there isn’t, but we keep looking for one, don’t we?

Nebraska Gov. Ricketts Touts ‘Major’ Property Tax Bill in Nebraska

“Property tax reforms in Nebraska could help farmers, but not as much as some groups want.”

Source: Nebraska Gov. Ricketts Touts ‘Major’ Property Tax Bill | Agweb.com

Please have patience with me while I talk about agriculture and property taxes for a moment so I can explain why this is important for farmers and environmentalists. Talking about things like taxes and government policies tends to make my eyes glaze over and I find myself with a sudden desire to take a long nap. But if you aren’t a farmer you may not know why this move by Nebraska is important for farmers. Wisconsin already did something like this years ago, and I think it’s the right thing to do.

Property taxes are based on the value of your property, of course. If your house, for example, is valued at, oh, $100,000, you pay property taxes based on that value. If it’s valued at $200,000, your property taxes are going to be significantly higher.

It’s the same with farmland. Under law here in Wisconsin the property is supposed to be assessed for purposes of property taxes at fair market value. (That law had to be instituted because some local jurisdictions were playing fast and loose with property evaluations in order to jack up the tax money they were getting. Before that law was put in place, I knew one poor bugger who had a mobile home that was worth about $10,000 get a tax assessment for $64,000. Seriously. I saw the documents myself.)

The question now is what exactly is “fair market value”? Is it the value of the property as it currently exists, what it is being used for at the moment, or the potential value of the property if it were sold for some other purpose.

That distinction is important, because what was happening in Wisconsin and a lot of other states is that local jurisdictions were assessing property not at it the value of the property as it currently existed, but what the property could be worth if it were sold for some other purpose.

The result was that if you had a farm on the outskirts of a town or city, you were pretty much screwed. Local governments were assessing the farms not on their value as farms, but their value as if they were commercial or residential property.

To illustrate what I mean, let’s look at an example. Farmland in this area is currently going for around – well, let’s round it off to $7,000 an acre to keep the math simple. So if you have a small, 100 acre farm, it’s worth about $700,000.

Meanwhile, land being used for, oh, let’s say a fairly upscale housing development in a nearby town, is going for about $20,000 per 1/4 acre lot, or about $80,000 an acre. Over time the town grows, and now you find that your farm is on the outskirts of the town. And as a result of that, the local government is now assessing your farm not for what it is worth as a farm, but for what it would be worth if it were sold for a housing development. You are now being forced to pay property taxes not on a farm worth $700,000, but property worth $8 million. Your property taxes just went up more than ten times what they’d been before.

While that’s a bit extreme, it isn’t exaggerated by much. I knew farmers who were seeing their property tax bills shooting up into the astronomical range because the jurisdiction they were in decided to evaluate their property not for what it was, but for what it could be. Their taxes were going up five, eight times what they’d been before when their property was evaluated at commercial or residential rates rather than agricultural.

There was some very heated debates over this, of course. The towns (and the developers) claiming that the new value was fair because that was what the property was actually worth if it were sold off to some developer, and the farmers on the other side saying no it isn’t because that’s not what it’s being used for… It was nasty.

I don’t think anyone ever actually proved that the governmental jurisdictions, seeking ever more tax money, along with developers smelling profits, abused the system by ratcheting up the taxes on farms specifically to force farmers to sell at bargain basement prices to a developer, but it was pretty much an open secret that this was exactly what was going on. At the time the laws curbing this were under consideration dozens of farmers appeared before the legislature claiming that this was exactly what was going on. Developers would find a nice farm in a good location near a town, smell the heady scent of money, convince the local government that it would be to it’s advantage to annex the farm into the town, evaluate the farm as commercial or residential property rather than farmland, and the farmer would be forced to sell at cut throat prices to the developer or go bankrupt from the taxes… It was nasty.

And for those concerned with urban sprawl it was nasty as well. This kind of thing was driving the construction of huge housing developments on the outskirts of cities and towns with McMansions sitting on quarter acre “estates”, endless cookie cutter boxes, hastily constructed, looking exactly alike…

Wisconsin did finally change the property assessment laws, but local jurisdictions and developers are still griping about it and occasionally manage to bribe convince some legislator to try to introduce a measure to “reform” the system, turn back the clock and let local jurisdictions snap up all that yummy, yummy tax money by assessing farmland at utterly absurd valuations.

The change didn’t halt urban sprawl, but it did help to slow it down a tiny bit. Maybe. Depends on who you talk to, really. Certainly it helped a lot of farmers whose property is adjacent to towns and cities.

Changes…

Despite the name of this blog, it isn’t really about farming. I guess it’s more like a journal where I write about things I find interesting, curious, infuriating, irritating, fun. But I often return to talking about farming because it was such a big part of my life for so long. But this one is about farming for a change.

What does that have to do with changes? A lot. I was reading an article about new ag technologies, automated and robotic systems to replace human labor. This has been going on for some time, of course. Robotics and automation have taken over product assembly, car manufacturing and a whole host of other industries. Ag has been slower to adopt robotics because it requires above average intelligence, dexterity, strength and gentleness and a lot of other qualities that are difficult to do with robotics. Until now. New advances in software, AI systems, new engineering, new materials and a lot of other technologies have sprung up that are making fundamental changes in how we grow food over the next couple of decades.

Neat, I thought. But then I thought further and realized that this has been going on my entire life. The pace of change has accelerated, true, but when I look at what farming was like when I was a kid and what it’s like today, it’s actually a bit mind boggling.

When I was a kid we still had a crank style phone. We didn’t get a dial phone until I was in second grade. Electricity service went out so often we still had old kerosene lanterns laying around ready to use just in case. A lot of the equipment we used looked like some kind of steampunk nightmare, to be honest.

We still had a few farmers in the area who were harvesting grain with grain binders,dscn1419 shocking it, and running it through threshing machines, for heaven’s sake. In case you’ve never seen one, here’s a photo of a grain binder from an antique farm equipment show I took some years ago. And yes, that thing over there that looks like it was cobbled together out of bits of old string, wire and old barn boards, is an actual commercially made machine. It was pulled by horses (that’s why there’s a seat on it). It cut the grain off with a sickle bar, put it in a bunch, tied the bunch with twine, then dumped it on the field. Workers would come along, stand the bundles on end with the grain heads up so it would dry. Then it would be loaded onto wagons and taken to a threshing machine.

And in case you’ve never seen a threshing machine, here’s one. Well, it’s sort of a dscn1422threshing machine. This is actually a special machine designed specifically for threshing or hulling clover seed, not wheat or oats, but the principle is the same. Workers would throw the bundles onto the elevator over on the left where it would run through threshing bars, fans, screens, etc. to be separated from the stalks and hulls. The hopefully clean seed would come out one pipe to be bagged, the straw would blow out onto a pile. The whole thing was originally powered by a massive steam traction engine via that long belt you see extending out the left side of the photo. Steam engines were replaced in the 1920s or so by gasoline powered tractors, but the threshing machines themselves remained in use well into the 1950s in some parts of the state. There were still a couple of farmers in the area who were using this setup when I was a kid. These things hung on because as long as you could get inexpensive labor it was cheaper to keep using it than buying a combine.

Then there were tractors. Take a look at this beast, for example. Believe it or not, when I img_0279was a kid we actually had one of these beasts, this exact same model. And we didn’t have it for some collection, this monstrosity was an actual working tractor at the time. The only thing we used it for was running the blowers to blow grain or forage into the barns or silos, but it was still a working tractor on the farm. And dear lord we hated that thing. Trying to start that beast… Oh, my. It started by manually cranking it with that big lever  you see just below the radiator. That connected to the crankshaft to turn the engine over. And if you didn’t know what you were doing when you tried cranking it, it would gleefully break your arm. Seriously. It would if you didn’t know what you were doing.

Lest you think we were weird or something, the rest of our tractors looked like this.

A modern (at the time) Oliver 1655 and a 1950s era Oliver 77. (That 77 actually belongs to my eldest son.) So why did we hang onto that old monstrosity? It was cheap power. You could buy them for little more than scrap metal price.

Almost all of the changes that have gone on in agriculture have occurred for one reason: money. They did something that improved the profits of the farm in one way or another. The old threshing machines hung on as long as they did because for some of the tiny farms around at the time it made more sense to keep running them long after they should have gone to the scrapyard than to drop thousands of dollars on a modern combine. Same with the old McCormick tractor. It was cheap power, good enough to run a forage blower, but for nothing else. As soon as it was no longer economical to hang onto the thing, it got dumped. We ended up buying another 1650 to replace it.

Just in my lifetime we’ve gone from grain binders and threshing machines, to GPS guided computerized combines. Harvesting crops by hand to a facility in New Hampshire that raises lettuce that is never touched by a human during its entire life. From planting to harvesting and packaging, everything is done by automated systems or robots.

Changes… Sometimes I look at the world around me and think I’m living in a science fiction novel.