The machines, they still are something. When my daughter comes and picks me up for a Sunday dinner and drives me out to her place, I see them on the lot there along the highway. Bigger than the ones we had last year. I hear they have that GPS in them now, will practically drive themselves. The computer in those things is probably more important now than the farmer.
My great-grandfather was a smith, had one of the shops in town when they first settled here, after they came over from Russia. You think about a smith, a guy working a bellows to stoke his fire and banging on steel rods, you probably don’t think about this high-tech, but he was kind of it in those days. If you had a machine, or even a wagon, anything with metal parts, guys like my great-grandfather probably made it or at least were who you had to see to fix it. If you were a farmer, an ambitious farmer trying to plow extra acres, put away some money in the bank or to buy more land, you needed him as much as anybody.
My father bought a tractor during the good years before the droughts, before the Depression. The bank note on that thing just about put him out of business when things dried up. A lot of young families around then had bought up land and things like tractors on loans to the banks. The banks failed and the farmers failed. I remember other kids I knew in school, leaving town on their trucks, headed west or east, most of them, looking to start somewhere else. I guess in our family the word was, Don’t ever take a loan from a bank. Cash on the barrelhead, they said. When my dad took out that note on that new Farmall I guess he got an earful from my grandfather. It was going to ruin him. Didn’t he know not to buy things he couldn’t afford. Well, they almost turned out to be right. We could barely get enough to eat in those days but damned if he wasn’t going to make that payment. Folks here helped each other out, tried to keep the drought from ruining each other. And he did it.
I was never much as a farmer, and I wasn’t a good hand fixing them, like some guys, guys like Fred Vanek. He could listen to a motor like it spoke a language and then fix it. I was never any good at that. But they amazed me. The things they could do. The combines got so they took days and days of work and did it for you. I sold them most of my working life. I loved it. A farmer who really listened, who really learned how to use them, he could do well. And a lot of guys around here did.
Some people say, well, some guys did well, but don’t you see there aren’t nearly so many farmers around here as there once was. I guess there’s something to that. And the ones you see aren’t so young, either. It’s not a profession young people are going into now. Of course, all the young people are oil crazy, seems like. And even a guy like Fred Vanek would have trouble making a go now, unless he learned how to be a computer repairman. The mechanical stuff hardly breaks down now, and you have to be able to talk to the computer to fix it.
Of course, there’s the plant here, and that’s done all right. They don’t make whole plows any more, just big parts to send to the plant back east where they put the whole tractor together. Not as many people may be able to farm any more, but at least there’s jobs here. That plant’s held the town here, I think. It didn’t blow away like so many other towns out this way.