Overlapping Eras

Historical eras seldom have sharp edges. Rather they flow one into another, with edges smudging and overlapping.  My brother, only a few years older than I, tells of one such incident.

Threshing time on Wisconsin farms at the mid-twentieth century was one of the most hectic of the year. Grain, usually oats but occasionally a little wheat or barley, needed to be dry for the threshing process. Translate this to hot late August days.

It was on one of these days when my brother went with our father, mostly as observer due to his age.

The belt running the threshing machine that day was powered by a steam engine — one of the final years for that system. Teams of horses pulled wagons of grain sheaves in from the field but shared the task with a tractor or two. It made for an old-fashioned scene. The hiss of steam, slap of heavy moving belts, restless horses, and gasoline engines.

Suddenly one of the men prodded my brother to look up into the sky.

There, as a symbol of things to come, two jet contrails formed an artificial cloud.

The steam engines and teams of horses are confined to “antique” demonstrations now. Threshing machines have been replaced by large combines that take standing grain and skip the steps of cutting, binding, shocking, loading, and hauling to a central place. Jet airplanes are common place now – for military, passenger, and freight.

The eras lapped against each other that hot August afternoon.

1 thought on “Overlapping Eras”

  1. At an “antique” demonstration, my husband and I approached a threshing machine As a very young girl, I had traveled with my uncle who went from farm to farm threshing the grain.

    The steam engine was starting up the thresher. Grain was being loaded in. My husband, the engineer, who knew nothing about threshing machines, was carefully examining the machine’s parts.

    Suddenly I shouted to him. “Don’t stand there!” I couldn’t remember why. I knew he shouldn’t be near that part of the machine. Seconds after he stepped back, chaff poured from the thresher’s pipe, directly to the ground where he had stood.

    Had he not moved, this man, who had built a part for an rocket which hurtled into space, would have been coated with chaff emitted from a machine powered by steam.

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