Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Going up the Country

Spent time in Edgar Wisconsin seeing Tony in action. I really like his customers. The majority are probably working farmers or were when they retired. These are the people of my childhood and it is fun to get back into that long-unused social milieu. Since I only interact with these folks rarely, I usually haul out the practices of the Non-Partisan League organizers. They were attempting to politically organize farmers who had a lot of other demands on their time. They were strangers selling a farmer agenda to people who generally agreed that all politicians were crooks. So these were the "rules" of engagement:

1) Realize the farmer you have just met has a bundle of problems—almost all economic. Prices for their products are too low, the cost of their inputs are too high, and the railroads are cleaning up on the traffic both ways. Ect. Discover his story and modify accordingly. Show some empathy.

2) Make sure you cover the social importance of farmers. They are most certainly NOT stupid peasants. If you can grow grain in North Dakota or run a dairy farm in Wisconsin, you can certainly run your own government. A government run by farmers in their own interests is not only possible, but highly desirable. Show genuine interest in how the farmer attempts to solve his particular set of production problems and file them away for future reference.

3) Have a well-thought-out agenda. Explain what a farmer-run government could do to better his economic lot. NPL had a laundry list of things they intended to accomplish including, most importantly, a state-run bank. Amazing how much farmers know about credit problems so this was always an idea that demonstrated daring. And since that bank is still being touted as the runaway success that it is by Ellen Brown to the point where California and LA among a host of others is considering one, the NPL can rightly be considered as this country's most successful progressive movement ever. EVAH!

To anyone who despairs at the rotten state of USA politics, these methods still work. My favorite encounter was with a soon-to-be-retired dairy farmer. He milked 80 cows and sold to, yes, a cheese factory. When I was a child, dairy herds were considered substantial at 40. So he has a lot of work twice a day. His wife is over being a dairy farmer's spouse and wants him to quit. But he claimed that both he and his father plowed back everything in upgrading his farm—lots more than money invested here like pride, effort, planning. This is what we imagine when we hear of the virtues of "family farming." Not many of these folks left. And they are getting old. And if there were still 40% of people farming instead of 2%, I could get elected to high office using the NPL methods exactly the way they used them 100 years ago.

Of course, these methods DO work outside of agriculture. Ask any student about the importance of debt reform. Ask anyone who was left to rot when some Wall Street scam artists bought the town's main factory, looted the pensions, and shipped the machinery to China. Ask someone who got a heart attack and for-profit medicine handed him a $100,000 bill to ensure his heart problems got worse. Ask anyone who despairs at meaningful progress on climate change. And have an agenda that makes sense.

I thought about political contributions of farmers and somehow Going up the Country by Canned Heat started playing in my mind. These were dreamy lyrics about rural life that most obviously did not exist anywhere in the real world. The reason most hippy communes failed was very few of them were interested in the effort it requires to make a living in agriculture.

This was my grandfather planting in Wilson County Kansas in 1940. There was a lecturer at Edgar who was explaining why tractors, even the primitive, high-maintenance varieties of the turn-of-the-century industrial USA production wound up displacing work animals. The horses had to be daily maintained—feed, water, brushing, etc. The harnesses needed regular attention. And hooking this all up required about 90 minutes every working day.

A serious restoration of a large 1978 tractor from International Harvester—the McCormick company—utilitarianism with just a hint of styling.

This tractor could do a lot of work. Note that it has a hydraulic hitch system which makes getting plows out at the end of a row a snap. It also has a power-take-off drive necessary for most hay-handling duties.

This giant contraption made less than 40 horsepower.

This is the mechanism that turns steam into motion.

A Depression-era John Deere. No styling flourishes in this thing.

The Farmall H was produced until 1952 which was remarkable for something that was designed in the 1930s and produced during World War II.

These eight-wheeled monsters are pretty rare in Wisconsin but common in the Dakotas.

Thanks to Tony for letting me in his booth.

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