Most of us have heard, either from our dads, grandfathers. or great grandfathers about how they or their ancestors had to quit school at an early age to work and help support the family. Life at the turn of the 20th Century was not easy. With the great depression, and poverty everywhere, and no real child labor laws, and the Industrial Revolution in full swing, the kids had little choice but to go out and help their families put food on the table. At that time in history, there were no real child labor laws in place, and there was a need that had to be filled. Whole families were in danger of starvation. The family had to get some money soon. Exceptions were made.
Because of the circumstances of the times, and the need to eat, the nation’s children went to work. They worked in coal mines, factories, agriculture, and every other menial job they could get. So many of these jobs would have detrimental affects on the health of the workers. It was not unusual to find whole families or father-son pairs who were hired together. Unfortunately, children were not given jobs that suited their status as young, impressionable people who aren’t able to really care for themselves, much less do a skilled job. The child laborers were often given the jobs adults physically couldn’t accomplish. That sounds strange to us, but it meant crawling into tiny places the adults could not fit through. As an example, in factories, children were sent into the tiny, cramped interiors of the machines. Their task was to fix mechanisms that the adults simply couldn’t reach. This was dangerous work, and even with doing things the adults couldn’t, children received lower pay than the adults who depended on them.
The small stature of the children ensured that they often had the most dangerous jobs available in the coal mines too. As greasers, the children were constantly in danger of being crushed by carts loaded down with coal, as they ran up and down the tram tracks, a heavy bucket of grease on each arm, making sure the tram axels were appropriately greased at all times. Nippers (also called trappers) were children who had the dangerous responsibility of opening and closing the shaft doors as coal cars came hurtling down the sloped tracks. Boys who fell asleep in the total stillness and darkness…sometimes a mile beneath the surface…would be crushed if they failed to lift the door.
Eventually, activists began to take issue with the treatment of children in positions like these. One photographer…Lewis Hine made it his personal mission to document the situation of children in the coal fields of Appalachia. Because of his persistence, we have a cache of images documenting this era of American child labor. These and many other images led the US government to pass the Keating-Owens Child Labor Act of 1916. The act created a minimum age of 16 for mine workers, as well as instating the eight-hour workday. Then, shockingly, this act was deemed unconstitutional. The child labor issues continued until the 1930s, when the New Deal brought permanent reform for child laborers.
A couple of weeks ago, my brother-in-law, Ron gave his dad, my father-in-law a calendar from 2012 that he had used at work…not for the calendar but for the pictures. They were all pictures of tractors through the years. We all took a look at that calendar, because it was interesting to see how much tractors had changed over the years, and the different makes for that matter. I remember seeing one that could have easily passed for a travel trailer, were it not for the tractor wheels. And there were makes that even my father-in-law hadn’t heard of, and having grown up on ranches, I would have expected that he would know them all.
Since the Industrial Revolution, which occurred from 1760 to somewhere between 1820 and 1840, when manufacturing transitioned from hand production to machines, technology never stops changing. There are always new ideas, and someone to invent them. I recalled seeing a couple of pictures among the old pictures I have been going through, that showed a couple of different tractors used by members of Bob’s and my families. Even though these pictures probably weren’t taken that far apart in years, the two tractors are very different from one another. I suppose that the tractors themselves could have been much different in age, since you often use a machine for many years before it wears out, and they could have been for different work, thereby requiring different designs, but I was struck, nevertheless, by the vast difference in their design. My father-in-law also told me that it could depend on the area of the country, as to what makes of tractor were available. That makes sense too, in that different climates, and growing seasons might require different types of wheels and designs. I suppose that humidity could play a part in how the engines ran as well, and so could affect what tractor make would work better in those areas.
Technology is changing so fast these days that tractors may one day be obsolete, you never know. I mean…who ever thought there would be a vacuum cleaner that cleaned by itself, and yet now we have them. I don’t mean to say that crops will ever harvest themselves, or that the ground will just stay plowed, but one day there might be a machine that does those jobs with just a little bit of programing. Then, like the Roomba, which is no longer called a vacuum, the tractor might change its name with the modern advancement of automation too.