Present and past on a time pivot…

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    It was dark, with tiny flecks of snow beginning to fall. I’d stayed too late at home that Sunday afternoon and was on my way back to Laramie in the dark for the spring semester when I heard the song for the first time.

    It was quiet in my 69’ Rambler American, that’s about the only good thing you could say about the 128 horsepower, three-on-the-tree, two-door sedan. Fast it wasn’t, steady on slick roads, nope, even the slightest snowfall had me tying chains on the rear wheels.


    The road to Casper was closed, and only a fool would take the “Haul Road” (as we called it) over the top of Beaver Rim to Sweetwater Station in those days.

    I’d just crossed the Reservation, passed through Lander, and was about to turn east towards Jeffrey City when Franki Valli and the Four Seasons cut loose on KOMA 1520 with “Oh what a night…”

    Yep, the song some consider the first “Disco Tune” the Four Season’s Class “December 1963.”

    As a 19-year-old college freshman, this lyric seemed to call back to a time so distant that no one could relate to it,” Oh, what a night. Late December back in ’63. What a very special time for me, ‘Cause I remember what a night.”


    When the song came out in December 1975, 1963, was forever ago, 12 years to be exact.

    Does 12 years ago seem like an eternity to you these days?

    The song remains a nostalgic jumping-off point for me when I think back to the 1970s. They seem so distant now. Our children only get glimpses of what life was like back then through movies, TV specials, and occasional YouTube videos we expose them to.


    It’s a sobering reality, but 1974 is as removed from us as 1924 was from the people back then.

    In retrospect, in 1924, my grandparents were newly married, and my parents weren’t even born yet, but the times and practices of the post-World War I years are more closely aligned to life in the 1970s than life in the 1970s is to the world of 2024.

    As kids who grew up in the 50s, 60s and 70s television dominated our free time. How many of us still watch the re-runs from our youth? For me, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, the High Chapparal, and Rawhide remain the ultimate entertainment on the small screen.


    That’s just a snippet of the stronger connection the 70s had to the 20s, (the 1920s…) than the connection has to the present.

    Work, and machinery was closer to the 20s as well. We had a cast iron pump that lifted water vertically about 18 feet to a ditch on top of a small hill on the west side of my parent’s farm. Nothing fancy, just a scaffolding of rough-cut 2×6 lumber supporting a heavy cast iron pipe as it ran from the ground to the waiting irrigation ditch above.

    Dad had a John Deere H tractor he used to run the pump. The H series was made from 1939 to 1947 and was an all-purpose tractor. It had 12 horsepower at the drawbar and 14 at the flywheel. To put that in perspective, our Husqvarna lawn tractor has almost double the rated power.

    The H was connected to the pump with a wide belt about 30 feet long. We twisted the belt, so it turned the pump in the reverse direction from the flywheel. The tractor was locked in place with a couple of big stakes driven into the ground and anchored with a pair of come-alongs.

    The contraption spilled water like crazy, but we were able to irrigate 35 acres of corn, oats, or alfalfa in the field above.

    My first experience with a magneto came on that old H. I carried a five-gallon can of gas out to it a couple of times a day and checked the oil in the evening. Today a teenager would drive the side-by-side or pickup to do the job. Odds are it wouldn’t be a teenager at all, but rather the farmer servicing the tractor.

    To check the oil the tractor had to be shut down. Shutting down an H meant pulling the magneto cable.

    No problem in dry conditions, but all that water spilling from the pump found its way back to the tractor. Standing in ankle deep water, I pulled the magneto. A spark hit my hand from a crack in the wire and I was knocked back a dozen feet or so onto my rear end with a numb hand, elbow, and shoulder. Voltage has a way of getting your attention.

    I took a fence stake with me the next time and used the non-conducting wood to pull the magneto cable.

    Imagine that in today’s digital world. You can’t, those devices no longer exist. They’ve been replaced by “Nanny Technology” that dings, whistles, and speaks to you if you don’t follow the rules.

    When I returned home from college my first year, Mom and Dad had replaced the John Deere pump system with a 40-horsepower, three-phase electric pump. The only work required aside from pushing the power button was occasionally having to prime the pump with an aluminum handle. That was progress.  

    Did you think the technology of the future was a bell in a car dinging until you put a seat belt on, or a refrigerator sending you a text message? Whatever happened to the flying cars and personal helicopters they promised us?

    The world from the 1920s to the 70s was different. Muscle, both human and animal dominated agriculture in the early 20th century. We’d progressed with mechanical controls on gas and diesel engines by the 1970s, but it was far from the push-button, air-conditioned comfort you find in the latest tractors, swathers, and combines today.

    In the 1970s as well as the 1920s, GPS meant pointing the tractor at a tree or post on the far end of the field and trying to keep a straight line while cutting or plowing.

    The lives my grandparents lived would shatter the youth of today. Cooking, cleaning, and simply working nearly every waking moment would be a shock to a teenager or 20-something hooked on a cell phone.

    Was life better in the 50 years from 1924 to 1974 than it is in the 50 years since? Nope, it wasn’t. There were plenty of problems, real problems in the rise of Fascism, the lack of medical care, and the unstable economy.

    If you’re aware of the state of America today, and life in Fremont County in particular, those three problems are still very real in 2024.

    The Fascists are back, but this time they’re here at home rather than in Germany, Italy, or Japan. Medical care? What medical care, if you live in Riverton or Lander. A stable economy? How long has it been since anyone could say the Wyoming economy was stable? a

    I know, “Late December back in ’63,” and it wasn’t too bad in ’73 either, but the last 50 years have been a roller coaster ride.


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