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Human Energy Vs Mechanical Ease, Which is Better?

Updated on February 27, 2017
kenneth avery profile image

Kenneth has been a member of HubPages for five years. He is retired from a 23-year career in the weekly newspaper business.


Remember These Beauties

that have been a part of us since our birth? They have taken us from here to there and all of the places that we needed to go. But with everything of a natural basis, they have been under a constant-but-sweet attack by those with higher intellect with a drive to produce more monies by inventing "pleasure devices" such as bicycles, skates, and skateboards and even tractors to give these two little guys a "rest."

I Tried

very hard to find a reputable basis for the topic of this hub, but sadly, I failed. I wanted to get down to the nitty gritty of this issue of men living longer prior to as I call it, the "Mechanized Age,"--using steam and gasoline-powered tractors to till their soil, plant, and harvesy their crops.

But all I could find was a back pocket full of social and eco-political theories providing the "pro's"and "con's" of early European farming methods versus early American farming and the estimated productivity of both.

In the years of being a member of HubPages, I have read many hubs by other superior-talented hubbers with works long and in-depth presenting records, charts, stats, and personal opinions of their subjects. I admit it. I was amazed.

I suppose I can thought of as a bit lazy or lethargic for basing this hub on just what "I" think about what I am presenting today--which to me, is a more serious subject than you or anyone of higher or lower station in life could start to fathom. My thinking was why bore you (be honest with me. It would have bored you) with such fact sheets and percentages when you can have one person's opinion that just might be a conclusive and startling discovery of a situation that has went virtually unknown for many years.

Boy plowing a potato field on an    Andersonville, Tennessee road  Oct. 1933.
Boy plowing a potato field on an Andersonville, Tennessee road Oct. 1933. | Source

Facts Speak

for themselves. I can recall that in my younger days and my dad (to support our family) was one of the best sharecroppers anywhere in Marion County, Alabama in the northwest section of the state. He was taught by his dad and further back the very foundations of when to turn the land for planting, what to plant and when to plant it. This chain of wisdom remained unbroken. I can even tell you about my dad's great, great granddad plowing with a team of oxen to till his land.And that system gave way to a mule which was a "tractor" to my granddad so that worked great.

Plowing with mules was a bit faster and more methodical than plowing with an ox. This is not in any way giving credence to Charles Darwin's thinking of "only the stronger of the species" surviving. It was common sense mixed with ingenuity. That was it. And that worked until smarter people sat down and started thinking about building a gasoline-powered device--much more powerful than mules and able to pull a bigger set of plows, planters and giving the owner more free time for the time he saved in using a tractor and saying farewell to animal-based farming.

Slowly and Silently

the unseen, unfelt change started to creep into the lives of farmers who could afford a tractor or two to farm their now-expanded farmland that had increased from 100 to 500 acres of cotton, corn or what crop was being bought on the U.S. Agricultural Market to be sold to chains of restaurants and retail grocery stores.

Everyone thought it was breaking through to the Promised Land of sorts. Prosperity, may I introduce you to, Leisure Time. I hope you will get along fine together. And they did get along well over the many years of their marriage.

Speaking here again from personal experience, when my dad was plowing with a mule, his dads would begin at daylight and end at dark when he would drag himself to our house and have enough time and strength to eat his supper, talk to mama and his children, then hit the bed at or around 7:30 p.m. and us not having a television made it easier for all to get a good night's sleep.

 Just one of the many old tractors  at Connonsburgh Village in Murfesboro, Tennessee.
Just one of the many old tractors at Connonsburgh Village in Murfesboro, Tennessee. | Source

Enter the Tractor

to my dad's farmland and many others' farmlands and lo and behold, at day's end now being at 5 p.m. in spring and summer, my dad and many other dads got home and had more time to sit down to eat supper, talk to mama and the children and do something new: watch some television, something that until he began using a tractor did this pleasure come to him.

Antique American tractor by Allis Chalmers.
Antique American tractor by Allis Chalmers. | Source
  • Plowing, planting, and harvesting crops were done faster.
  • More farm acreage could be tended with a tractor than a mule.
  • Farm product production boosts the national GNP.
  • Local economy (and outlets) were benefited from prosperous farmers now getting hire employees for farm work.
  • American farmers could not be a part of the national sales of their products to foreign countries.

  • Atmosphere (Ozone layer) slowly damaged from fossil fuel exhaust from tractors.
  • Although farmers did have more free time, this led to farmers and families having weight, health problems due to now a lack of exercise.
  • Farmers with bigger acreage and prosperity were now in a higher tax bracket and slowly their profits were reduced.
  • As tractors were made more affordable to farmers, gasoline, implement and parts for tractors prices slowly increased causing the farmer to take in more acreage to tend in order to make a larger profit.
  • Soil on land in certain ways was damaged by the heavier tractors and their tools.

  • A mule was slower, but the planting was more precise with seeds planted by hand rather than a machine.
  • Upkeep was cheaper for mules than oil, gas, mechanical repair for tractors.
  • Farmers who walked behind mules to plow, till and harvest crops were in better physical shape thus leading to longer lives.
  • Obesity, diabetes in families who walked and used mules for farming was pretty much unheard of.
  • In certain links, farmers and their families were closer knit--knowing they had performed manual labor and felt a silent sense of pride at what they were able to produce.

  • Speed was not with the mule when it came to farming. In some cases, a farmer who had not been raised in a farming family would experience burn-out and disappointment in his early years of farming.
  • Sickness was an ever present reality with animal farming and if the animal were to be too sick for veterinarians to heal, the farmer who had to have an animal put down, was hurt instantly with this financial blow.
  • A farmer who used one or two mules was limited to only tending a certain amount of acreage unless he and his friends formed a farming cooperative in order to tend more acreage and enjoy more profits, but these groups were not that common.
  • Time was of the essence for farmers who relied on animals to farm their fields. Hardly any time for the farmer to nurture his emotional needs with his wife and children was severely limited by his early-starting days and late hours when he ended his work.
  • Even with a farmer who walked behind his mule(s) were subject to bruises, ankle inury from sunken places underneath the soil and other physical hazards.

Draisine circa 1820 early two wheeler
Draisine circa 1820 early two wheeler | Source
 Leisure bike
Leisure bike | Source
  • As the "Mechanized Age" made itself at home in our country, (e.g. tractor, combines, etc) other "tools of recreation and pleasure" entered on the coat-tails of these gasoline powered time savers. For example: the bicycle. Was it a good or harmful invention?
  • Exercise was achieved to the body via peddling the bicycle from home to school, eventually to work and just for recreational uses.
  • The savings on gasoline as well as the wear and tear on a family car was evident.
  • Families and friends who chose bicycling as a means of social interaction were able to bond with other races and creeds of people thus starting a fellowship among different people.
  • The cost to operate a bicycle depended on just how much food you digested and not the money in your pocket to buy gasoline to operate this delightful device.

  • In the early days of the bicycle, motorists were instantly sworn enemies of bicyclists for they saw the bicycle as a threat to their rights on the nation's highways.
  • Not everyone was a natural bicyclist. Some uncoordinated people would start out fine in learning to master the two-wheel wonder, but soon lose interest due to accidents or physical injuries.
  • Ladies in the early days of riding a bicycle had it much worse than men. In the 1800's, ladies were "forbidden" to wear pants or shorts to ride bicycles had to manage not only the bike, but their layers of skirts, under garments and hats that made them acceptable in riding a bicycle.
  • A person had to take a crash course in the "Feeding and Upkeep of a Bicycle" as opposed to just walking or running for fun or exercise. A person had to know how to adjust their bicycle seat to fit their own comfort, keep the right amount of air in their tires as well as keep the chain oiled and tires checked for air leaks.

Ice skates came a few years after regular skates that young people used for skating on sidewalks.
Ice skates came a few years after regular skates that young people used for skating on sidewalks. | Source
The skateboard is the evolution of skates.
The skateboard is the evolution of skates. | Source
Don't need to exercise your legs, arms, and feet? A jet ski is your answer.
Don't need to exercise your legs, arms, and feet? A jet ski is your answer. | Source

As the headline reads, leisure had to be the end result of bicycles for anyone with a reasonable amount of education knows, when you can ride and not walk, you end up with more free time to spend as you wish.

The bicycle, although a utility device, is also recognized as a vehicle of past time when a person or persons desire an outing, but without the tiresome task of using the feet and legs to hike or climb rocks, the bicycle is the perfect solution. The only body part(s) you actually use is the feet and legs while your arms and hands guide the machine.

But take a quick look at the these photos and soon a light will (hopefully) go off above your head signaling you that I may have something here with this discussion of feet versus the bicycle and other instruments of leisure.

From the all-American skates used by early teenagers of the revolutionary 1950's for skating on the sidewalk to playing ice hockey by both amateurs and professionals to the current day skateboard which carries such popularity, powerful sports networks and high money sponsors put on skateboarding exhibitions and contests with money and prizes for their fans while the motorcycle has moved ahead of the common bicycle and its relatives to be the sexy vehicle for the rebel in some of us.

The water, remember that area? Some people still use water for swimming, a great exercise for every part of the human body, but those who want adventure in motion, choose fast-moving jet skis to get them from one wave to the other.

The above pro's and con's of human energy (use of feet, walking) to farm in early America versus the evolution of farming and usage of tractors are merely facts experienced from my early days in my hometown area (rural northwest Alabama) when my family would share crop in order to survive.

This is not to indicate or imply that either means or the farmer were better people or even better at farming than the other. Sometimes during the course of our lives the "new" and novel--ideas from wiser and thinkers on a wider range are useful, but not necessarily the best means to a prosperous life.

I experienced all three: plowing with a mule, tractor, walking and bicycle riding. I have to be honest in my personal preference of plowing with a mule for I have loved animals since birth and one of my early chores was to feed and tend to our mule. As for walking, running or riding a bicycle, when I was younger, I was always wanting to be on the go and that did not mean walking.

Maybe now at 63 years of age, I am paying the price for that lack of judgement.

Good night, Hells Kitchen, New York.

© 2017 Kenneth Avery


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    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 11 months ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hey, Elijah,

      Very interesting, deep comment. Thanks so much.

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 11 months ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Dearest Sakina :)

      Thanks for the sweet comment. It is always a pleasure to

      hear from you.

      Much peace and happiness to you at this moment.

      Talk to you soon.

    • SakinaNasir53 profile image

      Sakina Nasir 11 months ago from Kuwait

      Great hub Kenneth! Your memory is so sharp and the way you have shared your experience with us is so well written and delivered. Love it! God bless you! :)

    • The0NatureBoy profile image

      Elijah A Alexander Jr 12 months ago from Washington DC

      My Brother,

      Your pros and cons are on the money but missing important aspect. In both the mule and tractor farming the earth lost "topsoil" to erosion causing the loss of the food's nutritional value as their foods disappeared with the eroding. My opinion is we need to look for healthier farming rather than nutrient deprived volume farming. As a UNITED nation our concern should not on money but on the health of the people, which you touched on but did not go far enough.

      Westerners sterilized animals' dung which destroys plant's nutrition and have become completely chemical dependent further destroying the foods' nutrition. I propose doing what American Natives in the southwest were instructed by "their god" to use a stick to dig a hole, fill it with water and a seed and cover it again. In that way fewer plants were disturbed and the animal's dung and plant deterioration nursed the earth. Also, western man doesn't accept the use of our own dung as nourishment for plants as China grew healthier and larger plants while maintaining longer lives by using their own body's waste as plant food.

      From those two examples I find alone I believe we should focus on healthier people rather than profits for Corporations.