The Heavy Equipment Exhibition occupied several large fields, mainly cut corn fields, as well as large buildings owned by the promoter of the show. Apparently he loves these machines and takes his hobby very seriously. As we entered the space several groups were firing up their engines, others were polishing theirs, and some were comparing notes between machines. There were many of large size, at least one that was a two story tall machine, others were smaller more recognizable small tractors from the 40s and 50s. Some had spiked wheels, others large steel rings with studs or crosspieces to maintain grip. We speculated what conditions required the ones with spiked wheels. This query was answered this week-end when I watched Ken Burns 2- part series “The Dust Bowl.” This deals with the ravaging of the plains in the early part of the 20th century, the subsequent drought and the huge dust storms that made people feel as if the world would end. Watching the continual plowing and turning up of the soil I could recognize some of the early gasoline fired engines hauling threshers or harrows. Many of the engines had those spiked metal wheels. No doubt required by the hard-baked nature of the soil in the plains. It is a bit of recent history that is not especially well taught in American History classes. I recall trying to teach a bit about the great depression and the economic catastrophe of the 1930s in my History of Photography classes. I subscribed to the premise that to understand the photography one should have some grounding in the history of the time and culture being depicted. Responses to this approach varied widely; I was able to sell it more on the basis of my passion for it than the logic of the approach.
The film “The Dust Bowl” can be streamed from PBS. It is also available from most of the usual sources for movies varying from Netflix to Amazon.