Have you ever been at an antique farm
machinery display and noticed how older, retired farmers act when
they look at the vintage equipment? They seem to get a
faraway look in their eyes as they reminisce with each other about
actually using some of what are now little more than museum pieces. I
gained a new appreciation for what they experience last week when I
toured the Winnipeg Railway museum.
One of my first jobs was with CP Rail
during the 1970s. Because the railway was a union shop, new employees
had to start with the least desirable jobs and work their way up to
something better. So I ended doing a lot of different tasks.
As my wife and I walked through the
Winnipeg museum I came across a variety of things I spent time
working with during my railway days. Things that are now old enough
to be museum pieces, just like antique tractors.
We walked through a caboose parked on
one of the tracks. Trains no longer use them. Even 30-odd
years ago, everyone knew they and the two crewmen who rode in them
wouldn’t have a job for too much longer, because new technology was
making them redundant.
I can remember walking the length of a
100-car train checking door seals on a blustery January night in
Saskatchewan; and once I made it to the end of the train, I was able
to climb up into the heated caboose and stay there until the feeling
returned to my fingers. Then there was the long walk back to check to
the doors on the other side of the boxcars—another obsolete type of
After I had a little seniority under my
belt, I was able to get a job inside the “machine room” in the
yard office. The machines inside it weren’t welders or anything like
that. Instead, the room was full of telecommunications equipment and
a computer that was bigger than my pickup truck.
Working with this stuff required a
couple of days of training, it was high tech. Today, everything that
massive computer and all the other equipment did can be done on a
laptop by any high school student.
As we walked along further in the
museum, I came across a relic from those machine room days: the
Comm-Tel. It was a telex machine that sent typed messages; a
primitive version of today’s email. It, too, was relatively gigantic.
As you sat it its keyboard and typed
out the message, a one-inch-wide strip of paper fed out of a slot
with a complex arrangement of holes punched in it. After the message
was typed, you ripped off the paper and fed it back through the
machine after dialling—yes, really dialling—the number of the
machine you were sending it to. The machine would then spew out those
words you typed at breakneck speed. And speed was important because
the cost of tying up a long-distance line wasn’t cheap. There was no
unlimited long-distance calling back then.
The situation with the railway
equipment in that museum really mirrors what is happening with farm
equipment today. Tractors and other machinery from the 70s, while
still as capable of doing the job as the older railway stuff, is just
as outdated when compared to this year’s models.
As I looked at the Comm-Tel, I realized
the 4G cell phone clipped to my belt could more than it did, and do
it better, faster and cheaper. The trouble is even though I’ve had my
4G phone for a while now, I haven’t learned how to work all its fancy
features yet. I realized I still knew more about the Comm-Tel than I
did about my current phone.
I can really relate to those retired
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