It was late 1981 or early 1982 as the Farmer sat at his desk in the old farmhouse and stared, in awe, at the greyish white, sort of rounded, boxes that sat in front of him. These weren't packing boxes. No, these were boxes stuffed with electronics. They had power cords and cables attached to them that looked like something from Star Trek.
Somewhat reluctantly and rather timidly he flipped the huge switch on the back of the biggest box then turned on the thing that looked kind of like a television. Instantly the thing started humming, vibrating… rattling, shaking and rolling that would make Bill Haley and the Comets proud.
It was loud, it squeaked a time or two then settled down to a nice hum while the green screen slowly faded in with an IBM logo and a thing that came to be known to him as the C prompt.
Slowly a frown crept over the Farmer's face as that C prompt just sat there with a little blinking line next to it.
That was when realization sat in. What now?
No such thing as the internet or home networks. No YouTube. No Tutorials. No help of any kind except for some obscure thing out on the West Coast called a Bulletin Board and it was prohibitively expensive from his location.
He did have manuals. IBM loved their manuals. Crisply printed and finely bound with slipcovers that looked good just sitting there. You wanted to put on a lab coat just pick them up. There were technical manuals, OS manuals and all sorts of manuals except for what to do next????
Then came the phone calls. Usually every few days but sometimes daily. I became his tech support 600 miles away with no clue or experience that could help in most situations. How was I to know this would be the de facto model for modern tech support?
At that time, I was a banker down in Houston learning all about TI-Basic and how to implement the Commodore PET into our bank's consumer lending department to fill out loan papers.
With my Sinclair and TI 99/4A, the bank's Pets and some early Xerox memory typewriter experience we managed to get far enough to launch Visi-Calc. If you've never heard of it, Google it… it's an important history in the home pc market.
From there Lotus 1-2-3 took over his spare time as he built spreadsheets intricate enough on the backend but simple enough on the frontend that almost anyone could use it to get predictable farming input scenarios. And they did use it… including the local office of the Department of Agriculture and a prominent national seed company that saw fit to appropriate it for their customers.
It was a shocker to see that spreadsheet template on a CD-ROM with seed company branding. Things would have gone a lot smoother had they just bothered to contact us first.
From there I watched my father develop a crop-hail “what if” spreadsheet that was so accurate our crop-hail insurance carrier adopted it internally.
All of this was due to necessity. There were hardly any productive programs for the IBM PC at the time and there were exactly NONE in 1981/82 for agriculture.
My father, the Farmer, had his 90th birthday last week. The time since passed shows but the twinkle in the eye is still there.
He still uses a computer every day. A 17" HP laptop.
While he gets confused now and then, he is a master of Windows 10. This man started with IBM PC DOS and began his mornings with it then go jump on a tractor for a few hours before going into town to his insurance and real estate business.
Oh… lest we forget another important facet of this farmer's life… dominoes. The man played dominoes like a demon. He would get together with other farmers during the heat of the day to stay inside and slam those dominos down while telling each what to play next because they KNOW that person is holding that domino.
They were local domino Gods and mere mortals dare not even look at the table like they are going to sit down. Only by the Grace of God did those tables remain standing after some of those domino slam downs.
Hardcore gamer before we knew what a gamer was.
Thank God he also taught me to do my own thing and not follow in his footsteps when I was younger as this relieves me of any obligation to match his contributions. It would be impossible anyway.
As hard as I tried to get away from the Farmer and his PC… I ended up forever entwined with his vision of a computerized world.
M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years. Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website.