In the U. S. the drive was on to unlock the atom before the Nazis did. They succeeded in dropping an A-bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, so they could put a quick end to the war. It worked. Now was the dawn of the nuclear age.
Back on the farm, Farmer Jones was reading his Popular Mechanics magazine about how soon the atom would be harnessed to power such things as farm tractors. A man of vision like Farmer Jones could see the wave of the future, and he knew he had to have one. Just think, no more worries about gas prices! He ordered the first model off the showroom floor, the Model “A” (for “Atom”).
The day it was delivered to his farm, everybody in Holloway County showed up to marvel at this miracle of modern technology. Why the price tag alone caused some eyebrows to raise, but when Farmer Jones pulled out onto the lower field with three plows and took off in high gear, he also dropped some jaws! By the time he reached the end of the field folks speculated that Jones was doing around 75 miles per hour, plows and all. (The earlier models didn’t have speedometers, and the government had yet to put speed limits on tractors out in the field. Of course, that was soon to change.)
The early models also had inferior brakes compared to its horsepower, so when Farmer Jones reached the end of the field in a glorious cloud of dirt, he misjudged his speed a bit and slammed into the old stone wall at the end of his row. Well, there went Farmer Jones head over heels past his shiny new atomic tractor flopped right into the manure pile on the other side of the wall. (There were no seat belts on the early models, either.)
Jones slid off the pile, a little embarrassed by such a sudden stop, and also a little worried about his new tractor with the new dent in it. He’ read the manual and it cautioned him about hairline cracks in the nuclear pile, so as he was inspecting the reactor for some tell-tale cracks, he hardly noticed the crowd of friends running up to him.
“You okay, Jones? Golleee! I ain’t seen a car going as fast as you was down that field! Whooo boy! Now that atomic tractor is really somethin’!” All his neighbors nodded in agreement, big smiles everywhere. “Well, Jones,” a thin woman with a big wad of snuff in her lip piped up, “with a tractor that fast you could just about feed the whole world, and make a lot of money at it, too!” Again, approving nods and murmurs. Little did they know.
“Aw, shucks!” said Jones as he flicked a dry manure chip off the front of his bib overalls, “I never figgered on nothin’ like that.” But truth be told, Farmer Jones really had been entertaining the thought of feeding the whole world — for a price. He’d been burning some midnight oil over the past few weeks, and figured that it would take a great financial risk to purchase an atomic tractor. But if his math was right, he could out-produce all the farms in his county put together! In order to get the money together, though, he would have to re-finance his farm, dip heavily into his retirement savings, maybe even declare bankruptcy and for sure divorce his wife. Jones didn’t mull over it too long before deciding. The possibilities of empire were just too great to resist.
Yessir, Farmer Jones was never a man to look down or think twice. He was a man of action, always looking ahead to a bright future. That was quite a day that sunny afternoon in Holloway County when Farmer Jones tested his new atomic tractor, and everybody there knew it, too. A new day was dawning, a new era in agriculture. Oh, there were a few die-hards, and it took some time, but before long you could see the tell-tale signs of the new age as all the farmers began to re-finance their farms, liquidate their savings, declare bankruptcy and divorce their wives — all for the sake of keeping up with the Jones’s. The rewards were sure to come, and already there was talk of no more smoke or noise pollution — these atomic tractors were so quiet. And on a really dark night with no moon you could look out over your fields and see a faint greenish glow coming from a few patches of ground. Kind of pretty.
But try as they could, no one could keep up with Farmer Jones. He got the jump on the new age, and was coming up with some pretty spectacular and unexpected bonuses. It all started one day when Farmer Jones checked out the lower end of his broccoli patch. He’d sprung an oil leak there once, and now several of his plants had grown to be as big as a Christmas tree! Not only that, but several of his cabbage plants in the next row could each fill a bushel basket.
Never one to get alarmed too easy, Farmer Jones called in his local agricultural agent from the government. “Oh, that’s from the nuclear radiation in your tractor oil, Jones. Just watch for the leaks. You’ll be okay.” Farmer Jones promised he would be more careful in maintaining his tractor. There’d been a Model A meltdown last year over in Klein County. Farmer Jones even went to see what had happened, but was pretty disappointed. There wasn’t anything left to see.
Oh, he’d be careful all right, Farmer Jones thought as he tightened the oil pan bolts. Careful to make sure he made more of them skyscraper broccoli plants, that is. Success was on the horizon in Jones’ eyes, as he tightened all the bolts — well, almost all the bolts. One drip every so often wouldn’t hurt.
As the forerunner of nuclear-age agriculture in his area, Farmer Jones soon became sort of a hero. After a lot of trial & error to perfect his radioactive oil-dripping technique, his gigantic veggies began to run away with every blue ribbon they could give him at the county fair. But he was never happier than when he pulled up to the Farmer’s Market in his truck loaded with Brussels sprouts. They were his biggest seller. He couldn’t grow them fast enough, even though by now he could take them from seedlings to the size of basketballs in 3 ½ days easy. Yep, life was good to Farmer Jones. And success was knocking hard.
Before long, our hero bought some choice bottom land and named it “Beanstalk Acres,” after the fairy story of Jack and his amazing plant. Only this was no fairy tale- the cash was rolling in.
So time went on and it got to the point that customers at the Farmer’s Market only wanted his special varieties of vegetables. Most of the other farmer’s have gone out of business by this time, due in part to Jones’ shrewd marketing strategies. After all, his varieties were sweeter and some cases even crisper (Jones had discovered that a few extra oil drippings over by the eggplants made them taste pre-fried. Now there wasn’t an Italian restaurant in the whole state that would buy anything else for eggplant parmigiana.)
But better yet, people really enjoyed a candlelight dinner that needed no candles at all. Several plates of Beanstalk Acres special “Candle Light” brand vegetables on the table were all you needed to softly illuminate an entire dining room, providing a lovely atmosphere. Most people had never known how imaginative Farmer Jones could be, but at the scent of success in his nostrils his creative juices flowed. Need a night-light? One carrot was totally sufficient, shockproof, and would never burn out. Hey, it wouldn’t even rot! The customers were even coming up with other added advantages, too. A light bulb in your refrigerator was becoming as quaint a notion as whale-oil lamps, as the citizens of Holloway County grew to love that faint greenish glow of their favorite veggies in the fridge. Saved electricity, too. Yes, technology was on the move, and a man named Jones was determined to stay on the cutting edge of The Good Life.
Oh sure, there were problems. Like the other day at the Farmerdoes Market when Jake Whitwell showed up, obviously wanting to talk. “Jones,” he stammered, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but there’s rumors going around. Some folks is thinking maybe it just ain’t right to eat a ‘tater big as a football. Now I ain’t saying it, but there’s even talk that maybe people are getting sick from eating your vegetables. I just thought you’d want to know, that’s all.”
Farmer Jones, trying hard to hide a little nervousness, replied that he’d never seen or heard such, and that his vegetables never hurt him any. Of course, he failed to mention that ever since he’d divorced his wife he didn’t have anybody to cook for him, so he only ate canned food. And too, Jones was so busy managing his radioactive kingdom that he hardly had time to pay attention to anything else. It was very time-consuming to get the drip just right on his tractor. So no, he hadn’t noticed.
But had he bothered to, he might have seen a fairly disturbing sight. Holloway County, for all of its greenish glow, was looking downright pale these days. He had noticed that most folks were bigger, which he credited to cheap food; ever since the advent of the atomic age, everyone just ate more, that’s all. After all, times were good, weren’t they? Why, even the population of Holloway County had swollen.
Maybe if Jones had bothered to take a good look, he might have noticed that not only had the county swollen, but so had just about every individual, too. Not a man given to trifles, he took little notice. But had he done so, Jones might have noticed that some of the young children in town had developed such things as three arms; a good deal of baldness was going around, too. One child was even rumored to have x-ray vision.
“But hey,” Jones reasoned, “There has to be some price to progress! What do people think we should do, go back to plowing with a mule?” And it was true. As strange as things had become in Holloway County, nobody wanted to go back to buying Brussels sprouts the size of golf balls at the same price as Beanstalk Acres Slam-dunk variety. Why shoot, people could starve or go broke trying to feed themselves on that stuff. No, there was no turning back for the good citizens of the county, and nobody really wanted to, except maybe for a few troublemakers.
There’d been a small group of’em on a little farm over by the county line, and they actually did plow with a mule, don’t ask me how. You could always tell who they were at the Farmer’s Market, looking all skinny and a little too dark by modern county standards; and the vegetables they sold at the market, why a bird couldn’t live off of’em. And unlike the folks in town, they didn’t even have so much as a wart, let alone an extra arm or two. It got to the point where some folks didn’t take too kindly to them, though, and ran’em off. Where they went is hard to say. Next county, maybe.
Speaking of the next county, somebody over there was wondering what that sound was they’d heard one day. It was a mighty pretty day, just great for plowing, and Farmer Jones had been up since the crack of dawn. He’d carefully checked his atomic tractor for just the right oil drippage for the corn field, and headed out for another productive day. Yep, Farmer Jones was a man of vision, and never looked back. He also didn’t look down, either, but always forward to another day of progress. So it escaped his attention that his temperature gauge was slowly creeping up as he hit another row at 75 miles per hour. Like we’d said before, Farmer Jones was never one for trifles.
So when the folks in the next county over heard a dull thud from across the mountain, one of them remarked that he hadn’t heard a sound quite like that since that day in Klein County when…when…well, he couldn’t remember exactly what it had been. Memories weren’t doing too good these days, I guess. So a friend of his had took off to see what had happened, but came back a little disappointed. Said there wasn’t much to see. At least not anymore.
And Jones? Well, the last anybody had seen of him he was sailing up pretty high. Some local wit had said just about as high as his imagination. Which was pretty high, I guess, at least high enough so that no one’s ever seen him come down. At least not yet. Everybody’s waitin’, though, just about starved to death on them golf ball Brussels sprouts they have to make do with now that Beanstalk Acres has been fenced off by the government. But I guess, as Farmer Jones used to say, “That’s progress!”