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September 29, 2011   Email to Friend 

Hundred Year Old Farmer Reflects On A Century Of Agriculture
Jillian Clair

Thomas McCrary, who turned 100 in September, and his 1954 Ford.
The cracked, rusting baby blue paint of Thomas McCrary's 1954 Ford tells the story of a different time--long before cellphones, the Internet or precision agriculture.

But McCrary, who turns 100 Sept. 27, remembers when there were no tractors or electricity, and automobiles were scarce. He bought that truck when he was 43 years old.

"When I was young, everything was horse-drawn or mule-drawn," McCrary said. "Our first tractor was on steel (wheels), and my dad bought it in 1930 after I finished school."

McCrary remembers a time when the farm provided everything the family needed. They had hogs to make sausage; wheat for flour; corn and hay to feed the animals and several other crops the family sold at the market in Huntsville.

"I remember loading up a horse-drawn buggy with cotton and driving it down to Clinton Street (in downtown Huntsville)," McCrary said. "We'd leave at sunup and get back after the sun went down. It took us all day."

Much has changed in 100 years, McCrary said, and some of it he doesn't particularly like. Urban sprawl, traffic, government regulations and high-priced farm equipment cause McCrary to reminisce. But some changes, like air-conditioned tractors and the invention of the combine, have been good, he said. In addition to older equipment, McCrary now owns a modern pickup, a late-model tractor and a cellphone.

Aside from his early childhood and a four-year stint of service in World War II, McCrary has spent nearly every day of his life on the farm his great-grandfather purchased in 1809.

"When I finished high school, people asked if I was going to college, and I said, 'I'm tired of school. I want to do something with my hands,'" McCrary said.

McCrary still handles the farm's finances -- using pen and paper instead of a computer, of course. He uses a walker to move around on foot, but as soon as he climbs into the tractor seat, he glides through the fields with ease.

"There's a lot of satisfaction in it - still being able to do this," he said.

His daughter, Rosemary McCrary, 63, said her father has always been devoted to agriculture and is determined to continue working, even as his 100th birthday approaches.

"I am just overwhelmed and pleased and tickled that he can still do what he loves to do," she said.

Madison County Farmers Federation President Rex Vaughn called McCrary a blessing to Madison County and all of agriculture. "He's part of a generation that's fading fast--a generation we don't have enough of anymore," Vaughn said. "He's one of those individuals that Alabama can be proud of."

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