Newton's Third Law

My father - Leonard Johnson - could speak eloquently of Newton's Third Law. He was neither a physicist nor a teacher. He was a farmer who attended 8 years at a Township School, where each school year was but 8 months long. His knowledge of this physical law come from direct experience.
 
In the winter of 1948 - 1949 my father brought his PA11 Piper Cub out of a frozen sky above a farmstead that had been isolated by winter, all roads to it were closed. This was his first "air lift". He saw no safe place to land. He had skis on the plane and the areas near to the farmhouse were either crisscrossed by snow drifts or swept bare of snow. As he turned around for a second approach, he maneuvered a large canvas bag full of supplies to the open door of the plane and with the farm house directly in his path, he let the bag fall and pulled up to head back for supplies for another air lift. He learned later that as the bag fell it moved forward along the path the plane was on as he dropped it. The supplies came to rest in the house's living room, leaving a gapping hole where the window used to be.
 
Historically, The winter of 1948 had some of the worst weather for the midwest and north central states.  Years that followed were almost as bad. The saga of the flying farmer (and townspeople who flew, as well) has not been as well documented as is deserved. My father would fly from his farm 8 miles southeast of Turtle Lake, North Dakota and land at the edge of town. He would then walk around town to various service stations and look for messages and supplies to deliver or for passengers to either fetch or deliver. At the time, this little town was a good place to be near to. In a town of 800 were: 3 grocery stores, 4 service stations, a lumber yard, a pharmacy, a creamery, a hardware store and 2 car and farm equipment dealerships (among other businesses).  Anything a farmer needed could be found in this town at that time.  Townspeople, like Alfred Keel and our Uncle Arvid Johnson did the shopping to gather the supplies and my father and other small plane flyers would deliver them. The preferred method was to land and deliver.  My father's first air drop was the butt of jokes for a long time, however my father was not known to make the same mistake twice.
 
People in Rural America at that time looked out for each other and pulled together. The airlifts to the snowbound farms was just one example of a culture of mutual aid. My mother had a lot of babies. When she would go to the hospital to deliver another, there would be other ladies around: cooking cleaning and telling us to brush our fingernails. If a farmer got too sick to work, neighbors would be plowing his fields and milking his cows. It is much the same now, although the small towns are fewer and further apart. What's more, the rich assortment of businesses in small towns has dwindled. What you once got at the local lumber yard you may now get at Lowes in one of the nearby cities and big shopping centers have forced out many of the private grocers.
 
In 1966, I had spent a couple of months at college on a summer program and had just got back to the farm to see a very promising crop. Everything seemed to have gone right: rain had come at the right time and not too much of it. We were now waiting for that July rain that would plump up the kernels of grain on their stalks and make for a high-quality as well as a high quantity harvest.
 
Close to nightfall, as if an airlift was on its way, we watched a towering cumulonimbus cloud approach. Full of rain, it stood over the farm and opened its bountiful contents to us. It was just what we needed, but there was a problem. The cloud was too high! As the rain fell from a colder altitude, it froze and turned into hail.  The next day, my father and I drove around the farm. The entire crop was wiped out. The grain fields looked like they had been plowed. My father, never a garrulous man was even quieter than usual. He had a lot on his mind. He had bought a new combine (a machine for harvesting grain) the previous year and would be owing payments on it.  Although the hay fields and the cattle were unaffected, probably half of our income was gone.
 
Shortly thereafter, the phone began to ring much more often. The word that my father had lost his crop had gotten around as fast as if it was posted in Facebook. My father had a reputation as a very competent man who would pitch in and help his neighbor. Now, without his own harvest to work on, with a new self-propelled combine and the time to help neighbors to harvest; he was a very popular man. The groceries in the living room were long forgotten and longer forgiven.
 
I spent the rest of the summer following my father all over the county, he with the combine and I with his 1941 Ford truck, carrying tools and hauling grain. My father was now the most sought-after custom combiner around.  He even did combining for the farmer whose window he broke! Later, he told me, that with the insurance that he had bought on the crop and the fees he got from combining for others, that he had at least as good a year as if his crops had made it to market.
 
What we are describing here is a system of "what goes around, comes around".  People in the area had a saying that was probably repeated in many other communities. "We have two welfare systems: FDR's and ours and ours works." There was an organic flow of social contract and mutual aid in those communities.  Now, mind you - Turtle Lake, North Dakota and the surrounding rural community was neither Mayberry nor Lake Woebegone. It was a real place with real humans and real problems. My father might not have gotten on well with all of his neighbors, and perhaps not all of his neighbors liked him.  There were men who beat their wives and sometimes children were mistreated.  In 1920, Turtle Lake was the scene of what was at the time, the largest non-military mass murder in the history of the United States.(Called the Wolf Murders.) And that cast a long shadow over the community for decades.  But you helped out your neighbor, because your neighbor could help out you if the need came up. It was not always love, but ever a necessity.
 
I have read the writings of Ayn Rand - a writer and philospher who is considered the founder of the Libertarian Party.  Rand belittles the concept of altruism because she says that "The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake".  Some find this to be an anti christian attitude. There is something called "Reciprocal Altruism" that is probably truer to real life. Perhaps the term "Pragmatic Altruism" could be used as well. Either term fits the underlying social contract of my community.  I believe that many people then and now looked out for their neighbors because they were benefited themselves in the long run. After all, Mark 12:31 says "'Love your neighbor as yourself.' No other commandment is greater than these." It doesn't say "Love thy neighbor better than thyself" and it doesn't say "Love thy neighbor and hate thyself."
 
Whatever we wish to call the mutual aid culture that I grew up in, I can think of Newton's Third Law as a metaphor for that culture. As long as the social momentum continues, the system continues.  
 
Author's notes and thanks plus shameless plugs for writers that resided in the area and speak of its history.
 
Vernon Keel, who is the son of the aforementioned Alfred Keel has written a book about the Wolf Murders - it is called "The Murdered Family" and I highly recommend it. It is not only a real life murder mystery, but it is a snapshot of rural and small-town America in the 1920's. See the book's main website
 
My thanks to Vernon for reminding me that the Flying Farmers had a support team in town.
 
Florence Renfrow has written three books of poetry about the region. I wouldn't know great poetry if it bit me in the butt, but I know great stories and vivid snapshots. Florence is gone now, but her used books are still available on Amazon. I think her first is her best. See Poems From North Dakota
 
My thanks also to Florence for stopping that old fart from jerking on my beard the summer after my first year of college. (And perhaps preventing him from being thumped.)
 
From David Salmon, we have this link: Pairie School which describe a blizzard event during the great blizzard of 1949. If Facebook gets in the way, you can see a review of the book here I note that this book was published a month before the great blizzard of May 1, 1967 that my father and I were caught in. See "Boss-Cow Blizzard".
 

My thanks also to my brother Richard, who told me of the "Third Law" episode. Our Dad spilled the beans to him.