History is a funny thing. It is being made even as you read this. But it’s also very personal. We might not get to choose our history, but each of us can determine within ourselves what is truly historical. For example, in my life, the introduction of plastics and the microprocessor in the manufacturing process has much more historical value than the final episode of Seinfeld. My guess is Michael Richards doesn’t feel the same way.

Personally, I like the past. We are cautioned that if we ignore history we are condemned to repeat it. That’s certainly reason enough to pay attention — like touching a hot stove. But what gives our past the most meaning is that it charts a course; it keeps us moving forward.

Glenn Bowlin recently reintroduced me to the history of irrigation through a presentation at the American Society of Irrigation Consultants’ annual conference. Bowlin is the curator of the Irrigation Association’s Virtual History Museum (www.irrigationmuseum.org).

Many of us have heard the names Skinner, Brooks and Moody — the industry’s early pioneers. Names like LaFetra, Ewing and Hunter are perhaps even more familiar. But how many of us know that names like Ford and Firestone made early history in the irrigation industry?

Bowlin is not much of a name-dropper, he’s more interested in — if not, downright excited about — the historical apparatus and design of irrigation. After throwing out a couple descriptive tidbits about the cyclonic state of his garage and other makeshift artifact storage areas (confirmed by his wife with a wry smile), he popped up on the screen a 1918 U.S. patent application for a Refrigerant Irrigator and asked a packed house what we thought it was.

We all kind of stared at this hulky locomotive/caterpillar-looking thing, then at each other. One-hundred-fifty people in the room of all ages, genders, experiences and, well, history, and no one ventured a guess.

As it turned out, the Refrigerant Irrigator “…relates to irrigating apparatus, and more particularly to an apparatus especially adapted for irrigating growing trees and plants of all kinds in climates where surface irrigation, due to extremely high temperatures and dry atmospheres, is impractical for obtaining the best results.”

“In operation, the machine travels along between or straddling the rows of plants under its own power, and as the plants are reached, the gun is fired to discharge a projectile of ice into the ground at the roots of the plant. The apparatus is of such size as to provide 20 or 30 projectiles at once to the endless belt and while these are being used, a second charge will have been made by the refrigerant in the freezing tank. When not used for the above purpose, the apparatus may be used wherever a tractor is applicable.”

What a cool little piece of irrigation history — firing icicles into the ground. And, for you folks out there pondering a similar solution, you now have the benefit of history in guiding your product and application strategies.

At the conference, Bowlin did something else I consider historical — he videotaped interviews with ASIC Fellows. These are the industry pioneers: the first to demand and then, en masse, work with subsurface PVC pipe; solid-state irrigation control; VFD pump assemblies; all manner of water treatment systems (and reclaimed water, for that matter); software design and management programming; fertigation; etc.

At one time, I was a night-watering foreman for a golf course in the Southwest, punching sprinkler heads in neat rows of quick couplers all night long. Every impact head had to be twisted into place, adjusted, run and then extracted. I would come home dripping wet every morning and clean up for classes.

That little piece of history taught me plenty, beginning with some of the most creative and graphic expletives I’ve ever summoned, and ending with boycotting working with water at night in February. But it also contributed to who I am today.

Next time you’re on the Internet, visit the Irrigation Association’s Virtual History Museum and discover a little bit more about yourself — why we as water managers do what we do and how we’ve come to the conclusions we’ve come to. It starts at the beginning (as far as we know), about 8,000 years ago in Egypt, and works its way to modern Western irrigation. The exhibits are broken into specific timelines for agriculture, golf, and turf/landscape. There’s even a “Mystery Wing” of unidentified equipment for your consideration.

Yes, the past is the past, and what’s done is done. But it is better that you pursue history, than history come hunt you down.


Luke Frank has been an editor and publisher in the green industry for the past 17 years, addressing water resource development, management and conservation through the irrigation profession. His field experience includes 17 years as an irrigation foreman, contractor and manager in the landscape, turf, golf and nursery industries. He currently resides in Albuquerque, N.M., and can be reached via e-mail at lukefrank@comcast.net