I’m a student of history.

It can be fascinating to look back at the history of our professions, to understand where we’ve come, where we are and where we’re going. A look at history can also force us to appreciate what we currently have.

For example, in my first career out of college as a newspaper editor, I loved reading about and hearing stories about newspapers in the 1920s and 1903s. You’re probably familiar with what I’m referring to – reporters in fedoras, whiskey bottles in desks of chain-smoking editors, papers flying every which way around typewriter-filled, frantic newsrooms, “Stop the presses!” and other colorful anecdotes.

What about the sports field industry? Recently, I found myself researching the days of yesteryear for groundskeepers and field managers. There is no shortage of interesting information. I guarantee that once you read these things – some you probably know, others maybe not – at least a momentary flash of appreciation for the technology and convenience of 2015 should fill your heart.

  • The first Prescription Athletic Turf (PAT) system on a professional team’s field was installed at Denver’s Mile High Stadium in 1975. According to Steve Wightman, turf manager for this new PAT field in 1976, “initially, there was no aboveground irrigation system. We were constantly adjusting the water table, experimenting to learn the right balance. There were 29 miles of heat cables for the electrical in-ground heating system. … We were a two-sport stadium, so the baseball infield had to be removed for football. Every time we did that, we’d break some of those fine wires within the cables. We worked with electricians for hours making those repairs.”
  • Industry legend George Toma once said, “In 1957, if you wanted sod, you had to get it from a cow pasture.”
  • How about lack of choices? According to longtime athletic turf consultant Eugene Mayer, “in the early days, the choice was the grass species. In the cool-season zone, that was Kentucky bluegrass or the only tall fescue available, K-31. In fields that used a mix of the two, the bluegrass would crowd out most of the K-31, leaving just clumps of it. That caused footing problems and ball hops and looked terrible. There were few perennial ryegrass varieties until the early [1970s].”
  • The evolution in industry equipment has brought tremendous improvements in machines and tools that hadn’t been invented in the early days. For example, as Toma once told SportsField Management, “I remember submitting a bill for $25 for the rental of one horse and a harrow. That’s quite a comparison to the high horsepower machines today.”
  • Some of the control products used “back in the day” were dangerous and downright terrifying. Arsenate of lead, mercury and DDT were just some of those widely used.
  • In his early days working in Kansas City, Toma got cow manure from a farmer, put it in 55-gallon drums, soaked it with water and sprayed the water on the field as fertilizer.
  • Field marking is another story altogether. Believe it or not, dry lime, marble dust and the white dust produced by burning anthracite coal were all used years ago for lining. So was hydrated lime, which would easily burn the eyes. Toma remembers mixing the flakes of Ivory Snow laundry detergent with bluing in a 55-gallon drum and using that to line the field. He also recalled, “Some groundskeepers…used to do all the football field painting with a 4-inch paint brush.”

Nothing like the “good ol’ days,” right?