By Ron VandenBoom
Not long ago, the word technology would conjure up images of huge machines belching black smoke or steel gears meshing together to produce a Model T, a locomotive, or a steamship.
Today, the word technology also evokes images of computers, televisions, compact disc players, or supersonic aircraft that are capable of flying around the world in less time than it took our ancestors to ride in a buggy from Havre to Great Falls.
Most technology creeps into our lives without major fanfare and soon becomes a commonly accepted part of our everyday lives.
Havre and the Hi-Line have not escaped the impact of technology.
Perhaps all advancements in technology begin with some kind of scientific discovery. Often the discovery has no immediate or apparent technological value and only becomes significant after other discoveries make it practical.
Such could be the case in what Professor Reno Parker, head of the MSU-Northern Department of Science, sees as the one of the three most significant scientific advances of the last century genetics and the human genome project.
The journey began with Thomas Hunt Morgans gene mapping discoveries in 1910 and were published in The Mechanism of Mendelian Heredity in 1915.
This, coupled with the discovery of the double helix in 1953, has opened a new age of molecular biology, Parker said.
This is most immediately evident in the agricultural sector, where hybrid crops and disease resistant plant strains have led to superior yields. It is also true in the medical field, where a greater understanding of the building blocks of life will eventually lead to a cure for hereditary disease.
Parker also listed the creation of communication devices such as radio, telephones, computers and television as one of the top three significant technological developments of the last 100 years.
For Havre, these devices meant a connection to the outside world that first connected Havre by voice and then allowed news from the outside world to come in.
Television arrived in the early 1950s, allowing Hi-Line residents to see where the voices were coming from and expanding our ability to learn about the rest of the world.
The computer revolution now gives the Hi-Line access to the entire world at the touch of a button. The adage that says you cant get there from here no longer applies to Havre.
The third greatest advancement of the century, according to Parker, was the development of nuclear energy. The good side of it, he emphasized.
Nuclear missile silos may dot the Hi-Line landscape, but much of nuclear development is lifesaving in nature and has led to the development of everything from elect ric power to nuclear medicine.
John Rosenbaum, imaging manager at Northern Montana Hospital, believes nuclear medicine has been one of the most significant developments in the medical field over the last 100 years.
It came into its own in the 1960s and 1970s in Havre, and weve never been far behind the leading medical technology since, he said.
X-ray machines developed near the turn of the century rank at the top of Rosenbaums list of advancements, but the combination of computerized axial tomography (CAT scans), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and X-rays has truly enhanced medical diagnosis techniques and treatment over the last 50 years.
CAT scans and MRIs, which came to Havre in the late 1980s, take pictures of the inside of the body in thin slices or in 3-D, so physicians can more accurately determine the size, location, and extent of injuries or illnesses. Unlike X-rays, they can also distinguish between fluids, fat, and muscle in the body.
Karen Pollington, vice president of Patient Care Services, has also noticed changes in medical care from the nurses viewpoint.
She lists out-patient care versus in-patient care as a major change.
The amount of time a patient needs to stay in the hospital has been greatly reduced due to non-invasive techniques she said, singling out Laprascopy as an example.
Laprascopy is a technique that uses a camera inserted into the body to investigate illness or injury without surgery.
Other developments Pollington lists are cardiac medications to dissolve blood clots and balloons that expand arteries, reducing the need for open heart surgery.
Added to her list are 24-hour-a-day emergency room services complete with an emergency room doctor and more highly trained emergency medical technicians (EMTs).
Pollington expanded her list by including cardiac monitors, infusion pumps for medications, and computerized medical documentation for test results that speed patient care. Most noticeable, too, are medical flights between Havre and Great Falls by fixed wing aircraft and helicopter mercy flights.
The steam-driven locomotives of the Great Northern Railroad helped tame Havre and the west more than 100 years ago.
At the time, huge locomotives with boilers heated by wood and coal fires brought everything from settlers to produce and transported wheat and cattle.
By the 1930s, oil had replaced the wood and coal, but still heated water to propel the now larger trains from coast to coast.
Today, the steam locomotives are gone and diesel electric (diesel engines driving electric motors) locomotives pull 110-car trains at speeds that were unheard of 100 years ago.
Al Beute, manager of the General Electric Locomotive Repair Facility in Havre, lists computers and global positioning systems (GPS) as two of the latest technologies that have come to the BNSF in Havre.
Radio-control of locomotives also have improved the power and efficiency of trains.
Its a better way of handling all of the power on the train, he said. Its better handling all around.
Radio control allows units from the front of a train to work jointly with units pushing from behind, he said.
Computers also work as diagnostic systems, aiding engineers in annualizing the performance of their trains and helps them identify problems, Beute said. Computer technology also makes repairs more efficient by helping to pinpoint errors.
New electronic fuel-injection systems give us better horsepower and maintainability, Beute said.
Beute explained that steam power was in its day pretty powerful, but trains today pull more tonnage and are heavier than those of old.
Today, the number of locomotives assigned to the Havre shop approaches 400, Beute said, which is the most ever assigned here.
The future holds even more technological advances as GE works to switch its units from DC to AC power and increase horsepower from 4,400 to 6,000 in a unit which is easier to regulate and maintain.
The advent of the telephone and radio during the 1930s and 1940s in Montana brought Havre and the Hi-Line out of hibernation and to connect it instantly with the rest of the world. No longer dependent on the U.S. Mail, Havre residents for the first time were able to hear news from around the world and then call someone to talk about it.
Television arrived in the 1950s expanding once again the scope of knowledge and awareness along the Hi-Line. Nightly news broadcasts from Great Falls, Lethbridge, Alberta, and Spokane, Wash., via Havres local cable system shared a wealth of information complete with pictures.
Color TV arrived during the 1960s and expanded cable TV soon followed in the 1970s, but the greatest leap in communication had to wait until the 1990s when affordable computer Internet service was first provided by Stellar Computer Corporation.
The Internet now connects thousands of Havre and Hi-Line residents with virtually unlimited information at the speed of light.
Dave Biggar, vice president of Stellar Computer Corp., is confident the Internet is the wave of the future, but is a little hesitant to predict exactly how it will impact north Montana.
Its caused a better flow in tanning salons, he said, referring to fewer people engaging in outdoor activities because they are instead sitting behind computers.
Biggar notes that the Internet can process a lot more information than any previous means, providing almost instant stock quotes, on-line auction facilities, shopping on-line for books or CDs. But computers can not hand feed you a job, he said, noting that most jobs still have to be done by hand, in person, and at a designated place.
It may keep a couple of people in Montana, he said, referring to the ability of the Web to allow work to be done in one location and transported electronically to a distant employer.
But the real impact in this technology is yet to be realized.
The one greatest reality of Havre and Hi-Line economics has been agriculture. It represents the largest industry in Montana and has been the backbone of economic well-being for well over 100 years.
To Don Anderson, director of the MSU-Bozeman Agricultural Experiment Station in Havre, the advent of performance testing on selected cattle and work with genetics during the 1960s and 1970s has been the most significant development in ranching in the last 100 years.
Cross-breading has made some tremendous increases, Anderson said, noting that artificial insemination and embryo transfers have proven the importance of understanding DNA and gene transfers to the future of cattle production.
The DNA experiments done today are producing a healthier cow that can produce more weight on less feed and withstand the climate conditions of north central Montana better than ever before, Anderson said.
Other important technological developments Anderson points to are plants that can better withstand disease and insects, and global positioning systems for farm equipment that make farming more efficient and less costly.
Dan Sinclair, a spokesman for Meissner Tractors in Havre, raves about the benefits of global positioning systems.
Farmers can map their fields already they can tell you instant and average yield, bushels per acre, and moisture over a field, he said. In a year or two, we will have instant and average protein monitors.
Guidance through a field is part of what Sinclair sees as the most common use of GPS devices today, while speculating that the time is not far off when farm equipment can be self-guided and may not even require a driver steering the machine.
It is a far cry from the early steam tractors or horse-drawn plows of 100 years ago or even the 1920s and 1930s.
Farmers are now able to pay more attention to the equipment and spend less time steering.