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I have a story where two characters from 1898 apear in the Texas hillcounrty, on a disused ranch. Neither are familiar with ranches, and they come from vastly different socioeconomic backgrounds. What would be the first things they would immediately notice as different, and what would take the longest for them to comprehend?

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closed as off-topic by StephenG, Ash, L.Dutch Oct 28 '18 at 10:33

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    $\begingroup$ You say they come from vastly different socioeconomic backgrounds, but don't say what they are, how old they are, educational background, etc (all of which are vital to answering your question). For example, a well-educated rich girl from the East Coast who's been riding horses for 15 years will be less unfamiliar with the disused ranch than a black guy from Compton or South Chicago. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Oct 28 '18 at 3:20
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn I think that the OP wants to know about obviously modern technology that you would find on a modern Texas ranch, without getting into details of how ranching is done differently than it was back then (unless the difference is the presence of modern technology) $\endgroup$ – Arcanist Lupus Oct 28 '18 at 4:18
  • $\begingroup$ Man, what hasn't changed in farming? They still use seeds, right? Seems a bit backwards with all the technology these days, but I think they're still seeds. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Oct 28 '18 at 4:20
  • $\begingroup$ @ArcanistLupus it can't be that OP is looking for differences between modern and old ranches, since "Neither are familiar with ranches". There's nothing for them to compare. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Oct 28 '18 at 4:21
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    $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon ranches are most definitely not farms. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Oct 28 '18 at 4:21
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"Disused" is incredibly broad, and their backgrounds are undefined. This makes this question harder to answer completely, but there are quite a few things that are incredibly different from 120 years prior.

I'm going to focus on the ranch house, since that's where the easiest differences will be. On the exterior, it might look a little weird - I don't remember what shingles looked like in the late 1800s, but they might not even notice that. They might think the home looks weird but I doubt they'd really think anything past "Oh, this house looks weird." I would expect the driveway would be gravel, and I doubt there would be a garage. If it does have a garage, it would be a weird room with a weird door.

Once they step inside, however, things are going to be super obvious, really quickly. I'm going to assume everything in the ranch house is from no earlier than the 1950s. While I doubt it would sit disused for that long, there's a lot of things that stay just fine. And who knows, maybe the last person to live here liked antiques.

Furniture would look funny. Most of it wouldn't be "This is from the future" but it would look weird.

Light fixtures would be a lot different. Standing lamps might look the same, but things like ceiling fans and other ceiling lights have changed a lot in the past 50 years, let alone 120. I'm going to assume they know what electric lighting is, but even bulbs from the 1900s are vastly different than those from the 50s, different from the 90s or modern ones. If the house has flourescent lighting, then things are very different.

The Kitchen will be the most obvious things. So many things made out of metal. A fridge, if it had ancient moldy food in it, would be fairly straightforward as to what it did (stored food), even maybe they could guess it was some sort of ice box. But why would it look so funny and be made out of metal?

Additionally, something like a dishwasher would be completely alien, and a stove from anytime in the past 70 years would be vastly different than what they used. Again, they might be able to infer the purpose of the stove, but not necessarily how it worked.

If the house is more recent, something like a television would confound them. There's literally nothing like it that they could compare it to. Same goes for even a radio from the 50s. In this case, the age of the TV doesn't really affect much. If it's from the 50s, it'll confuse them just the same as if it's a brand new flatscreen - Although the plastic from the flatscreen might weird them out.

Oh, right! Plastic! - Plastic wasn't really commonly available (I think it existed but I'm not sure), but they probably have never encountered it. They would have no idea what the material is.

If the house has old heating, the radiators would look pretty similar to what they had, and they might be able to figure out what the furnace does. Maybe. If the house had a water heater, it would be an alien metal cylinder to them. Similarly, a washer and dryer would be weird metal boxes with things.

To their comfort, a bedroom would probably look just like a bedroom. The style might be different, but aside from weird things in a bedroom (I have my computer in mine, that'd be a treat), it would at least be familiar.

If there are bycycles somewhere in or around the house, those too would be identifiable. They may or may not have flat tires, but if I remember correctly, late 1800s bikes had rubber tires and I think if there was a hand pump they could figure it out if they were familiar with it. Remember, the Wright brothers were bycycle repairmen, which was a significant thing for some time.

I'm excluding the potential for a vehicle, but any vehicle made since the 1900s would be completely alien to them. The late 1890s was when automobiles really started to become a thing, so they would have to be really familiar with an obscure thing to have even a glimpse as to what it is.

A different take Honestly, I think they'd have a better knowledge of time passing if the ranch house had antiques in it. My personal opinion is that the easiest way for them to tell that they've traveled forward would be with books. An old library, with old books in it, would be the perfect method of telling age.

Why?

Well, it's easy to tell that a book is old. It feels different. It looks diiferent. So they could see many books that are obviously old. And then, someone sees one they are familiar with. They open it. And pretty much every book printed from mid-1800s on has a copyright/printing date in the first few pages. The newer books in the library would have later dates, and would look and feel newer - Not to mention book binding has changed over the past 120 years. There's also the option to dedications. A lot of books given as gifts have notes inside them, and some of those have dates written in them. "To Mary, with love. Christmas 1912."

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    $\begingroup$ There was a family in Siberia that went ~40 years without seeing another human, from the 1930's to the 1970's. When finally rediscovered by the rest of the world, the thing that surprised them the most was clear plastic wrap. They were thrilled how it was "like glass that crinkles". $\endgroup$ – Ryan_L Oct 28 '18 at 4:46
  • $\begingroup$ I remember reading about them. They had noticed the satellites in the sky, and things like planes, too. I think the characters in this setting would notice those things eventually, but not immediately. $\endgroup$ – Andon Oct 28 '18 at 4:48
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    $\begingroup$ You also have newspapers, magazines and tv guides. TV guides are unknown, magazines and newspapers have their issue date on front page. $\endgroup$ – castor Oct 28 '18 at 9:25
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The Rural Electrification Act was in 1936. Before that, a lot of rural areas had no electricity at all. So while there was electricity in 1898, if your characters are from the Texas hillcountry or other rural areas, electric wires and poles would be very very strange to them. Even if they were from cities, seeing wires along roads and over to the house would be odd and probably the first thing they'd notice as different.

The hardest thing I think would be plastic. So many things in our modern homes are plastic. Coatings on wires (not just in the walls but also on electric cords for lamps and such), flooring (vinyl!), window frames, countertops, toilet seats (after they got over the shock of a toilet...in a house, depending on their experiences), dishware, kitchen tools, handles and trim on appliances, and much more.

Plastic is hard or soft, breaks or tears easily, yet is often very durable. It's not wood or metal or ceramic. It behaves in completely unpredictable and unique ways. But at first they wouldn't realize it was a new material. There may have been prototypes of plastic in 1898 but Bakelite (the first plastic) wasn't invented until 1907. And even if there were some plastics that they immediately knew were not of their time (like plastic wrap as others have written), they wouldn't connect it with other plastics like countertops or vinyl flooring.

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Contrails

The very first thing they’ll notice, and the one that will take them the longest to comprehend? Definitely the fact that there are mechanical beasts that roam the skies, leaving behind perfectly straight clouds from horizon to horizon. Such sorcery is inconceivable at the end of the 19th century, and many people today still don’t understand exactly how planes work. They could appear in the middle of a 50km2 field with nothing else in sight, and would only need to look up to notice them.

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