An Apple a Day, for 47 Years

Apple Picking Season Is Here. Don’t You Want More Than a McIntosh?

DECORAH, Iowa — In the early spring of 1983, Dan Bussey started a file on his computer. The event would prove to be momentous in the annals of American pomology, though no one realized it at the time, including him.

Mr. Bussey, a college dropout and restaurant-supply salesman, had recently planted an orchard in his hometown, Edgerton, Wisc. “I was putting together a file of all the old apples I came across, just out of self-interest,” he said a few weeks ago.

The exercise took some doing. His $2,500 PC (not an Apple) possessed a 40-megabyte hard drive, the computing equivalent of amnesia. And he needed to program the machine with MS-DOS to make it run WordPerfect. (For younger readers, WordPerfect was the writing technology that replaced cave painting with aurochs blood.)

Three decades later, that file — the exact same file — is the manuscript for a seven-volume, almost 3,000-page encyclopedia called “The Illustrated History of Apples in North America.” Mr. Bussey’s personal list now encompasses all 17,000 apple varieties known to have grown between the years 1623 and 2000. (The series, published by JAK KAW Press, should begin to come out in January.)

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