Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Dust Bowl Days

A friend emailed me some photos that were reminiscent of the 1930s. These thoughts came to me as I looked at those old photos she sent. In 1935 I was in the eighth grade and it was not uncommon to see dust drifts five foot high, barbed wire fence rows with a few thistles against them. The dust would pack in so that you could walk OVER the top of the fence. Horse drawn farm machinery would catch the dust and they were buried in the dust. Mom would sew girls dresses from FLOUR SACKS that came with patterned material. She also would sew the boys chambre (blue) shirts. Farm kids did not wear shoes during the summer for everyday, we all went barefoot. A daily routine was kids HAD TO wash their feet each evening before they went to bed. During the winter we had three pairs of shoes: one for chores, one for school and one for church on Sunday. The Sunday shoes never wore out, we OUTGREW them. Or they were passed down to younger family members.

Jobs were few, and during 1931 to 1933, there were times when our family was HOMELESS. We got permission to live in some friends's old hayloft of their barn. Improvised pot bellied stove with a flue thru the roof and old carpets or blankets stretched on two wires enclosed a corner with a kerosene two-burner cook stove. There were no beds -- we all slept on the floor. Dad and Mom, two boys ages 10 gnd 8 --I was the 10 yr old, and we also had twins, a boy and Girl born in 1929, so they were three years old. There were no stairs in the barn to the hayloft, it was just straight vertical step boards nailed to the side. Our toilet was just the night bucket with a lid.

The farmer let Dad work farming chores and they brought us groceries for wages. At age 8, I helped hand milk cows and we got our milk for that. Potatoes were a staple, as the farmer raised potatoes commercially. In those days people would eat the culls, as the spuds were sorted when sold. Culls were held back and used for hog feed. Instead of a granary for storage, potatoes were stored in a earthen cave. You had to watch for salamanders (similar to a lizard), snakes, rats and mice in those potato piles. B-u-t we survived.

This condition was a two year period when the bank foreclosed and repossessed our Trego County Kansas Farm and we became migrant workers in Colorado. Also during that two year period 1931/1933, my brother Alfred then age 9, died of an enlarged heart, St Vitas Dance, and pneumonia. Since we were poor with limited medical attention, the County performed the funeral and burial.

The period 1929 through 1934 was considered the DEPRESSION that followed with the DUST STORMS. Franklin D. Roosevelt was the USA President. He declared a two day National Bank Holiday when NO BANKS were open. The Government declared NRA (National Recovery Act), which included the government coming to your farm to kill a lot of your live hogs, as there was a national oversupply and no profit in raising hogs. The killed off some of the hog population to stabilize the hog market. It was common for communities to have collection points where people donated used clothing and shoes so us poor people could go obtain them at no cost. Welfare would bring us free groceries. The government made jobs for people called WPA (Works Progress Administration). The football stadium at Hoisington Kansas High School was of native stone built by the WPA. Also WPA cleared dead wood etc, along the banks of Wet Walnut Creek in Barton County Kansas. One time my Dad acquired a bad case of Poison Ivy and Poison Oak, working along the creek bank for the WPA. In Colorado WPA Labor created irrigation ditches for the farmers. In 1938 to 1942 the Government started the Civilian Conservation Corps for young boys. I served in such a Soil Conservation Service Camp in Nemaha County KS. We were civilian but the camps were run by the Army with Army Officers, Barracks, Kitchens etc. and the Dept of Agriculture provided the jobs known as SCS Service with area farmers to develop terraces, sodded waterways, water spring spillways.. This provided $18. 00 a month for kids ages 16 to 21. Like the Army, our workers had rank, such as pfc, corporal, Sgt, except we were called Assistant Leaders and got paid $36 monthly and Leaders got paid $45 month. The money was mailed to your parents as welfare income and the boys got a stipend for misc expenditures. The boys also learned a trade. Some became Stone Masons, Brick Layers, Caterpillar (Heavy Equipment) operators, land surveyors. I became a bookkeeper and gained the rank of Leader as Office Manager @ $45 a month during June 1940 to June 1942. Our camp had teachers come to our camp from Kansas State University (Manhattan, KS) to teach classes. That is how I became an Accountant. CCC Camps were all over the United States. Kansas had several, some planted Shelter Belt trees. Others that I knew were Forest Fire Fighters in Idaho who learned the Forest Ranger trade.
As World War 2 started at that time, CCC was faded out. Working in the SCS office, I had conversations with the office of the President in Washington DC. My contact was Steven Earle, who worked under President Roosevelt. The nature of our calls was the process of downsizing CCC Camps. Camp #1797 County of Nemaha, city of Seneca, Kansas was slated for closure. I handled calls to and from Washington in processing the closing of #1797. I was age 20 and 21. I think I got my rank as I was a high school graduate and many were not. We even had kids from Kansas State Industrial Reformatory (KSIR) in Hutchinson, Kansas, to rehabilitate them.


Debbie Blanton McCoy said...

Great story, Ernie. You lived through some tough times.

Janice Tracy said...

What a memory you have, Ernie...this is an amazing story, so informative. What makes it really special is that you wrote about history of this country as you lived it.

GrannyPam said...

I like the matter of fact way you can tell a story of difficult times. Your writing is important, so many people cannot imagine times as difficult as these.

Thank you!

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Sincerely, Lisa Louise Cooke

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