Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Life on the Farm in Dust Bowl Days



Note from Ernie's daughter, Becky Jamison: In 2007 Harold J. Rutherford published his book "Dust, Wind and Tears: Life on the Great Plains in the 1920's, 30's, and 40's". It's a collection of personal accounts from the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Ernie contributed his story to the book. It was published by Ten Mile Publishing, 9740 Peacock St., Federal Heights, CO 80260-5749. This post is an excerpt from Ernie's story.

Life on the Farm
Mom pulled fine feathers called "down" off the breasts of our live geese and made pillows and filled them with the down. They were much softer than our mattress ticks that were filled with corn shucks. Every year we dumped out the old shucks and filled the tick up again with fresh corn shucks.  

In the 1930's it was very hot in the summer during the wheat harvest. We used a header pulled with horses and also used a threshing machine part of the time. We pitched wheat by hand onto the conveyor belts to the thresher that was powered by a steam engine and huge, heavy canvas belts with a figure eight configuration. I was always fascinated by  how it worked. Sometimes I got a ride on the water wagon that hauled water to the threshing machine. We usually had several watermelons floating in the tank to cool. 


Dad used horses and mules to pull all our farm equipment. When the threshing crew went from farm to farm, they traveled as a crow flies. When they came to a fence, they pulled the staples that held the wire fences in place and stapled the wires on the post next to the ground. When they had moved all of the machinery through the fence, they put the fence back where it had been. Sometimes this saved many hours and many miles, moving the equipment directly through the fence rather than on the roads. Every year the same farm hands came to work in the fields. Even their sons and daughters that were married came back for the harvest. It became like a family reunion. We kids had to set out the laundry washtubs with clean water so the farmhands could wash up before the meals. We looked forward to those meals because they had goodies that we usually didn't have.  

Photo courtesy of http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/02/10/695431/-Welcome-to-Hooverville
We didn't have sheds to put our farm machinery in to get it out of the weather, so we parked them alongside the closest field. During the sand and dirt storms, our farm machinery would be completely covered up. The seat and handles usually showed, but sometimes the only way to find them was digging into a mound of sand.

Special Collections, University of Washington. Courtesy, Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka, KS
Where the Russian thistles blew up against the barbed wire fences, the sand would drift up 'til only the top wire of the fence showed. Sometimes the top of a fence post was all that showed. We could walk right over the top of the fences where the sand had settled as berms along the fencerows. 

I don't know how many years the dust storms lasted, but some days it would be nice and sunny in the morning, but pretty soon a red cloud would drift in. It didn't blow, it just drifted or rolled in and sometimes black clouds came in from the northwest and it would become dark out by noon. Mom tore old white bed sheets in strips to push in the cracks around the doors and windows. It still got hazy from the dust that permeated the air in the house. 

Most of the time a wind would blow from one direction, then in another direction and the sand and dust covered our cow pasture 'til there wasn't anything left for a cow to eat. The pasture finally dried up and we had to sell some of our cattle to buy feed to keep the rest. Sometimes the sand would cover our Spring crop 'til it was ruined. There were times the soil around our corn would just blow away and leave the roots exposed. 

Many cattle died from the dust. Some people developed dust pneumonia and eventually died as well.   

1 comment:

Greta Koehl said...

Thank you for sharing these dust bowl memories. I only experienced one dust storm when I lived in Texas. It was enough. It took weeks to wash the dust off of everything in our house.