Gas Engine Magazine

This & That

By Staff

R I Box 63 Avoca, Iowa 51521

Farming has never been easy. During the Great Depression and
early 1930’s, this would have been a monumental understatement!
I recall a few things myself and have talked to some of my older
friends. One incident I recall was that already then, I had
respiratory problems. The doctors of that day didn’t understand
allergies etc. and would say, ‘it’s all in your head.’
Nevertheless, I could not breathe through my nose as a boy of
possibly 4 or 5 years old. I was constantly running with my mouth
open in order to breathe. One day in such a situation, a chinch bug
flew up before me and into my mouth. They were a small black bug,
but small or no had a terrible flavor and odor. I spit for half an
hour before finally getting free of the awful taste. I recall
friends telling of the waves of these bugs crossing a corn field.
The bugs would envelop a stalk of young tender corn, then the top
would slowly begin to topple over and fall as the bugs worked their
way across a field. It was said that one could see the wave of corn
slowly fall.

My father would take his single bottom plow and make a furrow
across the wave of bugs’ path. In our case, it was oat and
wheat fields. He would pour some solution in this furrow. As the
bugs would topple in they were supposedly killed by this liquid.
Later, he would set the furrow on fire. The smoke would roll and
that also made a terrible smell.

Some of the farmers would erect a barrier of black building felt
paper. Then, every so far, dig a post hole in front of the barrier,
filling this hole with creosote or diesel fuel. The chinch bugs
were to fall in this hole when reaching the paper barricade. It was
not taken into consideration that they also could fly Many millions
of bugs were killed in the trenches and pits. However, many
millions also flew over the barricades and continued on across the
fields annihilating what crop was left.

Eventually, the dry weather was broken by rain. The chinch bugs
evidently thrive only in hot dry weather. Or one might say the Lord
felt the lesson he wished to teach had been completed.

During these hard times, I recall it being unbearably hot. The
south wind was parching. There wasn’t a lot of shade although
our farmstead had what we thought was an abundance of shade trees.
Another thing that entered into it was the people of Oklahoma had
evidently plowed every available acre of pasture and hillside in
order to plant. I recall, vaguely, on some days the air was filled
with dust, when the wind was from the south. Looking up the hill
from our house to the east, there seemed to be a fog or haze in the
air.

My mother was a fine, clean housekeeper. I recall she would fuss
because aside from her other work, she was continually dusting. It
seemed everything became full of dust. In order to try to cool the
air she would take white cloth, dip it in water, squeeze it out,
then she would hang these over the open kitchen windows. When the
hot wind blew through them they afforded a cooling effect for only
a short time. She said the reasoning was to try to keep down the
dust, most of all, ‘that we can have a decent meal.’ I
recall at times the food became somewhat gritty. When she would
remove the cloth it would be a light brown on the outer side.

When one thinks of the hardships of the farmer of that day
compared to now, we might say, even under the current
administration, we are almost in seventh Heaven.

How disheartening it would be to get up before dawn to do
chores. Then after the cows were milked, all animals were fed, and
the cream separated, one came to breakfast. After eating, it was to
the field with a full day with the horses. At evening to come in to
chores of half the night. That is to say nothing of the wife who
cared for the house, children, and still raised a large garden and
possibly 1000 chickens. My mother would can 40 quarts of beets,
peas, corn, and have often times 20 rows of potatoes. She had once
had a runaway with a team and buggy. She was thrown out and landed
on her behind with my small sister in her lap and arms. She spent a
lifetime of pain in her back. There was no treatment at that time,
and actually there is none today. However, she bore eight children
and would hoe a large part of that garden by hand each summer. When
we kids became large enough, we would help.

The grasshoppers came! There were many stories about them. The
one I like best was by a fellow named Ernie Pyle. I read his book
just a few years ago. He told of traveling across Kansas and
Oklahoma in his Model A Ford. He said the grasshoppers were so bad
along the highway he was required to stop every five miles or so to
clean out the air holes in his radiator. The Ford would boil if not
kept clean. I recall how thick they were. If I would walk through
the weeds there would be a cloud of them come up before me of all
sizes. They would also end up in one’s mouth if it was open.
However, I was possibly 6 years old by then and had long since
learned to protect my mouth.

It was amusing to watch Mother’s chickens as they caught and
ate the hoppers. The old hen became confused as she would catch
one, a better one hopped by, and she would greedily let that one go
to chase another one, etc. Their craws were so full of hoppers they
could hardly move. These bugs also ate the corn, green wheat and
oats, not to mention Mother’s beautiful garden!

One or two years, about 1937 or 1938 I recall, we had the most
beautiful potato plants. Then the potato bugs came out of nowhere.
My Dad always worked hard planting potatoes. He did this on a
Saturday or Sunday with a walking plow and his favorite team of
horses. There was no time during the week, for that time was
designated for field work. I never could understand how he could
handle the walking plow; with the lines over one shoulder and under
one arm he controlled the team. He would plow the first furrow and
then potatoes were dropped in the second row, etc. When the plants
grew the rows were straight, as well as perfectly spaced to fit his
single row cultivator. Of course, we were required to hoe between
plants in each row. The potato bugs were so bad Dad made wooden
paddles. Each of us would go down the row with a 5 gallon pail and
pat the bush to jar the bugs off into the pail. Shortly we little
kids couldn’t carry our pails because one-fourth full was too
heavy. We would reach over and Mom or Dad would dump them into
their container and on we’d go. Dad poured oil in the pails and
burned the bugs. There were always more next day. Eventually the
bugs became so bad Dad bought some lead arsenate at the local grain
elevator. This he mixed with wood ashes and water. This was
dribbled onto the potato plants with a wad of cloth wrapped about a
stick. This product was deadly poison and was not to be gotten on
the hands. It is no longer on the market.

Our religious training from our parents was very subtle. I
recall my Dad’s stories that he told after being to the
village. If a certain person imbibed too heavily of the spirits, it
was said that ‘he will receive his just reward’. If a
dishonest deal was told of someone, ‘God would not look kindly
on that person’. I first learned of the Book of Ruth by hearing
the story on an old battery radio my older sister got in 1935.

One moonlit summer evening my youngest sister and I, after going
to bed, saw a tall fire in a meadow about 2 miles southwest of our
upstairs bedroom window. We knew the dangers of fire and ran down
to tell Dad. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘it’s probably just the
Klan burning their cross.’ We were to go to bed and be quiet.
Next day I asked why the Klan burned a cross. ‘Well,’ he
said, ‘they is having a meeting probably.’ ‘What
for?’ I wanted to know. ‘Oh, if somebody does something
bad, like beat up on his woman, they give him a beatin’ and
warn him, God don’t hold with that sort.’ Naturally as a
child I thought what a fine organization that must be. Eventually I
read books on ‘the Klan’ and changed my mind.

As all children of that day, I went to country school. Some
years we would have a wonderful teacher who would be strict but
fair and loving. Other years we would not fare so well. Mother and
Dad always stressed that we have respect for the teacher for she
had education. Also, if we got in a fight at school we’d get a
whipping at home. This worked well for a time. Eventually
someone’s Dad would brag that his kid could lick every kid in
school. After that it became difficult to survive. I recall once
having a not so nice teacher. It seems the author did some
misdemeanor. Her chosen punishment was to ridicule the student by
facing him into a corner with a dunce cap placed upon his head.
This was terribly degrading. It was felt the punishment did not fit
the crime. As one stands in such a predicament, there is time to
think. I decided to make light of the situation. I raised one leg,
proceeded to look over my shoulder at the audience with a forced
look on my face and issue a loud noise with my mouth. There were 16
or 18 children of all ages and grades in the room. To say, in terms
of nowadays, that everyone ‘cracked up” would be a
gross understatement. The teacher never tried to discipline any
students in that manner again that year.

At home once, when a small boy, my mother had also set me on a
chair facing into the corner. When it came time to eat, I refused
to leave the chair. I missed my dinner but never sat in a corner
again. I imagine I may have been 5 or 6 years old at the time.

My father was a strange man. He dearly loved the soil and all
things connected with it. However, he would never allow any of his
5 boys to become farmers. When I left home the first time, I had
just completed the 8th grade. My primary interest was a job to make
money for overalls. I’ve worked in all sorts of jobs but to
this day know very little of the art of farming.

In closing, another note comes to mind. It is written in the
Holy Bible that we are to work very hard here on Earth for there is
no work nor any discerning after going to the grave. Also not to
store up any earthly treasures for they will do us no good later
on.

I wonder if this was written especially for people like those of
my parents’ day? It seems our schoolbooks only propose one idea
also in our day, that is to ‘seek great wealth’ for nothing
else counts. Sometimes a thing such as even progress can be carried
too far.

  • Published on Feb 1, 1989
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