Saturday, August 21, 2010

Lucas County Agriculture in the 1930's

This article was copied from the History of Lucas County 1978 book.

The period of the 1930's was one of depression, plagues of insects and drought, but one with the birth of many new ideas.

Most of the homes had no electricity or modern heating systems; they were heated by coal and wood heaters, which stood in the middle of the living room and the cook stove was in the kitchen.  Light in the home was furnished by a kerosene lamp.  Most homes were not insulated so it took many wool comforters to keep warm in the winter.  There was no indoor plumbing so it meant many trips to the little house out back.  Water was carried into the house in a bucket for drinking and for bathing or doing the family washing.  For laundry the water was heated in a copper boiler on the cook stove.  Many women washed on the board; the lucky ones had a washing machine run by a gasoline motor. 

Everyone raised a big garden and most farms had orchards and strawberry and raspberry patches.  Hundreds of quarts of fruits and vegetables were canned or kept in caves for winter use.  They also butchered and cured or canned their own meat for winter use.  Most farmers milked several cows and raised a large flock of chickens.  They would sell the surplus eggs and cream and buy groceries and clothing for the family.  This was called 'trading' because the grocer was usually the one who bought their eggs, butter or cream and also the one who sold them the groceries.

Social life centered around the one-room rural school houses, the country churches and the neighborhood clubs.  Entire families participated in these events and it was a time of real 'togetherness'.  The Chevrolet and the Model A Ford were the main sources of transportation in the rural areas but there was also very good train service in the 1930's.  Boys and girls walked to school; rode horseback or occasionally drove a horse hitched to a buggy.

A familiar summer scene at threshing time in the 1930's.  Men identified in this picture to the right include Harold Horner, Arthur Cain and son, Keith Sellers, Thomas White, Otis Agan and Orlan (Slim) Sellers.

In the early 1930's most of the farming was done with horses.  The farmer would keep from eight to ten horses to do the fieldwork.  He would have his mares bred in order to raise his own replacement stock.  It was not unusual to see a team working in the field with a little colt running along side its mother.  The farmer would stop at regular intervals to allow the colt to nurse.  On extremely hot days it was necessary for the farmer to stop often to rest his horses.  By the end of the 1930's, some tractors were being used in the area.  The first tractors had steel wheels.

The harvest was an interesting time.  Each farmer cut and shocked his own grain.  Next the threshing crews moved in.  Neighbors brought grain wagons, bundle racks and extra men to help with the threshing.  While the men threshed the activity in the house was to prepare the huge meal to feed from 18 to 25 men at noontime.  Many of the neighborhood women helped each other prepare the mounds of potatoes, gravy, salads, pies, cakes, meat and gallons of iced tea.  Often the men worked late and there was an evening meal to prepare.  It was really a time of hard work, fun and fellowship.

Picking corn in the fall was another long chore, which often lasted several weeks.  Many wives helped their husbands with this work.  They would rise early, take care of the chores and be in the field by sunup.  Other farmers would hire men to help them with the husking and would pay them 3¢ to 5¢ per bushel picked plus their noon meal.  Corn was so cheap (about 10¢ per bushel) that they often used it for fuel.  All the corn had to be picked by hand and also scooped into the crib by hand.  The young man who could husk and scoop one hundred bushels of corn in one day was very much in demand.

Prices in the 30's were quite different than today.  Hogs were as low as 2½¢ per pound, cattle were 5½¢ per pound.  Land prices were $25 to $40 per acre.  If it sold for $40, it was exceptionally good land.  Machinery was comparable in price.  A new corn planter cost $75, a cultivator $35, and disc $50 and a new grain binder could be bought for $250.

Insects and drought also plagued the farmer in the 30's.  Cinch bugs ate the corn crop in 1934 despite all the trenches of creosote that were poured.  Grasshoppers ate the hay and corn crops in 1936.  It was also extremely dry in these years.  No one had knowledge of insect sprays at this sad time in our history.

By the late 1930's new conservation practices, fertilizers and lime began to appear.  Lime and fertilizers were applied to meadows and the contouring of many fields began.  There was also some mechanization starting in farming.  Rumbles of rural electricity were being heard.  New sources of credit were coming into being, such as Production Credit and Farmer's Home.  Administration to help the farmer meet the demands of growing population for their food needs.  Thus the 30's are just another stepping stone of progression in the development of agriculture in Lucas County, Iowa.

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