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"Farming During the Depression"

During the worst of the depression, prices of everything the farmer had to sell were so low that there wasn't any chance for them to earn any money and those that owed money had no way to repay it. Most of the small town banks closed their doors and went out of business. Any money you had deposited in them was lost, but if you owed them you had to repay or file bankruptcy.

One such incident was a neighbor of ours who filed bankruptcy. A large crowd attended the sale. No one was supposed to bid on anything so the farmer could buy everything back. I remember a large team of horses selling for two dollars and fifty cents; milk cows for fifty cents each; horse drawn machinery at a fraction of its cost. This farmer and my dad owned some machinery on shares. One such item was a hay baler that they used to bale their own hay and earn extra money doing bailing for the neighbors. One man decided that he would like to own half interest so he ran the price up. The auctioneer sold it to him. One of the men asked my dad what he was going to do with his half, he said that it was going to stay right there. The buyer finally let it go back to the former owner.

Prices for grain at the time were: oats, seven cents a bushel; corn, ten cents; wheat, eighteen cents; livestock was: hogs, two and a half cents a pound; cattle, three cents a pound. If you smoked you could buy a corncob pipe for ten cents. Everything was cheap, but you couldn't buy without money. The hog market was so depressed that the government paid the farmer to destroy the small pigs. Several other programs were started and soon we had a slow recovery. This was the beginning for the farm programs that gave the farmers payment to lay land idle and low interest loans on grain. Yields of grain were still very low in the early thirties. We hadn't started using fertilizer yet and hybrid seed corn wasn't on the market. It didn't make much difference what you did, thirty-five to forty bushels per acre was all you could raise. With the farm programs we started plowing under some legumes and raised the yields when we got enough rain. But most of the early 1930's were hot and dry.

One year we lost about our entire wheat and corn crop to chinch bugs. They hatched out in the wheat and then moved into the corn. We fought them several ways, but it was a losing battle. With all the ups and downs the farmers had through these years, it is a wonder that they didn't quit farming and get into something else, but at the time there wasn't anything else to do. Extra farm help was one dollar a day plus your dinner. During the hot summer months, there was wheat and oats to shock then thresh and bale the straw out of the straw stack. In the fall, several farmers hired help to shuck the corn. Most of them were paid two cents a bushel for shucking and scooping it into the crib. That was a long drawn out job. We tried to finish by Thanksgiving if the snow and rain held off long enough.

The year I helped shuck for dad (1936), a hired man and I shucked 160 acres of corn by hand and scooped it in the crib. We shucked two large loads every day, six days a week, for about ten weeks. Farming during these years was hard, slow work. You earned every penny you made. During the winter months we had livestock to take care of. Hogs and sheep needed bedding and the horses were fed even though we didn't work all of them. There was always work for at least one horse team: Hauling manure, hauling feed to other livestock, repairing fences, etc. Milking around 20 cows every night and every morning was a job I didn't like, but it had to be done at 4 to 5 o'clock each morning and a 5 to 6 o'clock in the afternoon.

Soon after the first of January, 130 head of sheep would start having lambs. This took a lot of hours looking after them. When you have livestock, there's always a lot of work everyday. Working with the sows and sheep was interesting. New pigs and lambs made nice pets, especially the orphan lambs. During these years (20's and early 30's), we drove a horse and buggy to school at Divernon. In 1932, my dad bought a Ford Town sedan auto. The next year we started driving it to school sometimes. The last years I helped my dad farm; I drove a W-30 I. H. C. tractor with steel wheels. I did a lot of custom work plowing with the help of Bill Wall, my brother in-law to be. We baled hay, threshed grain, picked corn and combined grain after purchasing an I. H. C. 123 self-propelled combine. These were hard working years with not much money earned. The custom work kept us from going broke during the hard times of poor yields and low prices.

In 1937, when Claris and I started farming, grain prices were starting to go up. The weather became better with more rain, everything was on the upswing and times gradually got better. Soon new and better seeds were introduced, along with fertilizers. Yields began to climb every year. Even the prices were higher. Farmers were finally earning good money. New and larger machinery was purchased. Farmers were soon farming thousands of acres of land. Living on the farm was more like city life except you had more privacy.

David W. Dickey, Sr.