Peeking Into Lake City's Past
History September 1930
Dear Graphic reader, spring of 1930 has arrived, father says farm prices are falling fast, newspapers are predicting a severe depression for farmers. They tell us people in Chicago have lost their jobs and numerous factories are closing down. The Red Cross, Salvation Army, numerous churches and other charitable organizations are serving food to hungry Chicago citizens. They call them "soup lines."
September 1930 has arrived and it's time for school. There is tension everywhere. Father tells us one of our neighbors is going to loose his farm. The insurance company is foreclosing on their mortgage. Jim tells father he doesn't know what to do, he can't sell his crop or livestock and get anything for them. He says the mortgage holding company doesn't seem to care, they are demanding cash payment. Father is also worried, even though he had money in postal savings to meet this year's farm mortgage payment, he may have to default on next year's installment. He says he has enough world-war liberty bonds to make the payment but they are not due for another three years and speculators are offering only 30 cents on the dollar for them. Our Lake City banker told father he doubts if they will be in a position to help him next year because customers who owe them are not paying the bank, therefore they have very little money available. We are praying for things to get better.
Dear reader, are you still with us? It is now September, 1931, another year has passed and we are still holding on. We have very little money and must restrict our spending to the bare necessities. We are selling cream, milk and eggs to some of our friends in town but they haven't much money either. We are able to trade some of our produce for staple food items at the stores. We are sharing our home grown meats with friends and relatives, hogs are bringing about 2 cents a pound at livestock dealers. We trade our products with various people who have things we need, as no one seems to have any money. Dad says that when he reads the papers about our big cities, Lake City people should be thankful they live in a rural community where no one is starving for lack of food, and because most people are willing to help each other.
Father says more people are going to lose their farms because of low prices. The newspapers tell about the Farmers' Holiday movement and how it is spreading over the corn-belt. Today's story is about a farm in northwest Iowa where a mortgage was foreclosed and the farmer's goods and livestock sold at auction. The neighbors made it a penny sale. Everything the auctioneer offered for sale brought a bid of one cent. When the sale ended, the livestock, grain, machinery and household goods were returned to the owner for pennies. The reporter said, " One look at the hard, determined faces of men surrounding the auctioneer discouraged any outsider from raising the bid." At the town of LeMars in northwest Iowa, a district judge tried to stop a penny sale with a legal writ and found a rope around his neck and the other end over a tree limb, and there were plenty of hands willing to pull it tight.
Creameries are being picketed all over Iowa, milk and cream dumped into ditches, tons of butter destroyed by farmers who stopped milk and produce trucks on the way to market. Usually it is a matter of violence by passive, God-loving friends and neighbors, born of desperation in an attempt to call the government's attention to farmers' troubles. Father and I made a trip to one of the stop points on highway 20 near Sioux City. We found milk trucks rolled over in ditches by bands of young farmers armed with shotguns, rifles and revolvers. Milk, eggs, cream and other produce items were destroyed.
It is now late 1932, another year of hard times have passed. Some of our very good friends in a Lake City grocery store have closed their doors. They let so many customers have food on credit who did not pay them it became impossible for them to re-stock their shelves. These good people had money in savings accounts for a rainy day before a local bank went broke but now that is lost. Rumor has it they owe a considerable balance on their beautiful home on north Woodlawn and the Home Owners Loan Company is beginning foreclosure proceedings to repossess the property. They are such fine Christian people we grieve for them and wonder what they will do.
Time really files this summer of 1933, our country is in a real financial mess, several more Lake City merchants have gone out of business and several more of our friends have lost their farms or voluntarily surrendered them back to the mortgage holder. Some have rented them on a crop-sharing basis with cash rent for pasture land and hay ground. These fine people lost their equity, but if they paid $300.00 per acre for the farm and it was half paid off it would not sell for more than $100.00 to $125.00 per acre, so the farm was still mortgaged for more than it would sell for, if a buyer could be found. In spite of economic troubles, people in our community have many things for which they are thankful. As for me, I am at long last an honor graduate of the Lake City West View high school, a member of a class of 31 students who are wondering just how to face the future. Most of us want to continue our education but do not know where the money will come from. It is certain most all of us will have to work our way through college or stay home.
Sometimes I wonder if America is so wicked, the Lord is punishing us. During the past two years we have not had enough rain to produce a real good crop and the dust storms have been discouraging. Dust piles up along the fences, burns your eyes when doing field work, piles up along the window sills and sifts over the furniture and bedding, making it nearly impossible to keep the home clean. But, when we think of our friends in Nebraska, the Dakotas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas who have been forced to leave their homes and farms to search the highways for work and food for their hungry children, I guess we should not complain. Many thousand of acres of what was once good farmland is truly devastated in the states mentioned above. They are suffering a double depression. Here in Calhoun County, when our crop yields are low it will help FDR's farm price program by reducing surpluses. We should thank God that we are only touched by the dust storm blight.
There is a bright side coming up, people are now hopeful that our new president will get things going like he promised during his election campaign. Perhaps the National Recovery Act passed last June 16th will turn the tide. The closing of lake city banks stole the savings from many of our friends and neighbors who were using such savings to sustain life. The newspapers say FDR wants to destroy six million hogs to raise market prices. Father says it is a sin to destroy all that food while millions are starving. However, even though father doesn't believe in destroying food, he is real encouraged abut FDR's farm credit act.
This reform will make it possible for us to re-finance our farm loan that is presently in arrears. Now, father will not lose his farm and our nice home.
Dear Graphic reader, if you are still in the Time Capsule, it is now harvest time, 1934. We are disappointed with this year's crops. On top of all our economic problems, the Lord handed us a drought and a short crop. I guess we are affected more severely by the devastation in the so-called dust bowl states. Last spring we had a short rainfall and severe dust storms that gave mother the shivers. She stuck paper strips along the window-sills, rolled rugs against the doors, but still it sifted in, dry and fine as talcum powder but gritty to taste and touch. The dust left film on dishes in the cupboards and towels stored in drawers, chairs, peoples' faces and hair. We sometimes had to use our car headlights when driving during mid-day. Drifts of dust piled against the fences like snow-sometimes one or two feet deep. When snow thawed last March, the ground was frozen and much of the water ran off. We had only scant showers during April and May and temperatures were abnormally hot. We stirred our ground as little as possible, but we sowed oats, harrowed in the clover and planted corn when the time came. The corn seemed to sprout quite well in spite of the weather, however, in July, when the corn needs and inch of rain every week, we got only a few scattered showers. Often clouds would develop only to leave a very light sprinkle and pass on. Unfortunately, the corn had to contend with more than the drought. Hordes of chinch bugs marched in to attack us. Father saw them as barbarians swarming over our land.
But, more mischief came. Grasshoppers, like locusts in the Bible, came to visit us, settling in our fields. Grasshoppers have a nasty habit of eating just the small stem that fastened the oat kernel to the stalk. We were lucky, our alfalfa hay crop was quite good and the hoppers did not seem to feed on it. So, on top of the drought, chinch bugs damaged our corn and hoppers virtually destroyed our yield of oats.
However, in spite of all our problems this year of our Lord, 1934, father was able to re-finance our farm and we will receive the first corn/hog check from Henry Wallace's farm relief program. This money will help father pay some of his debt obligations and perhaps a little tuition money so I can go to college. Mother insisted we purchase a new battery type console radio for our family to enjoy. We have not been able to afford batteries for our old Atwater Kent, three tuning dial, juice hog with its high speaker horn and raspy sound. We all enjoy Edgar Bergen and his dummy, Charlie McCarthy, Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Kate Smith, Bing Crosby and many others. Network programs are great. As a matter of fact, it's a great time to live, especially for those of us who are young and look forward to a challenging future. I am inspired by Eddie Cantor's radio program on Sunday nights, when he sings his Depression Song which goes something like this: " Potatoes are cheaper, tomatoes are cheaper, now's the time to fall in love - the butcher, the baker, the candle stick maker - knows just what you're thinking of, - etc., etc., etc.,"
Well, friends and neighbors, it seems at this point and time we should perhaps re-enter our time capsule, batten down the hatches and blast off toward home in 1983. After a brief period of recuperation from the pressures of living during the early thirties, we will have our time capsule serviced and re-fueled for a return trip to experience more depression years and the period of time that follows. When we compare the thirties with the eighties, and compare America with other countries in the world, we must of necessity become truly grateful for our forbearers who laid the foundation for our existence as citizens of the greatest country the world has ever known. Let us thank almighty God for our blessings- such is our heritage.