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Please Share Your Dust Bowl Memories

October 15, 2007 by sdc


One the most common ways in which readers have been participating in the 2007 One Book -- One Lincoln events is by sharing their own personal or family Dust Bowl memories.

We'd like to encourage you to continue sharing such stories, beyond the limitations of a small book discussion group -- please feel free to reply to this discussion thread on the One Book -- One Lincoln Blog, and share your tales from that period with fellow on-line readers.

Are you one of the gritty, determined midwesterners who survived the ecological and economic nightmare that was the Plains states in the 1930s and 1940s? Or are you a generation or two removed -- can you recall your parents' or grandparents' stories of what they went through? What memories were stirred up for you by reading Timothy Egan's book, The Worst Hard Time?

Please feel free to post comments, as lengthy as you wish, so that others in our community can continue to learn and be informed via today's technological method of oral history!



Tagged in: dust bowl, "One Book One Lincoln", OBOL, history,

Comments 4

Della Pederson said:
Two Courageous Women
Recollections of Della (Specker, Blumhagen, Cornwall) Pederson in July, 2007. age 83, of the trip her family took when she was 12 years old to escape the dust bowl of the midwest during the thirties.


Picture I. * Specker truck at a stop in Wyoming. August 24,,1936
On August 21, 1936, we Speckers were loading our family essentials into a truck house that my Dad had built on the back of a new Chevy truck and a long trailer to be towed behind. He was the primary engineer of plans to send two families from Ree Heights, S D. - a small town with about 250 population to Wenatchee, WA. But he was not going along. My Mother with six children and Henrietta Paine with 8 children would travel together from the center of SD to Wenatchee, WA with their children ages 4 years to 19 years of age. Seventeen of us were to be there in time for school to start. That was important in those days! Henrietta’s husband had left in early July and was already working as a mechanic in a service station. My Dad stayed behind to sell about two hundred head of livestock, our farm equipment.... and clean up after us. He would drive out in the spring.


Picture II. *
Rearranging the Paine’s trailer load on graveled highway in South Dakota

Henrietta and her oldest son, out of high school one year were the drivers of their Nash towing their trailer that was packed higher than our truck house. Nine people crowded into the car - those that didn’t fit could ride in the truck house with our family. Some laid on the bunk beds and some sat in kitchen chairs.

We younger kids liked to sit on a kitchen chair over the rear axles of the truck and bounce freely in the small open area as we rolled over the graveled wash board roads of SD and Wyoming. We could also ride on the top bunk made of double size beds and look through two small windows on each side of the cab to anticipate what was coming next. My oldest brother, Dwight, had just graduated from high school and these two young men and our courageous mothers shared the responsibility of traveling five days on unknown roads along winding rivers and climbing over the mountains of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
Picture III. *
Along the Yellowstone River in Montana.

We left SD after the depression during the dust bowl years. Without rain for years, the land was barren without pastures for the animals. As farmers, I don’t recall that we were ever hungry during the depression but I recall the winds from the west blowing so hard and the dust so thick outside we couldn’t identify the fence posts that enclosed the garden that was about 8 feet away. A table knife was wedged flat against the door into the door frame to keep the door shut when the wind was at its worst.
Picture IV. * Storm cloud approached from the west

Such a wind storm approached with fury on the eve of our departure after our goods were loaded. Dad directed us to go to the root cellar to take cover. Dwight parked the truck on the protected side of the granary but never made it to the cellar before the wild wind arrived. For those twenty minutes or so, we feared for his safety. When it was over, he was okay but the wind had twisted the sliding double wide door off its rollers on the granary and it had been flying helter skelter around the yard.

I recall a few other childhood memories: My Dad was rather resourceful and brought in income from other than farming. He served as an auctioneer for neighborhood sales - including our own that summer. He had previously built several barns in the area. Another venture was to lay a floor on the top floor of the granary for barn dances which offered Saturday night socials with box suppers and an opportunity for neighboring musicians to combine their talents and “jam”. There were no rehearsals except for a few minutes prior to dance time. As I recall there was a piano, drum, a violin and a school kid who played the bones and maybe a horn,. The bones were quite unique. They were made from uniform lengths of animal ribs. They were cleaned , dried and cut about eight inches long . Two were held loosely in each hand, one on each side the middle finger. By shaking the hands in time to the music, they added their clickety clack. We danced the polka, schottische, waltz’s and my Dad would call the Virginia Reel and other square dances. All ages were on the dance floor.

We lived eight miles from a town of 250, attended a one room country school through the eighth grade. We either walked three miles to get there or in cold weather we rode horse back or in a covered cart. Large rocks that had been heated in the oven through the night kept our feet warm in winter temperatures.

One of my most disliked jobs was to round up the cattle in the summer on horseback for milking. Usually cows came to the barn when it was milking time. But it seems on hot summer days they liked the only shade around provided by a large patch of sunflowers. Too young to handle a saddle, I’d ride out bareback, gather a few strays and finally drive the cows out of the sunflowers. Invariably, the horse would lie down and roll, seeking relief from the scratches of the sunflowers. You guessed it, I had to walk back about half mile to the barn.

Back to the road - heading west. Picture II (repeat) *

The trailer behind the car was very overloaded and before we got through SD, Paine’s had a total of 4 flat tires or blow outs. And there were an additiioinal 5 flats before we reached our destinatioin. At one time, their hitch gave way and the trailer broke loose and continued rolling in the ditch coming up along side their car that had come to a stop. We stopped frequently so the top-heavy load could be stabilized. At night, we most often stopped at trailer camps. We lifted the two burner summertime kerosene stove on the farm, out of the truck house and Mom would prepare supper for us while some would make sandwiches for the next day. When we stopped in Wyoming at a relative of the Paine’s, we were loaded with tomatoes. They were a treat inside our sandwiches. Our day started between 4 and 5 am during the cooler hours... there was no Air Conditiioning back then.

In SD my mother drove our sedan but after becoming so frightened on the mountain roads she refused to do so out west. As we came down the western side of the Rockies, skimming the shore line of Lake Coeur d’Alene, she insisted that my brother stop and allow her to walk. Closer to our destinatioin, as we started down Pine Canyon, she wanted to do the same but that stretch was was too long and she continued the ride with her eyes blindfolded. As we drove south along the Columbia River, we marveled at the apples hanging on the trees in the irrigated apple orchards. We had never seen anything like them before! This green, cool valley appeared to really be the land of milk and honey.

Picture V. *
We arrived! Marvin, age 4, on Fruit Row.

In Wenatchee we parked on fruit row, one block from where Henrietta’s husband worked.

He guided us up First St. to Delaware to a huge house that the two families shared for two weeks when Paine’s found a house of their own. Our family moved a little later into a small apartment next door. The truck house was removed from the truck and parked by the back entry and served as a bedroom for the boys and an uncle who had made the trip with us. Only single, plywood walls protected them from winter weather.
Picture VI. *
Nineteen people shared this home for two weeks. It had two bathrooms
but we shared one kitchen.



Apple picking brought in unpredictable income and my mother depended on checks from my Dad. But banking then was not electronic and she usually waited up to three weeks for a check to clear before she had food money. We learned to eat apples every possible way there was to fix them - apple salad, apple sauce, baked apples, apple dumplings, apple crisp, fried apples, fresh apples. At times, we had apples three times a day for several days in a row. Nevertheless they remained a treat! After apple harvest, Dwight went to the stock yards in Seattle to shear sheep before their slaughter. He stayed at the Y. In a couple weeks, he called home, broke. When he put the $20 bill which my mother had sent into his billfold -- he found a $10 bill. He was quite irritated at himself for having had to go hungry needlessly for several days.

My Mother got a job across the street in a rooming and boarding house. She made beds, cleaned and cooked. That was fine until a fire shut it down in February.

When my Dad arrived in April, he looked over the structure and found it to be sound so he bought it and rebuilt it into our family residence and five additional apartments. It was our home for 28 years. Both of them died there and the rental of apartments had given them retirement income. He not only prepared a home for us but he established his reputation as carpenter.

My first day of school was quite traumatic. Henrietta took the three grade school children down the hill to register them. Meanwhile my mother with her four year old accompanied the six who were in junior high and high school up the hill. She moved from line to line to encourage us and made sure we were in the right place. After having gone to a one room country school with 12 kids in 8 grades, and not yet a teenager, I was literally speechless as I stood in line along with hundreds waiting for the doors to open.

School was a lonely place for me. I grew up without neighbors and didn’t know how to make friends. We found a church home and I was given moral support by my Sunday School teacher. My associations with Christian Endeavor prompted me to go to Whitworth College which provided me with a welcoming environment.

I finally felt I belonged to this new world.


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The following pictures were saved as Quick Time Images Sorry my pictures are not accepted in this format. If I could have another address perhaps I can send them through. Della Pederson




Admin Comment
Scott Clark said:
Della,

I'm sorry your pictures didn't come through. Due to the way this particular blogging software works, the only way to embed photos in a posting is to have them stored on the library's server. If you'd like to send your photos to bookguide(at)lincolnlibraries.org, I can upload them and post them as a separate entry in this discussion topic.

Scott C. / One Book One Lincoln blog moderator
Victoria Murchison said:
My grandmother told me a story of how her husband would stand on line awaiting his turn to milk the cows that were awaiting slaughter. I'm looking for further evidence of this, particularly a picture of such a scene. I find it a fascinating story of survival and would like to learn more.
Grace Lundmark said:
I have recently written a paperback novel, published by Tate Publishing of OKC, OK, titled, "Chloe May, Daughter of the Dust Bowl." Although I wrote it as a novel in order to construct the dialogue, it is the true story of my mother as she grew up in the Oklahoma Panhandle of the 1920's and '30s. The Whitehurst family faced near starvation and absolute poverty during the Depression and droughts of the Dust Bowl. Their hopelessness and despair was interspersed with laughter and fun, and finally, a way of escape. I felt their story should be told. The book may be ordered from Tate Publishing, or from Amazon.com

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