Lawrence Schaub: Drought and Dust
The harsh conditions of the Great Depression were made even more difficult for farm families by the severe drought that began in the early 1930s and continued for nearly a decade. In the plains states, strong winds picked up valuable topsoil from the fields, creating black clouds that sailed across the prairie, leaving dust in their wake. Young Lawrence Schaub of West Central Minnesota remembered the storms of the Dust Bowl in his memoir, "Another Time, Another Place."
During the time on our farm we experienced a terrible drought, which lasted several years. It also happened to coincide with the Great Depression which all conspired to make conditions very difficult. Whether or not the drought had anything to do with the depression, I am not sure. I do know that many farmers lost their farms during this period. There were no government programs to help farmers in those days. Banks ended up owning much of the land lost by farmers.
Dust storms were quite frequent and were a frightening thing to see, at least from a small child's perspective. When a dust storm moved into our area you could see this huge black cloud of dust coming right at us. We always ran into the house when we saw this cloud coming. When the storm hit our farm the sun would dim considerably and we would barely be able to see our barn, which was about 300 feet from our house. At times it would become so dark inside our house we would light the lanterns to provide adequate light in the house. No one went out of the house during these storms unless it was absolutely necessary. My older brothers would place handkerchiefs over their nose and mouth in the event that they had to tend to the livestock. The little ones stayed put in the house.
I can remember being frightened by the darkness during supposedly daylight hours. You could hear the wind howling outside and the dust and dirt blowing through the windows. During these storms, dust would get inside the house and cover everything in there.
After a storm ended we would go outside and view the landscape. Dirt from the storm would drift into banks, much like a snowstorm, only not as large. Most of the fence on our farm eventually became buried by dirt banks. Tumble weeds, which were plentiful, would roll with the wind and become hung up on the fences. The tumbleweeds would in turn catch the drifting dirt much like a snow fence does in the winter. As I mentioned above, eventually the fences would become buried by the dirt and we would be able to walk right over them.
Livestock suffered terribly during this time. It is hard to believe now, but they would eat just about anything, including thistles and even tumbleweeds. Field grain would be planted each spring as normal, however we would get very scant rains. The grain would come up and grow to a small height then no more rain for months. The livestock would be pastured on the little grain that did come up and they subsisted to a certain extent on this field.
I don't remember any crops growing to maturity on our farm in those years. The soil on the Westport farm was quite sandy and light thus very susceptible to the windy and dry conditions.
Schaub, Lawrence, Another Time, Another Place. Copyright 2006, used with permission of the author.