Ford County Dust Bowl Oral History Project
A Kansas Humanities Council grant project
Interview: Clayton Hall
Interviewer: Brandon Case
July 29, 1998
Brandon Case: Could you tell me your name?
Clayton Hall: Clayton, Clayton Hall.
BC: Where and when you were born?
CH: October 2nd, 1920.
BC: And where at?
CH: At Minneola, I’m definitely a Minneola character.
BC: What did your family do there while you grew up?
CH: My father was a well driller and sold windmills; and I helped him put ‘em up until I got ready to go to college. That was my occupation, so I got a way to got to college, I helped with drilling wells and putting up windmills.
BC: When did you start helping?
CH: Oh, I went with him; my mother died when I was about three, so I went with him from time to time. She passed away, and so, even though I didn’t help him sometimes, why I was accompanying him so I knew all about it anyhow. He directed me pretty early on working on windmills, so I probably worked on windmills at ten years old anyhow, yeah.
BC: So, you were workin’ on them right there, after the storms?
CH: And ‘course, involving in the dust storms, probably one of the, out little town of Minneola was 600 then and there was very little entertainment, you had to make your own entertainment. Particularly on Sundays was going down to the stockyards and in those days, they trail herded all the cattle up, they didn’t haul ‘em in trucks; they didn’t even have trailers made for cattle. And so, on Sunday afternoons particularly, why there’d be sometimes 30 or 40 guys down there and we’d play tag on those dern boards. There were 2 X 12’s and there, there was these great big posts up there ad we’d had to run on top of those posts; if we touched the ground, that was illegal. And we’d get on those big gates the had on they different pens and we’d swing across and then they had, uh boards on the top of it, the things, and you could hand-walk across that. It was about six foot high, it’s a wonder some of us didn’t get killed.
But anyhow, one nice Sunday afternoon, why we was down there, a bunch of us, playing tag on the fences and we got tired of that, so, one guy says, “Hall”, says, “Why don’t you go home and get our baseball bat and we’ll have a baseball game.” We had a pasture between [inaudible] and our house. And so I said, “I will”. And I just got the baseball stuff, and started out of the house, and it hit, the dust hit. Well, I just got in the middle of the road, which was less than a block away from the stockyards, and all of a sudden, I couldn’t see. I though, well I just got some dust in my eyes. I rubbed my eyed, and it didn’t do any good, I finally got down on the ground and stuck my nose in, on the ground, and I still couldn’t see. Well, one of the one of my buddies lived up across town, and he crawled in a in a rancher’s pick-up truck, and he swears to this day, that he could not tell the difference between he windows and the metal on the cab; there was absolutely no light. And I done same thing, I got down and I though I could see, but there was the highway around the place and I was afraid I’d be walkin’ out on the highway. Well, I got down and looked, put my nose to the ground, seen no more light. I t was totally just like being in a salt mine or a coal mine. Uh, it, it lasted about 20 minutes that way. And then it started lightening up enough so I could see to get home. But ‘course every night when the dust was blowing, you’d have to put towels, wet towels on the windows and yeah everything. And static electricity so bad, that if you had a steel windmill tower, you almost didn’t dare touch it, because it would shock ya.
BC: Did that present a problem when you were out workin’ on the windmills sometimes?
CH: Well, when it was like that, we just didn’t go out. And my dad drove wells all the way from from Guymon, Oklahoma to northern Kansas over about 70 years. And he drove city wells and schools, and city wells, and the whole, whole bit. And he’d go well, to the Rock Island Railroad, water wells for the stockyards particularly. BC: All the kind of stuff that would be impacted by the dry years?
CH: Yeah, yeah it was pretty terrible, and you can even feel the grit in your teeth when you ate. And the worst part, well, the dirt cane mainly from Oklahoma, where it was red, the dirt was usually pretty red.
BC: And that storm you were telling me about, was that the big one?
CH: Yeah, that was the big one, I was on a….
BC: So how old were you then?
CH: It was I think June the 7th, if I remember right.
BC: Now, there was an earlier one, that, the ‘black one’ was April 14th.
CH: Well, maybe then it was in April, but it was the worst one we had by far.
BC: How old were you then?
CH: Well, a ‘course, I was probably 10 or 12, probably; my mind might not add up, but to take a figure back, yeah.
BC: Anything else you remember about that big storm?
CH: Well, we’d go to a party and and we’d sometimes we’d get caught at another person’s house and have to stay there until, ‘til the storm broke. No, it was worse right at the first, and, and ‘course when it came in, they was great big rolling clouds which seemed to be vertical pillars, beside the uh….
CH: Yeah, and it was pretty. Pretty bad. But we survived it anyhow.
BC: Now, those growing up years before, before the dust storms set in, what were those years like for you and your family before?
BC: What do you recall about those growing up years? You know, hose first ten years?
CH: Yeah, well, my mother was a telegraph operator, and she got that job because she had telephone experience. And at Rock Island, she came there as a Rock Island Rep. of Personnel, and until she got a family why, before she was married, why then she worked there at the Depot. And it was unusual for a woman to get a job on the railroad, it was real unusual because they just didn’t hire women on the railroad then, but since she had telephone experience my grandfather that raised her, put the first telephone company in Bucklin, Ford, and Mullinville and Kingsdown, and so she had telephone experience. She worked for her father running a telephone exchange, and so, then that’s why she got the job on the railroad because she had telephone experience and ‘course hey didn’t have radio then, it was all wires.
BC: That was down in Minneola?
CH: Yes. Yeah, right we was down there until I came up here to go to Junior College.
BC: Okay, so what, was that about 19…?
CH: 1936 or ’38, I graduated high school in ’38, Minneola High School in ’38.
BC: So, you up until that point lived in Minneola. Do you remember when the Depression hit?
CH: Oh, did I. I tried, so much of a lack of entertainment there in the Summer time, I would ride freights all over the country.
BC: As a young boy?
BC: Where, when, how did you get started?
CH: Just get on a freight train and go, and ‘course, it wasn’t unusual to see anybody because this was during the time of CCC camps and the CC boys didn’t have any way home and some of ‘em were scattered all over the state and I seen as high of 40, 40 bums on a freight train. In fact I got throwed, all of us. All 40 of us got throwed off in La Junta.
CH: They had word that there was a pretty mean, I forget the nickname for him, a railroad bull. And so, the CC boys and I and all the people got off when the train came into the yards and walked through the town about a mile then stood out there waitin’ outside the town for the train to get out. And it was a nice and sunny morning, we was all settin’ up on the railroad tracks there waitin’ for the train to pull out. Some guy that looked like a farmer, he was in blue overalls, come walkin’ out there, he had a bulldog with him and he got about 20 feet from us and he pulled out the biggest 45 I ever seen; he pointed up there and he says, “Now, you sons a bitches,” said, “you stick around here, I’m gonna have you workin’ in the pea farm.” So all of us scatter pretty quick.
CH: But, we ended up in Lamar, all “trackin’” again.
BC: A lot of people on the road?
CH: Oh, there was you mean ridin’ the trains?
BC: Ridin’ the trains….
CH: Oh, yeah I seen 30 or 40 people on one train.
BC: Did you see a lot of transients through Minneola? A lot of people passing through or…?
CH: Uh, yeah, but there again, the CC camp was down at between Kingsdown and Ford, and a lot of them were there.
BC: Did you have many friends that worked with the CCC?
CH: Oh no, I was a different age and so I didn’t didn’t know too many people that way. But, uh….
BC: What would your parents do when they found out you were, had hopped a train, or was this later on?
CH: Oh, he knew I could take care of myself. Oh, sometimes I’d go far East as Kansas City. I went to Denver, Pueblo, all those places. He just, he knew I was capable of taking care of myself, so I’m sure he worried a little, but sometimes I’d be gone two weeks.
BC: How about school during those two weeks?
CH: Well, that was in the summer. Yeah, I didn’t I didn’t play hooky too much when I was in school, but a little.
BC: You mentioned your mother didn’t raise you all your life?
CH: Yeah, she she came to Minneola, and before she was married my father, she lived in a house for women, some lady kept women that couldn’t help themselves and she lived with them. And she, my dad knew that, that two or three of the women in there had tuberculosis and he just begged her not to room there, but she liked those people see, so she just stayed there. And and ‘course, she then developed the tuberculosis, two or three years later. And ‘course, we had no cure for it then, it was just an old nothing, now we do have; in fact it’s pretty uncommon now.
BC: Yeah, so, so your mother was….
CH: She died when I was about three-and-a-half or four.
CH: I remember, but but my dad was real careful he done, when he cooked and washed dishes; why he’d put a disinfectant in the water and cook lots of things. But my mother learned me to name every color of every railroad car on the railroad. And I worked on the railroad, after World, after the I went to work on the railroad after college and I worked two years here. But, and I was going to college and an uncle of mine, who was railroaded out of Newton, he used to run in here and he’d come down, and we had a hose up, up North of the old penny store, well back of McLellan’s [sp?]. We had six boys in there, and two of us were city boys, the rest were country boys and they was pretty wild. We didn’t have Walt pick us up once in a while, ‘course in their spare time, when school started, and they went out and stole all the rodeo flags they could find and signs off the restrooms, and decorated the house with it. It’s a wonder we….
CH: And the six of us roomed in one house there.
BC: That, that was after, after you went to college?
CH: Yeah, and this uncle of mine had all day to loaf, he went on the Stream Liner, coming in in the morning just like it does now, and he spent a lot of time up to out house just to visit. And he’s the one who told me that I could get a job on the railroad. See, the railroad hadn’t hired anybody since ’28, they just used the people that quit to cut down on ‘em. And so he was up at the house one day and he said, “How would you like to go railroad?” I said, “I’d love it”. And he said, “Well,” he said, he told me, he took me around the house and introduced me to the the people down at the roundhouse and I had to lie about my age ‘cause I had to be 21. And so I took, and when you went on the railroad like that, you had to take student trips. Well see, I was going to college, but I got permit to ride the midnight Stream Liner in , which I wasn’t supposed to be doin’ and then catch the freight train back out, to get back the afternoon for school.
CH; And then, ‘course, my uncle told me I’d probably be workin’ 30 days atleast in Harvest, and uh Pearl Harbor came while I was workin’ and uh they sent me out at LaJunta, to work out of LaJunta for the meat rush and then, by the time I for through the meat rush, they was uh fresh on out in California. So I railroaded in the in uh Newton and Dodge and LaJunta, and Bakersfield, California. It run up from Bakersfield to Mojave out in the desert there.
BC: How’d that when you were, the Depression had a pretty big impact on the railroad then?
CH: Oh, yeah, it really went down very, it wasn’t doin’ too much. It was difficult to keep ‘em, but we had more trains. In the Depression Era, we had 13 trains a day through here, 13 passenger trains. Now, we have two, just two yeah.
BC: Those years, when you were about 10, you started helping your father with his waster well, well drilling and windmill.
BC: Did that remain during the summers then?
CH: Well, my, when I was in school, he didn’t let me stay away from school to do that, anytime I wasn’t in school, why it usually is a help. And ‘course, in those days, they had what they called ‘spreading rigs’, which had a big old 900 lb. drill stem and they’d had a thing like a post hole digger only about that long, and he could drill wells from five inch up to 12; he drove city wells up to 12 inches. And ‘course, that was pretty hard work and now they have rotary rigs and you can start at 10 o’clock and have a well done by four. It took him about a week to drill a rig, the deeper he got, this machine would raise the, the drill up fairly slow and take, when you got down to 100 feet, it would take about three minutes to get the drill out, then he’d have to take a crowbar, it was like a post hole digger, he’d take this bar and and knock the dirt out of it. Well, now, a rotary of course pumps the water down the inside and the sand and dirt on the outside and they can drill a well in four, five, six hours.
BC: He did a lot of wells just for a lot of different places?
CH: Yeah, he, uh , he drove wells as far East as Calver [sp?], well mostly farmers. Uh, but he drove wells East of Calver, Kansas, which is beyond McPherson and then also he drove schools wells down at in Hardesty, Oklahoma and Adams, Oklahoma, down there. He drove all over. Now, if he drove for the railroad, they’d furnish a railroad car frame to put his machine on and he had a cook shack like the farmer’s used to have. We’d put us all on a flat car and send us all over.
BC: Oh, you had to travel a lot as you were growin’ up?
CH: Yeah, I had lots of travel.
BC: Did you and your father see, during your travels, you know, during the 30’s? Did you see, encounter, a lot of other folks that were just kinda adrift?
CH: Yeah, everybody was in the same shape - it didn’t make any difference. They were all about the same, nobody was makin’ any money, just gettin’ by. We’d come to Dodge and buy our shoes for $2.98, good shoes for $2.98, overalls was about less than two dollars, now they’re 15 to 20 dollars.
BC: What are some things that you remember people did to get by? Like some of the fellows you talked to out there, maybe while you were traveling?
CH: Well, ‘course, if they done anything, they, I worked in a harvest field when I was 10 or 12 haulin’ wheat, in novelty trucks usually. I worked for various farmers hauling wheat. And ‘course then, the wheat harvest went on about two weeks, now it’s over in about a week.
BC: What were the harvests like in those years?
CH: Well, if you made five dollars a day, you thought you was high on a hog, usually it was about three and a half a day, but you got your meals with it.
BC: For working?
CH: Yeah, and I worked, oh, the first time I really went home, away from home to work the harvest fields, I went to Cunningham, Kansas, because the wheat matured ten days earlier and I and a friend hitchhiked up to Cunningham. And, uh my friend had, his dad run a restaurant and he had a little money, we had about five dollars between us. And we slept in the, in the Phillips station, had a nice grassy lawn in front of it, we slept out on the lawn, and we could get a hamburger for a nickel, a piece of pie for a dime. And we just about run out of money, my friend had about 20 cents left, I didn’t have any; we was settin’ out in front of the grocery store there and the wind was blowin’ and a five dollar bill come rollin’ down the gutter. We went to the movies that night! But the, the kid, he was quite a bit younger; he’s still over here, about six blocks down from here. Still a good buddy of mine, but he chickened out and come home, and I worked the whole harvest. And then one of the guys I worked for, I got a job workin’ at a Real Estate office for the summer, drivin’ a guy, he, I drove his car for him, I was 15.
BC: How old were you when you were working down in Cunningham?
CH: Oh, I was still high school age. Yeah, I graduated at 17, so I was probably 15, 16.
BC: How did the farmers fare back then?
CH: Well, the farmer I ran a truck for back in Cunningham, had a good Catholic wife and had a great big family. We had fried chicken every noon, and at night, they brought the food out to us in the fields. ‘Course to get the wheat out of the truck, we had to scoop it with scoops.
BC: No dumps?
CH: No, didn’t have any dumps on trucks then. Now they use dumps on the trucks and can haul 500 bushels, where the old Model T Ford could haul 50 bushel, now some of these semis haul 800 bushels of wheat.
BC: So did the farmers, did most of them make it then?
CH: Yeah, I still remember most of them. In fact, this lady who I farmed down in Cunningham, she just died a few years ago. She, they had three or four boys and, she was a great buddy of mine. She always had fried chicken everyday for supper. Yep, they made us eat our sandwiches and go out in the field when, and they used, have about three, most of ‘em used to have about three harvest ends for small farms, even for small farms.
BC: The farms over that way, did they have better yields than ones down around Minneola?
CH: Yeah their land was a little bit better and, oh it wasn’t any better, they just farmed more intentionally than they did out here. They didn’t have the equipment out here that the ones back east there had.
BC: How far east was that? Cunningham?
CH: Cunningham is the other side of Pratt about 20 miles, and it’s grown, it’s probably doubled in population. It’s a real nice little town. I don’t know anybody back there now, it’s been 30 years ago and that Zuback [sp?] lady I worked for died about a year ago. I don’t even know anybody back there now. But, it was a nice little town.
BC: So, you had a friend that went with you. What did your other friends do?
CH: Well, his dad run a restaurant and he didn’t stay, he never did get a job, he got disgusted and then come home. He wasn’t as hard up as I was, ‘course most of the farmers didn’t have anything bigger, much bigger than Chevy trucks at that time, and if they hold 50 bushels, it was a miracle.
BC: Well, while you were out there, your father was continuing to drill the wells.
CH: Yeah, and one summer I went up to Wichita and caddied golf all summer. It was West Links Golf Course just about where the Air Base is -- not the Air Base -- but the airport. And it was five miles to town and they always left the caddies out there. The caddies just lived out there and they had a lunch stand, and they ate sandwiches and lunch and their folks would come out and get ‘em sometimes on the weekends, on Mondays. But I never did really learned how to play golf, ‘cause you know on Sundays I’d come home and get clean clothes and stuff like that. That was quite an experience.
CH: I caddied, oh about two months out of the summer, at West Links Golf Course. Like I say, it’s out about where the Airport is now; and from there into town, there was nothing ‘til you get to West Street and now it’s filled into Tyler Road and beyond.
BC: Back in Minneola during the school year, you’d be there for that?
CH: Yeah, I played hooky quite often. I don’t know why they’d let me do it. I was pretty good in most subjects and so I was able to make grades. I don’t know why they let me play hooky but they did.
BC: Was there much of an impact with the dust storms during the school year?
CH: Yeah, they closed school a time or two when, if it looked like it was gonna be bad. You know it depended on the dust storm. They let school out and run the school buses out early. But, because in most of those instances 20 or 30 minutes where you just couldn’t see anything. It just was totally black, and ‘course you didn’t dare drive and the bad part, like I say, the windmill towers were steel, so you’d get quite a shock just from touching it. The metal would collect enough that it would give you quite a jolt. Well, I wasn’t bashful. I seen quite a bit of the United States, then later, ‘course I ended up in the Army and railroad in the Philippines and Korea.
Then, when I was in Korea, I taught a Photography class at college, the Army sponsored college there. Taught the soldiers in there and we had two other photography teachers, two of ‘em were German boys, so I was workin’ at this school and the Army officer that run this Army school then called me in one day and he said, “Major Anderson wants you to pick somebody to run a photo lab down there, at kind of a city building downtown.” And, so I said that in order to get permission to do that, I had to take a night job as Night CQ in the Army. We went on the railroad we run on it, and so, in order for me to do both jobs, I’d have to hike the five miles out to the railroad yards. So after I done that for about six months, why this Major, who was the head officer for the Special Service in Soule, he called in and wanted me to find somebody for this, to run this photo lab. “Well,” I said, “none of the students I have are qualified, but I’d like to try it myself.” After I got through talking to this Major, he was satisfied with my qualifications and he didn’t have any but one Jeep out for our whole railroad outfit. It was about 180 men and the only Jeep belong to the 1st Lieutenant out there. When this Major got on the phone, why he told the Lieutenant out there that he could use me better then he was using me out there. They told me and I turned in a hurry so from then on I run a photo lab for all the Army there and in Soule. And I lived right in the dark room, down in the basement. There was nobody between me and the Major; I didn’t have any Sergeants to tell me what to do or nothin’. I was only responsible to him.
CH: But he was a magician before he went into the war.
BC: A magician?
CH: And we got a lot of fun out of him. He’d play magic tricks. He’d call people into the office and do all kinds of magic tricks. And he had been a magician, a traveling magician before. One of his favorite tricks was to take a deck of cards and he put this deck of cards, whole deck of cards into a handkerchief and he’d start, he’d hold the top of the handkerchief and pull it up about like that, and you could see the card, this particular card coming out, through the handkerchief, I could never figure that out.
BC: That uh….
CH: The building I worked in, at their Photo place, is now a big Community building in Soule now, so I made it pretty good. I got Army Commendation Medal out of that, for supplying a service for all the Army. I had five kids, three Koreans and two GI’s, working for me. They done the work and I just bossed ‘em. And I got Army Commendation Ribbon out of the thing anyhow.
BC: Well, stepping back into the Dust Bowl and that whole area. What is your earliest recollection of a storm, how old were you?
CH: Well, most people if they could, would get a wet towel or wet rag, and put it over their face. You just almost couldn’t breathe and you had to dust off all the dishes before you ate with them. The dirt wouldn’t stick to the dishes but you’d still have to brush it off. Before you wanted to eat you would have to take a wet towel and get the dust off the dishes. The dust was mostly red, so we knew it was coming from Oklahoma.
BC: Yeah. So, how would your father keep the house clean?
CH: Well, he usually kept a housekeeper when he could afford it. And ‘course, some of the, quite a few of our housekeepers had one or two children. In fact, I'm still contact with some of ‘em.
BC: They lived there with you?
CH: They lived there with me.
BC: So, that was another way some people got by during the Dust Bowl?
CH: Yeah, that and ‘course, usually if they had children, you didn’t pay ‘em very much. I mean, say they got $5.00 a week, they boarding one of the children, then he normally didn’t pay them more than $5.00 a week.
BC: So they got board too that way.
CH: Yeah, they got room and board that way. And sometimes the house was a little crowded, I had a sister so, it was only a three bedroom house and so some of the people had to sleep on the floor.
BC: Do you remember about how old you were when you experienced your first dust storm?
CH: Well, I was probably 10 or 12, I imagine. Yeah, I graduated high school in 1938, then spent three years up here in college because my dad run out of money in the middle of one year of college and I had to drop out. So I spent three years at community college up here.
BC: Do you recall many people, do you remember your classmates changing during that period? Like, do you remember many of your classmates in high school, or in elementary and high school?
CH: Oh yeah, I can remember practically all of ‘em, but I couldn’t think of all of ‘em right now. In fact, most of the time, all the boys were boarding. The last year we was there we rented a house for all the boys that were from Minneola, and one boy was from Ford.
BC: That’s when you were in college?
CH: Yeah, and so I still keep track of most of them.
BC: What about back when you in elementary through middle school and high school, would a lot of classmates leave?
CH: Yeah, a very few of them stayed, um well about two-thirds of them. In fact, a great number of my cousins went out to Haraboro [sp?], and little towns out in Oklahoma to farmed, and some of ‘em ended up rich. They lived out there on the border where there were good crops, some of ‘em ended up pretty wealthy.
BC: They made it through the ‘30’s then?
CH: Yeah, they went out to, well one of the doctors from here in Dodge sent them out there to farm some land he had and this Nesser[sp?] boy went out to farm this land and the farmer paid him for working the land and he put it back in land. He’s dead now, but he owned 27 sections. There’s still signs on the road there, “Hatcher Properties”, just as you leave the state there.
BC: Was that who was wealthy, was that the Doctor?
CH: No, the doctor, Dr. Mellencamp sent him out there to farm. But there again, he also paid him for the farming and ‘course they put the money into $5.00 an acre to buy farmland at that time. Now it’s $200.00.
BC: Did you have any special course that you would take during a dust storm? Like was there anything special that you would do?
CH: Well, no I didn’t take any special courses, I took regular courses. I didn’t want windmill work anyhow. But then I got a chance to go railroading and I never got back to the farm after that.
BC: Now, a lot of people had help from the WPA or CCC?
CH: My dad or none of my family was ever on welfare. My dad owned three well rigs and he just moved which ever one happened to be closer. And the bad part is, we had a 1927 Model T Truck, and we had a 1922 Model T Sedan, and these well rigs were real heavy - in fact they had a 900 pound drill bit and ‘course when they moved the rigs they would lower the arm on it, and then they’d stick this 900 pound drill in; the drill bit in through the machinery. In fact, I still think there’s still one sitting down there east of Bucklin, if you wanna go down there. But anyhow, they had steel wheels on ‘em so we had to double head that well machine; we had to pull it with the car and the truck together. So I got in the car at ten years old. I was driving a Model T Truck at ten years old. You didn’t even have to have a license at that time.
BC: How were some other ways you’d help your dad?
CH: Well, I helped him with everything he done until I got a way to go to college. I mean, I helped him on the oil rigs and you had to haul water in order to drill with this rig, and you had a trailer made out of a Model T and it would hold three 55 gallon barrels. And that was usually my job to haul water and ‘course, if you was unlucky, you’d have to dip it out of some farmer’s water tanks. If you was lucky, you’d have find a hydrant in town to, but that was usually my job to haul water for the rig.
BC: Did that, when it was dry, was it harder to find water, did the water table lower?
CH: Well, no the water didn’t start to lower until there was irrigation around here in Dodge. It’s about 118 to 136 and it may well, it’s barely 100 by the time you get to Kingsdown and Bucklin, it’s closer to 200 feet. The water table would drop 30 feet fast in those days.
In fact, my favorite place to go when I was a kid was St. Jacob’s Well down south of Minneola, and we used to go out there. And it was a National Geographic measured that well, it’s off the highway down to Ashland, and National Geographic said it was 36 feet deep. And I had a real good science teacher in high school when I was a Senior, and we went out and measured it, and it was 19 feet 9 inches. And then later on, I was workin’ with some church groups out there, it was only 4 feet deep. In fact, it’s gonna disappear because it’s in a horseshoe down there, and the dirt keeps falling in, and a lady from Ashland who’s a dentist there got the thing made state park. And some time they’re gonna have to go out with a sand pump and pump that thing out. I don’t know if they ever will or not, but there’s a herd of buffalo out there, so it’s a state park now.
BC: Did the demand for wells increase in the ‘30’s or was it pretty much the same?
CH: Yeah, well ‘course all the farmers had to drill their own wells for sure. And ‘course most of them were windmills. Some of ‘em put - you couldn’t get electricity on a farm then - had to use little one horse gasoline John Deere engines to pump their water, they had a pump jack. Yeah, electricity didn’t reach the farmers ‘til pretty late.
CH: I’d say ’36. Most of the farmers didn’t have electricity, a lot of ‘em had these Aladdin lamps that have a mantle on ‘em.
BC: With the long neck?
CH: Yeah. With the long chimney and had a mantle that glowed real white. They put out a pretty bright light and ‘course, they used that same things in the railroad cabooses for years. Now they don’t have railroad cabooses, but originally railroad cabooses had electricity in them from a generator on the wheels.
BC: What do you recall the weather being like generally then, during the ‘30’s?
CH: Well, it just didn’t rain. We usually got snow in the winter time, but we just didn’t get any rain at all in the summers. In fact, I’d say in the summer we’d have less than ten inch, five inches of rain. But this summer we were real lucky, we’ve been real fortunate, those, those cornfields out there are nine foot tall some of ‘em. ‘Course, they’re all irrigated now, you don’t raise corn un-irrigated now unless you’re a fool. You can get lost in them cornfields now. In fact some of ‘em, you couldn’t walk through if you wanted to.
BC: Do you remember many of the farmers doing any of these practices or what would be your general sense of that. Conservation practices like the improved farming methods, the shelter belts.
CH: Well, that all come later, I had nothing to do with the shelter belts, ‘cause I was in college when they put those in, most of ‘em.
BC: Do you remember the rabbits?
CH: Well, when I was a kid, I bought a rifle when I was about ten and we used to hunt rabbits at night. And you couldn’t go down a mile of country road without running over rabbits. And they were so thick that you just couldn’t get down the road without running over ‘em. And now, the only place in Dodge City that I know of there’s rabbits, is out at the Airport. Uh, they made the grass between the runways, tall on purpose, and there’s a few jack rabbits out there. And ‘course, I’m sure you’ve seen the jack rabbit pictures that the studios put out, where they would enlarge a jack rabbit and put it on a flat car, and they sold a lot of those during rabbit season. And ‘course, some of those rabbit hunts involved two or three thousand, and you weren’t supposed to have guns, so they usually used baseball bats. And ‘course, they’d make a big enclosure, and get ‘em all in there and then get in there with baseball bats, and that was kind of a bloody job. I wouldn’t have wanted that, but they sold some of those rabbits, they sold for fur hats.
BC: Were you able to sell any?
CH: Yeah, they didn’t pay anything for ‘em, they just practically had to get rid of ‘em, there was nothing you could do. Then of course the rabbits do have a disease that killed people and normally now people don’t eat rabbits, wild rabbits anyhow.
CH: But that was another story. They’d put pens as big as, from here to that second house over there, between the trees, and run those rabbits in there, and then they’d kinda build up and jump over the others to get out, it was somethin’ unbelievable.
BC: Did you remember coming into town much for the rabbits?
CH: Uh, yeah, they’d come into town to eat, if it was green. But otherwise, they stayed out in the country, but now cottontails still live here in town, we have several cottontails running around here, but rabbits pretty much stayed out in the country.
BC: You talked about that postcard, with the giant rabbit on the flat bed.
BC: Did people, in that period, what were some of the other humor that would people used to cope, that kind of made light of the situation?
CH: Yeah, when I first started, I run a store for 30 years and the first time it was a partnership of three of us. One of ‘em was a photographer; she made a living selling in those pictures of great big rabbits on a flat car. She’d put ‘em together and paste ‘em together. Now you can do it by computer - she’d paste ‘em together and she sold ‘em. She made a living off those jack rabbit pictures.
BC: Was there other humor that people would use, do you recall much humor?
CH: Yeah, well. I’ve even seen grasshopper pictures where the grasshopper would be up stoppin’ a train. Yeah, all the photo people made a lot of money off those pictures. In fact none of ‘em are in color, but they sold ‘em for ten cents a piece, but they made a quite a deal out of those things.
BC: How did people keep hope alive in the 1930’s?
CH: Well, I don’t know that. I’m surprised they didn’t have more problems psychologically. It was pretty rough, pretty rough. But people are tougher than they think they are. So, I guess that’s how they stood it, just by saying things would be better than it is. So, now go out here and see farmers that have three and four silos and they say that they’re poor. Wished for government help and they own three or four red silos that cost two or three thousand dollars a piece, farmers complain a lot; you’d think they were poor.
BC: What was the greatest lessons of that time for you, the Dust Bowl era?
CH: Well, I don’t remember, I learned a whole lot, it was from experience only. Just hard knocks and experiences mostly.
BC: So, you moved here to Dodge City in 1938, you said? Do you recall many dust storms after you moved here?
CH: No, not as many. Well we had, in 1952, we had some dust storms. We had some dust storms in any of the dry years. This was before the irrigation. When the irrigation things came out, they sprayed the water up in the air and we lost about 30% of it. And now they get the sprays right down practically in the wheat. They got smarter. We don’t use any of them that were they sprayed up into the air anymore at all because it practically would lose a third of it. I used to ride a motorcycle quite extensively and, and you get down wind from the cornfield that was big and tall, it was 20 degrees cooler, just the moisture off the spraying of the water. And ‘course, those sprays actually drag in the corn.
BC: You were telling me that this home has an inch layer of dirt in it.
CH: The dirt’s in the roof of the houses, yeah.
BC: Now, was that a problem back during the ‘30’s?
CH: Everybody had it, and most people never did clean it out. It’s still in this house here. It was moved in from the country into town, and I got the insulated, attic insulated now, but the dirt served as insulation, so I just left it. It was a job putting that insulation in, that’s for sure.
BC: Well, that’s just about all the questions that I have.
CH: Yeah…well thank you. E.L. 8/17/2006