(From newspapers and livestock publications of the day and a kid's memory.).)
Our country, and the world, was in the grip of the Great Depression of the early '30s. Sort of like right now … but very different, too. One way in which it was completely different is that a much higher percentage of the population was involved in farming.
My dad was a lifelong farmer and it was by choice. He loved farming, it was his heritage. Nearly all of it was done with live horsepower. He did have an old McCormick-Deering tractor which was drained and put up on blocks every winter … it was strictly for plowing and occasional belt work. And he might have used it to pull the binder during oat harvest if the weather was beastly hot. Who can remember everything? Or wants to. For instance, I flunked second grade about 75 years ago. But this is about my parents and their hard times of the early '30s.
It took a World War and a rapidly vanishing labor pool of young men with farm backgrounds into the armed forces to coax him into buying a row crop tractor. I suppose it was about 1941 and I was disgusted with him. I pointed out that we had laid our corn by (everybody cultivated three times) before ANY of the tractor farmers around us. But he wasn't accustomed to taking advice from juveniles. He would, however, cut their hair if they lived at our house. So he was also a barber but without a barbershop … "those kids don't need a town haircut … that costs money."
|Temptation, grand champion mare at the National Belgian Show, Waterloo, Iowa, for Earle Brown, Minneapolis, Minnesota.|
|Balzac de Bogaerden, the chief stock horse for Charley Wentz & sons, Kirby, Ohio. Judging from his name I'd say he was imported. This picture was taken at the International in Chicago in the early '30s.|
|The Best Five Belgian Stallions group at the 1931 International Livestock Show exhibited by the Holbert Horse Importing Co. of Greeley, Iowa. Just between Tom Holbert, Harry Linn, and professors at Iowa State such as A.B. Caine and Dean Kildee, the draft horse had a lot of eloquent defenders.|
|Here is the winning Best Five Percheron stallions group at the 1935 International Livestock Show in Chicago. They were exhibited by George A. Dix and Son from Delaware, Ohio. They were all greys.|
It was very much a LIVESTOCK FARM. I don't think he ever sold any oats, corn or hay. The inventory consisted of from 6 to 8 mares (which included one light horse type but she was not too proud to help pull a cultivator either), and very often a foal or two … with maybe a coming yearling or 2-year-old for sale. There were plenty of farmer-stallioners in the area. The breed thing varied from community-to-community but people such as the Holberts from Greeley, Iowa, were bringing stallions over from both Belgium and France–mostly Belgians, and we had two families (McCrackens and Fogleman), both good friends to my dad, in the community that were major players in the Shire breed, so … there was sort of a smorgasbord of stud horses around.
As for the other barnyard species, the stanchions were full of cows with a Swiss bull in the pen. There were about a dozen brood sows with both spring and fall farrowing, and a flock of laying hens, generally of the fairly heavy breeds which my mother had a relationship with. She presided over her chickens and garden. With home butchering and an abundant garden we ate very well through the "dirty '30s." All three of us boys hated to clean the chicken house … preferring "real manure" to chicken shit. (That is not profane–it is an expression that goes well beyond poultry or poetry.)
At that time the draft horse and mule were so important in the overall scheme of things that the state of Iowa recognized it by providing the Iowa Horse & Mule Breeders Association with a publicly-paid field secretary and an office in the state capital building.
His name was Harry Linn and he was quite a guy. A good man and he quickly corralled nearly every county in the state (we have 99) to promote a 4-H Colt Club program. Needless to say, that position no longer exists … and hasn't for some time. Jeannine grew up without brothers but her dad was a kindred spirit in many ways to my own. The truth is the draft horse and mule did make a major comeback in the 1930s. Stallion enrollment increased. Simply stated, the horse was very important to many farmers and their families. Then, along came WWII and the whole dynamic changed.
I'm going to close this very personal column with photos of a few of the draft horses that were on top during that brief draft horse and mule renaissance of the 1930s. In many respects it is two different worlds.
POSTSCRIPT TO 75 YEARS AGO
From the December 1932 Breeder's Gazette
ALL IN THE SAME BOAT
"One hot day in July, 1919, top hogs sold on the Chicago market for $23.60 per cwt. One cold day in December, 1932, top hogs sold for $3.25 per cwt., the lowest point in 54 years. Swift & Company's annual report shows a loss for the first time in 21 years–($5,337,788) as compared with a profit of $8,235,301 last year.
Is that postscript from 1932 relative to our present debacle? I suppose "yes and no" is the answer. Either way, look for more about Sam Guard in this slot next issue.