Monday, 16 August 2010 12:17

75 Years Ago Late Spring/Early Summer 1933

Written by  Maurice Telleen
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(From the general news sources of the times, the 1933 Iowa Yearbook of Agriculture and the Breeder's Gazette.)

Three interesting notes from May 1933: 1-Adolph Hitler, that scourge of mankind, busted all the trade unions in Germany. Extremely conservative types elsewhere were not totally critical of that particular act; 2-It was revealed that J.P. Morgan, one of the wealthiest Americans, dead or alive, had paid no income tax for either 1931 or 1932.This did not surprise everyone; and 3-Maurice Telleen, co-founding editor of The Draft Horse Journal, celebrated his 5th birthday on the 8th of May, 1933. There were seven or eight close friends and associates present, all male, invited to a birthday party at the E.L. & Maude Telleen farm near Gowrie, Iowa. Most (maybe all) of these close associates were of Swedish descent, either in whole or part.

With the prodding of president-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Congress of the United States was kept busy passing one measure after another to alleviate the effects of the fiscal depression which was paralyzing the country. On May 31, upon FDR's nudging, the NRA (National Recovery Act) was passed to aid the struggling economy. The W.P.A. (Works Project Administration) was launched. Locally, this included a new school and a great gymnasium in nearby Harcourt, Iowa–a small town in the vicinity of where I grew up. This venue quickly became the home of the Webster County (Iowa) Basketball Tournament. It was a very minor part of an enormous undertaking called the WPA. The "comfortable" (and there weren't many who were) made fun of the project. For others, it was a shelter from the storm.

By June of 1933, the American Federation of Labor stated that over 1.6 million jobs had been created since March! Sure that included things like the Harcourt School, but more importantly it restored a measure of respect to those thereby employed.

Another facet of the same thing was the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corp–commonly known as CCC camps. It was sort of a civilian agency for young men in khaki–with jobs such as reforestation and work in the parks of the country. It was a great program for thousands of young men who might well have become bums without it.

Was FDR and his determination to jump start this country considered a blessing by everyone? Of course not, many old line conservatives hated him. But then, as previously noted, some of them hadn't even paid any income tax. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures–and FDR (who was not perfect ... just ask Eleanor) somehow summoned the courage to meet those times. Love him or hate him, and many did on both sides of that question–he met the awful challenge of 1933 like a true champion.

And that Harcourt gymnasium was sure a great place to play basketball in the 1940s. So much for one man's view on our political past. We will now shift gears to the business of farming and the draft horse trade of 75 years ago.

For a less personal and wider look at 1933, I am going to an unlikely source–the 1933 Iowa Yearbook of Agriculture. These were desperate times–no more "birthday parties" for that year! Following are a few excerpts from the Iowa Ag yearbook of 1933:

"The speed shown by the Iowa Department of Agriculture in initiating the Corn Loan Program, resulted in the organization of 100 county warehouse boards and the training of 600 official corn sealers in a week's time will probably never be equalled by any other organization. Within two weeks, more than 2,000 Iowa farmers were receiving corn loans at 45¢ per bushel amounting to approximately a million dollars a day. The first corn loan in the U.S. under the new program was made in Pocahontas County to W.W. Eral, 24 hours after the forms were printed in Washington."

This loan of 45¢ per bushel was first suggested by Louis Murphy, Iowa's junior senator at that time, to help relieve the depressed condition of Iowa farmers and to head off the desperation of Iowa farmers that was turning into violence with the burning of several railroad bridges, blockading of roads, etc. Later that year, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (another New Deal agency) was authorized to extend a commitment of 150 million dollars to make loans or purchase the papers of corn producers secured by warehouse certificates issued earlier. It was called "priming the pump" and keeping the shotguns unloaded. Grim times.

On a little different note the Yearbook carried the 22nd annual report of the Stallion Registry Division of the Iowa Department of Agriculture. In 1933, for the first time in 20 years, the constant decrease of stallions and jacks enrolled by the State Department of Agriculture was reversed with a total enrollment of 1,772 for 1933 as compared to 1,619 for 1932. The reason was simple–tractors run on purchased inputs (gas & oil), horses run on home-grown fuel. Draft horse breeders, here in Iowa and elsewhere, were in for a few good years!

As Harry Linn, field secretary for the Iowa Horse & Mule Breeders Association, pointed out, "One good brood mare on each of Iowa's (then) 212,000 farms will assure an adequate supply of economical power and will utilize crops grown on more than 600,000 acres that are now being used for other purposes." It didn't work out quite that way!

My father, who was raising a draft foal every year at that time, milked about a dozen cows and sold cream to the local co-op creamery–and also served on that board for years. There were 486 creameries doing business in Iowa in 1933. Most of them local co-ops. He was also Farm Bureau to the core.

Iowa's towns were very different than today. There was the local creamery, the grain elevator (also likely a co-op), a couple gas stations (at most), a consolidated school and most everybody could walk to work or wake-up surrounded by it. Nobody commuted to Fort Dodge, for example.

That is probably all any of you can stand about rural Iowa in 1933 so I'll move on to the farm press of those times with some illustrations and prices from the Breeder's Gazette, of course.

This assessment of Summer 1933 will be considered too grim by many. It didn't seem grim to me at the time–we had a heck of a good birthday party, but I know for our parents and their farming neighbors and relatives and the folks in towns and cities too, they had a very tough row to hoe.

Since that time the rural America scene has changed completely and contrary to some assessments, it hasn't all been "gee-whiz wonderful." Some of it has been downright destructive. If you don't believe me, just ask Gene Logsdon.
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