Monday, 16 August 2010 10:35

75 Years Ago Late Spring/Early Summer 1934

Written by  Maurice Telleen
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I find this photograph from J.C. Allen & Son of LaFayette, Indiana, a perfect introduction to this timeframe. I have no idea where it was taken, but I have a clear recollection of the massive dust storms of the spring and summer of 1934. I was in grade school at the time and can recall school being cancelled at noon so the buses could get the rural kids home early. As for the townies, I suppose they were on their own, but Gowrie, Iowa, wasn't so big that they couldn't find their own doorsteps.

Our parents had a rough row to hoe in 1934. First it was the Great Depression with the markets dropping through the floor, unemployment spreading like the plague and then the sight of so much topsoil from your fields sailing off to parts unknown, along with blistering heat. It was almost too much to bear and to some they became known as the Dirty 30s … and I think '34 was about the bottom of it.

Strangely enough, or actually not so strangely, the mid-'30s were not bad times for draft horsemen. There was actually a renewed interest in the colt raising business with more stallions registered for public service by the division of Stallion Registrations, Iowa Department of Agriculture, than in the years immediately preceding. Iowa had a lot of well-established stables of Percherons, Belgians, Shires and Clydesdales. In addition, the Holbert Horse Importing Company from northeast Iowa was importing stallions from Belgium and France by the carload. The draft horse business was actually pretty lively in the mid-'30s.

"These stockyards are a blazing furnace, the Exchange, International Amphitheatre, Stock Yards Inn, Purebred Records Building, Drover's Journal, both banks are gone." These words from James Poole, the Gazette's market editor, on Saturday afternoon, May 19, 1934, and glued many farmers and feeders to their radios, keeping them there far into the night to learn the extent of damage to the world's greatest livestock market.

There were also a lot more farms and farmers. In our area there were generally four or five farms per section … a section being 640 acres. That meant there were neighborhoods. Real neighborhoods, that involved threshing rings, silo filling, hay making and trading help on fencing, putting up a building, harvesting, etc. The list is almost all inclusive.

I asked Jeannine, who is my wife and about my age, if she remembered having school let out for dust storms in 1934. She said she did not, but that where she came from, south of Des Moines, they had more sense than to plow up every piece of ground and cut down every tree like we did in northern Iowa.

And with that I will switch gears and "do my thing" on Samuel Guard.
An interesting man remembered,his memory triggered by an accidental look back at the December 1932 Breeder's Gazette. (It had fallen off a shelf. I was merely picking it up.)

Sam Guard was a great editor, a colorful writer, and had about as much brass as the Marine Corps Band. I read his stuff with admiration as a kid. But I didn't meet him until he had become an old man. I had written a "Dear Mr. Guard" letter when I was about 12 years old (1939-40 or thereabouts) asking if he could send me one of their old holiday numbers. It would have been easy for him to ignore that kid letter but, instead he responded with a "Dear Maurice" letter and a copy of their 1915 Holiday issue.

That old issue was a revelation to me. What a great paper it had been! And what a lifetime of struggle Sam Guard put into salvaging and sustaining it. That 1915 issue made his current issues look like pygmies. It never regained its former size or stature and eventually folded. But Sam Guard was no failure. The times had simply passed his kind of farm paper by, and his style of journalism too.

Now, about that skinny little December 1932 issue. It was Christmas time and a good many stockings that had been hung with care would, of necessity, remain nearly bare. Tough times. Gonna' get tougher.

Franklin Roosevelt had just been elected President. So, naturally, Sam wrote to him … man to man. And FDR responded with a note that Sam then printed in that December issue as "Greetings from the President-Elect". Roosevelt's note was about twenty words long. Sam's commentary consumed the rest of the page.

FDR had identified himself as a "raiser of livestock" in that brief note. So–he was one of us. It was true that there were Guernsey cattle on his estate. Whether he even knew the name of the herdsman or could distinguish a Guernsey from a Jersey is unknown. The important thing was that Sam and Frank were sort of fraternity brothers. It was a "Sam has a stockman's paper and Frank has Guernseys" sort of thing; a little like a reporter attending a dinner involving 600 people, including the president, and then filing a story about "Dining with the President."

It is evident that Sam Guard was painfully aware of what the Gazette had been (he went to work for it as a young man) and the depths to which it had fallen. But he refused to be discouraged. If he ever was, he refused to share it. Disgusted? Angry? That was different. He was perfectly willing to share those sentiments when the shoe fit.

About 35 years later, give or take, after writing that kid letter to Sam Guard, I met Sam Guard in the flesh. By that time I had become secretary-manager of the National Dairy Cattle Congress in Waterloo and would annually attend the fair manager's meeting in Chicago. It was conveniently scheduled in those days to be held the same week as the International Livestock Show down at the yards. That was quite a temptation to play hooky from some of the fair meetings and go out to the show. I frequently succumbed to that temptation.

Sam Guard came to those meetings to present the Breeder's Gazette trophy to the fair that had–in his estimation–done the best job with livestock. This was the 1960s and frankly the trophy had lost its luster … just as the Gazette had. But it gave him an excuse to come up to Chicago and mingle with some old friends and make some new ones. He could also go out to the big show at the stockyards and do likewise there. In some respects it must have been painful for him because the Gazette was on a slippery slope. And so was the show heading that way. And the fair managers have long since moved their meeting to that great livestock center … Las Vegas, Nevada.

So that is how and when we finally met. In the old Sherman Hotel in Chicago. He was tall and thin to the point of being bony, and old. I was in my mid-40s and not tall. I liked him immediately. I liked his style (which was not very stylish) and the way he wrote, and the way he ambled, the way he talked and the way he thought–most of the time. Next time – J.C. Ritchie, Stratford, Iowa


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