Tuesday, 17 August 2010 09:21

75 Years Ago Late Autumn/Early Winter 1931

Written by  Maurice Telleen
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(From the Breeder's Gazettes of the period, the 1930 International Livestock Show album and general news sources.)

As readers of this column know, the Breeder's Gazette of that particular time would, more often than not, run a picture or painting of a great sire on the cover. This would be followed up with a feature article about the animal, the folks who bred him and/or owned him, and all the good things that had sprung from his loins.

The "improvement through purebreds" philosophy was in full flower. The road to rural prosperity led through cows that produced more milk, steers that gained faster, horses that worked diligently and intelligently and looked good doing it–and so it went with swine and sheep. It was part faith, part formula and it wasn't just that good old magazine; the ag colleges preached pretty much the same doctrine. In the late '20s and early '30s you could almost depend on a great sire of some species to grace that cover.

But I was not prepared for what greeted me on the October 1930 cover. It was a chicken–a Leghorn rooster, to be more precise. But I quickly got used to it. Chickens were an important part of the livestock program on every farm I can recall at that time. They contributed young roosters to the frying pan, the breakfast eggs every morning and the old hens would wind up in the stew pot.

But an equally important contribution was that "egg money!" For it was the small volume sales of eggs, milk or cream that kept most of those farm families in "walking around money." You only sold that good 2-year-old colt once–and you only sent a carload of cattle to Omaha or Sioux City once a year, and only sheared the sheep once a year–but for that all important walking around money, you relied on the dairy cow and the hens. They provided you with a little cash for Saturday night shopping.

It even colored the language. My parent's Saturday night excursions were not to shop–but to trade. That is what they called it. Of course you didn't walk around with three jugs of milk or cream suspended from your belt and a basket of eggs on your arm saying, "Hey, want to trade for some sugar or salt?" That would have been awkward and you would have been regarded as a lunatic.

It was those weekly conversions of small quantities of milk and eggs into that agreed upon fiction called money that made Saturday night trading or shopping possible. Is that why a small amount of money is still referred to as "chicken feed?"

It is so much easier to carry a few bucks in your billfold than three jugs of cream and a dozen eggs. When all you need is some sugar, salt, shoes maybe, and some Prince Edward pipe tobacco–paper works so much better than milk and eggs as a medium of exchange. It is easy to see how money caught on. Less messy. Easier to transport.

It is time to return to the rooster on the cover. I've just made the case for chickens, now it is up to Miller Purvis, the Gazette's poultry editor, to make the case for the bird. Here is some of what he said:

"In presenting the bird that appears on our cover, I believe we give our readers the privilege of seeing the portrait of a bird that could have gone far if shown anywhere in the country. [There were lots of chicken shows.–MT] And one which was pre-eminently the richest pedigree in the productiveness of his female ancestors of any bird in the United States without exception. I have been acquainted with this strain ever since 1911" ... and so on.

This rooster's granddam, bred by J.A. Hanson, Corvallis, Oregon, was the world record holder as a layer. She had laid 1,341 eggs in the six years that she had been laying. A pen of ten of Hanson's hens laid the amazing number of 2,989 eggs in 52 weeks at the Storrs, Connecticut, Laying Contest. Seven of those hens laid 300 or more eggs during the contest, etc., etc.

Purvis, naturally, had a lot to say but you get the drift that breeding hens for high production was every bit as serious a business as breeding dairy cows for high production. The thing in this little story that grabbed me, as an ex-dairyman, was the pride expressed in that hen's Lifetime Production. There was a time when you heard that in dairy circles too. Since both milk and eggs have become industrial products, lifetime production seems to have lost its importance. Call it the Kleenex mind set–it sure ain't husbandry.

I just found out something a couple weeks ago that will never "fit" into any article, unless I use it right now. It was more like from 1935 than 1930, but what is five years between friends?

About a month ago we arranged to meet with some long lost cousins; a couple of them I hadn't seen since we were kids. The father of one had left an indelible impression on me as a little kid–as had his two little daughters, my second cousins. So right here and now let's name that one cousin–Gladys.

Her father was a serious breeder of Saint Bernard dogs! He was also a regular corn, oats, hay, cattle and hog farmer. It was the dogs that granted him instant status with me. Our folks visited back and forth so Gladys and I saw a fair amount of each other–then came 60 or more years with virtually no contact. Then a letter or two, a phone call, and finally a mini-reunion.

Their farm was a wonderful place to visit, with those big old Saint Bernard bitches running around the farmstead and pups here, there and yonder. So I asked Gladys if I had mis-remembered or was it true that her dad would dispatch her to go up into the haymow or under the porch or wherever to report how many pups were in a new litter and their sex. I asked her because I had told that to several people.

Gladys said that I had, in fact, been lying. It wasn't her who would be asked to conduct the census but her younger sister, because she was smaller. And, yes, Gladys acknowledged that group of Saint Bernard bitches contributed substantially to that family making it through those terribly lean years.

There was quite a boon in big guard dogs following the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby in 1932. Some of the rich suddenly wanted guard dogs. So the Wilsons raised pups and shipped them all over the country and Gladys says, even one into Canada. Her dad got a kick out of being an "exporter." He made his own shipping crates for rail shipment from orange crates that he would get from the grocer. It took two used orange crates to make one shipping crate for a pup. The price, incidentally was $25 a pup, plus orange crate postage. That represented quite a bit of money in 1935.

Gladys said her dad was always a bit self-conscious when prospective buyers came out to their plain vanilla farm. There was no fancy kennel. Maybe a couple buildings could have stood repainting. But it was just a typical farmstead. If he could have afforded to "fix everything up," he wouldn't have needed to raise those pups, which were his best cash crop.

That pretty much concludes the tale except for one thing. The Saint Bernards I've since been introduced to were palsy-walsy types. They weren't attack dogs at all. Of course, if you are sending your daughters under the porch and up into the hay mow to count puppies, you wouldn't want a hair trigger, don't-tread-on-me type. So once more I'm going to give Gladys' dad another accolade. He chose a guard dog that wasn't ferocious. Just BIG!

The October and November Gazettes were filled with praise for the round of state fairs with their great livestock shows. The detailed reporting of them was left to state and regional publications such as Wallaces Farmer (Iowa), The Farmer (Minnesota & the Dakotas), etc. There were a lot more farmers in 1930 and a lot more papers serving them.

So the Gazette would limit itself to just a few elite shows such as the National Swine Show at the Indiana State Fair, which it credited with bringing all the breeds together in producing real meat-type hogs. The era of lard was over. The National had gotten the job done by putting almost as much emphasis on the barrow shows as the breeding shows. The cattle, sheep and horse shows at Indiana went, by and large, unmentioned–even though they were very respectable. You just can't report every blue ribbon winner in the country for four species.

Illinois, by the way, happened to win the privilege of hosting the National Swine show in 1931. And they said the first thing they were going to do was move the judging of the breed barrow shows ahead of the breeding stock–so that the winning barrows would be recognized and on display for the whole week of the fair.

The 2nd National Dairy Show in St. Louis, Missouri, was given the full publicity treatment. I don't know how Wisconsin managed to "lose that game to Missouri" ... but in 1929 and '30, at least, they did.

The second dairy show that came in for some "almost national" attention in the Gazette was the Dairy Cattle Congress in Waterloo, Iowa. Then in its 20th year, it rivaled the traveling national every year. Another inducement to send the top brass to Waterloo was the National Belgian Horse Show. Started in 1919 this was the only established and recognized national show in the draft breeds at that time–so Waterloo got some ink every year.

The only other draft horse shows that came in for much attention were the Iowa, Illinois and Indiana State Fairs–Illinois for having such a huge show in four breeds and Ohio for its show of 232 Percherons and 155 Belgians on parade. This was the largest and most competitive Percheron show of the year–at least, leading up to Chicago. We are running pictures of the two grand champion stallions at Ohio that year.

Out in this section of Iowa, Dean C.F. Curtis at Iowa State (and a distinguished breeder of Percherons, Shorthorns and Berkshires on his own farm) credited two factors for the surge in horse interest in his state. One was the hiring of Harry Linn as full-time state field agent for the horse interests and the other was the growth of the boys and girls 4-H colt clubs in the state. He must have just let the multiple hitch demonstrations being done by Wayne Dinsmore and the Horse Association of America slip his mind.

That's O.K., Ralph Hudson, horseman at Michigan State made up for it on the plowing matches. Hudson, working with Dinsmore, put together a contest that attracted 2,000 people. Fowler Bros., famous as pullers, and Sherm Read, famous as a Percheron breeder, were there along with about 1,995 other people. The idea was to push the multiple hitch with the tying-in and bucking-back system. The horse was fighting back most everywhere you looked.

Now for a few odds and ends from 1930 as seen through the eyes of the Gazette.

In October of that year Sam Guard bought out his partner, C.L. Burlingham. The two relatively young men had bought the Gazette from the Sanders family about five or six years prior–sometime back in the early '20s. Burlingham was called the publisher and Guard the editor. Burlingham came to Chicago from Vermont, where he had been the secretary of the Ayrshire Cattle Association. Burlingham stayed in Chicago, becoming the manager of the western office of Standard Farm Papers, Inc. Their list of clients included many of those state papers, Hoard's Dairyman, and–yes–even the Breeder's Gazette. So, the two men still had a connection.

Interesting equine transactions in late autumn 1930: Tom Holbert had moved aggressively to pick up where his recently deceased brother, Fred, had been so effective, buying young Belgian and Percheron stallions in Belgium and France. In that three month span October 1-December 31, Tom brought over two big shipments of young stallions.

Equally impressive in its own way was the exportation of three jacks from L.M. Monsees & Son, Hamilton, Missouri, to Spain! This was like selling snow to the Eskimos or carrying coals to Newcastle. Much of our foundation jack stock was from Spain in the first place.

There is one other major and amazing feature in the December 1930 issue. But I'm going to hold it for June–because that is considered Dairy Month. This article was so Buck Rogers (for 1930) that I think it deserves to be presented during June Dairy Month. It was a case of the future casting its shadow before itself. Sam Guard wrote it. The title was "Rotolactor, the Giant's Milk Stool."

That is about it from the farming picture of 75 years ago.

Now for a quick look at the kind of news The New York Times regarded as more important than Leghorn roosters or Percheron studs named after a boxer.

The signs of a deepening depression became more evident with every month in 1930 and winter was just around the corner. Hoover was not a novice at this sort of thing. In 1921, he headed President Harding's unemployment conference, which turned out to be a joint venture of both public and private agencies working together to spur industry and to accelerate public works. That suggests shades of FDR's PWA (Public Works Administration). Could it be that a 'Hoover idea' in 1921 got recycled into FDR's New Deal–where for a while a new agency was born every other day or so? Stranger things have happened.

In late October, with increased chances of cold and hunger just around the corner, Hoover created a cabinet level committee to draw up plans for combating unemployment and preventing hunger and cold for those who were destitute. It was a cruel turn of fate for a man who had literally rescued Belgium from starvation during WW I.

Hoover was elected knowing that farmers were not getting a fair shake in the market place and one of his first acts as president was to create a special Federal Farm Board. He even called a special session to pass the Agricultural Marketing Act.

But the great stock market crash of October 1929 and the negative effects of the Smoot-Hawley tariff (which he had signed) didn't help. At first, Hoover seemed to believe that 'this too will pass' ... but it didn't. And he was sort of a text book conservative, reluctant to interfere in the 'magic of the market.' I doubt that he had a very merry Christmas.

I want to bring the curtain down on this one with a salute to a great and tough old lady–Mary Harris, also known as "Mother Jones." She died on November 20, 1930, in Silver Springs, Maryland. She was a hundred years old and had spent the majority of those years defending the rights of coal miners and others with similar cushy jobs. Let's see, if she was a 100 in 1930, that would make her 175 years old now. I'm pleased to let you know that she is still alive and raising hell. That was her speciality.

She was a widow who had lost all she had in the 1871 Chicago Fire. At that time she received kind assistance from the Knights of Labor. From that point on her life was one verse after another of "Join the Union, boys." She became a real power in the labor movement and was not easily intimidated. In 1914, she took on John D. Rockefeller during a coal strike in Colorado. She must have left a lasting impression on old John D. as 16 years later, when she was 100, he sent her his best wishes. I'll bet it was the most expensive and nicest 100-year birthday card Hallmark had in stock.

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