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Monday, 16 August 2010 14:26

75 Years Ago Late Autumn/Early Winter 1932 - 1933

Written by  Maurice Telleen
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(From the general news sources of the times, plus the November 1932 Breeder's Gazette and the 1932 International Livestock Show Album.)

I hardly know where or how to start on that thin slice of time that set in motion so many forces that turned the world upside down, bringing grief to millions. Rural America was broke. Our own parents and grandparents were weathering serious financial storms. Thrift and effort alone will not make the farm payments, nor will it buy the groceries for the townsman. So there was a lively local trade in cream, eggs and poultry. And trading was the expression that was used ... not shopping. I think there is a significant difference between the two.

Barter is a word you seldom hear today. You couldn't farm without it in 1932. To get your oats in the bin you belonged to a neighborhood threshing ring ... and everyone grew some oats. For one thing, it was the standard feed for the horses and mules that provided a lot of the power for farming at that time. Just as they traded eggs and cream, they traded help to get the big jobs done. Interdependence wasn't just an idea ... it was a necessity. It was an age of co-ops with a co-op creamery and a co-op elevator in every crossroads town in the Midwest. There were 25 or more creameries doing business here in Bremer county ... which geographically is sort of a runt. I'm not sure if there are even 25 farmers milking cows in the county today. There might be more left-handed plumbers and opera singers than there are fellows farrowing modest numbers of hogs in movable A-frame farrowing houses and getting a start on a clean patch of alfalfa. I think that was called the McLean System–named after a county in Illinois. In brief, it was a very different rural America and, in some respects, more stable. Just broke.

It was also a time for a presidential election, one that would change the face of rural America greatly. Franklin Roosevelt, the governor of New York was the Democratic candidate. Severely crippled by polio, one might think that he would already have enough to cope with. But he sought the post and went after it with gusto. He was, by nature, a "good feeler" as they say.

His opponent was Herbert Hoover–the incumbent president. A native of Iowa and an engineer by training, he also was a decent and intelligent man. But he had already been beaten up by the Great Depression which followed the stock market collapse of 1929. In fairness, one has to say that Hoover was blind-sided by events, both here and abroad. The whole world was out of sync, not just the U.S.

So the country had a choice between two good and decent men, but with a major difference. While Hoover was busy defending, explaining and governing as best he could, FDR was promising what he called a New Deal ... or a whole slew of New Deals, without all the nitty-gritty details. He was, as it were, free to be the "attack dog" while Hoover was stuck with the role of being the watch dog.

Roosevelt's comment was that the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. Not dogma, but experiments. If one thing doesn't work, try another. He said, "I am waging a war (not a debate) in this campaign, a frontal attack against the Four Horsemen of the present Republican leadership; they are the horsemen of Destruction, Delay, Deceit and Despair." Kind of reminds you of the Notre Dame backfield ... the "four horsemen" as Grantland Rice, the great sports writer, had referred to them on the occasion of an upset victory over Army in the early '20s. Both Rice and Roosevelt were gifted phrase makers ... much more so than Hoover.

It was no surprise that hope triumphed over doctrine and in a big way. Roosevelt swamped Hoover, carrying all but six states, 472 electoral votes to 50. FDR was right about one thing for sure ... there would be plenty of experimentation in the years ahead ... not just in government.

So much for the politics of 75 years ago here in this country. In October 1932, four consecutive days of riots by 15,000 unemployed youths, kept mounted and foot police busy trying to hold them back from attacking the King's Palace itself. That was pretty frightening. It was also frightening when Adolf Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1932. Oh, yes, Spain was also busy staging a revolution. Makes the Hoover-Roosevelt election look pretty tame, doesn't it? Europe was in an even bigger mess than we were.

So I'm going to switch to the farming and livestock scene here at home right now by attending two of the great fall livestock shows of 1932. We can do that because we have copies of the annual Review and Album of the 1932 International Livestock Exposition in Chicago and a copy of the November 22 issue of the Breeder's Gazette, which reported on the dairy show at the Waterloo (Iowa) Dairy Cattle Congress.

We will start with the International in Chicago where there was not a single department that did not register a numerical increase over the prior year. That is sort of unbelievable. This included a boost of some 2,000 more head of livestock over the highest number ever shown there before. With 14,000 head of critters to crow about, they called it a record for all livestock shows ever held on the North American continent. No point in being modest ... even if you are broke.

So, explain this? Well, for one thing there were big increases in carload lots of steers and barrows which were shown because they needed to be marketed anyhow. And the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday was traditionally a strong market. There was also a 50% increase in the junior (4-H) livestock feeding contest.

The crop show also represented a new high in numbers. The colleges, as always were in there with their livestock judging teams and the show was fully covered by the press with well over 50 of the country farm and/or livestock publications being represented, as well as the Associated Press. That new medium–radio–also played a part with its most widely followed show called the "National Farm and Home Hour" coming from the show itself.

The International was not just a bigger livestock show. It was more like a once-a-year coronation ... and coronations are hard to ignore, even when you are broke and the future of the dynasty is in question.

As for the draft horse aisles ... there was probably more optimism there than in other parts of the show. In the early '30s the draft horse was more than holding his own. (See page 106 in the last issue). It was power that ran on home-grown hay and grain rather than Standard Oil and teamsters were abundant. There was even a class of Five Best Stallions in the two dominant breeds. Who needs five stallions? A dealer, that's who. In 1932, with all its shipwrecks, there was a real demand for stallions in most farm states. I can recall Sunday afternoon drives with my dad in the late summer/early autumn of the mid-'30s. These were partly to check up on what other farmers were doing and also to count the foals and make note of where the promising ones lived.

Woodrow Wilson's Sunbeam, the 6-year-old grand champion Belgian mare at the 1932 International. She was exhibited by a relatively new player in the game–Boulder Bridge Farm Co., Excelsior, Minnesota.
The winning group of five Percheron stallions at the 1932 International Livestock Show, owned by National Breweries, Ltd., Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
The winning group of five Belgian stallions at the 1932 International Livestock Show, owned by Holbert Horse Importing Company, Greeley, Iowa.

Fred Maytag's grand champion Holstein bull, Man 0'War 30th, at the 1932 Dairy Cattle Congress. Maytag's dedication to the Holstein breed was legendary–just as his washing machines were.

So ... I'm going to wind up the International with just three pictures from that show. The two winning groups of five stallions and the grand champion Belgian mare, because I like her a good deal better than the other four top mares.

Our final stop in 75 Years Ago takes us to Waterloo, Iowa ... home since 1910 of the Dairy Cattle Congress. About a decade later they added the National Belgian Horse Show to the program. Covering Waterloo in depth was sort of a first for the Breeder's Gazette. Prior to that time (and later as well) the official national dairy show was a traveling show, and the Gazette would go where it went. Its most recent stop being at St. Louis, Missouri. But it didn't have a permanent home, as did the meat producing breeds. So you might say Waterloo got the call by default.

Sam Guard must have been too busy so Lucy Ruth Guard was sent out to do the honors for the dairy breeds and the Belgians. The dairy cattle entries numbered 742 head supplemented by 304 4-H entries. Holsteins led with 207, followed by Jerseys with 194, Guernseys with 129, Brown Swiss with 113 and Ayrshires with 99. Her opening sentence on the dairy show was "Brown Swiss must have qualities that commend them to practical dairymen for they seem to be more than holding their own." I would guess from that statement that Lucy was sort of new to Swiss. The fact that she didn't even comment on the grand champion Swiss cow, the incomparable "Jane of Vernon," shown by Orbec Sherry from Wisconsin, tells me she was also out of her element.

But Jane of Vernon aside, she did a very thorough job, commenting on the women and girl exhibitors, the poultry, waterfowl and rabbits. She didn't skip anything.

She did, however, have this to say: "Over on the Midway were the evidences that this show, which in some departments has grown to the stature of a National, in others, it still remains of carnival size. Cheap catch-penny games, palmist and hula shows vied with each other for the time of the visitor, be he sappy adult or callow 4-H'er."

Now, where Waterloo is concerned, I know some things Lucy didn't know as I managed a dozen shows there in the 1960s and very early '70s.

Lucy (wherever you are) those cheap carnival tent shows, with scantily clad ladies were not on Cattle Congress property. They were on Electric Park property, as was the ballroom where Ed Estel (my predecessor as manager of the National Dairy Cattle Congress) was knighted by the Belgian government. There was a fence between the two entities (Cattle Congress and Electric Park) and the side shows that offended Lucy as well as a big roller coaster ride, etc., etc., were on the "other side" of the fence. However if you had paid at the Cattle Congress gate, you were admitted to the Electric Park area without any problem, simply show your receipt. That sort of agreement was in effect for years. The Cattle Congress was always able to claim virginity ... "We didn't put that show up there," etc. But I expect the gate was a little loose.

My oldest brother, Marv, now deceased, was showing a Swiss heifer or two at that show covered by Lucy. He was 13 or 14 years old. He acknowledged that he had once witnessed a few scantily clad ladies at the "bull show." I don't think he attached much importance to the experience. At least it didn't disqualify him from serving on the board of directors of the Brown Swiss Association for several years.

To distant visitors, the show was always called "The Cattle Congress." To the locals it was often called "the bull show." Because at that time (before A.I.), every dairyman had a bull (or a next door neighbor with a bull). So there were a lot of bulls being shown when Lucy Guard was checking out the show. That, in turn, reminds me of another true story. The show had a practice of writing the premium checks immediately after the ribbons were tied so that the exhibitors could leave with their cattle on the truck or rail car and their check in their pocket.

It was a year or so after this ... I think in 1934; the absolute depth of The Depression. Ed Estel was going nuts ... where was he going to get the money to pay the exhibitors prior to leaving. Well, I'll tell you where, and that is the reason I'm running a small picture of the grand champion Holstein bull at Waterloo in 1932. Fred Maytag (the washing machine man down in Newton, Iowa) had a great herd of black and white cattle and always showed at Waterloo. Ed went to Fred Maytag and they sat down on a bale of straw. Ed felt that to not pay the premiums in their usual fashion would shake the confidence of breeders and make a temporary problem into a catastrophe. So they had a little man-to-man talk and Fred Maytag asked Ed, "How much would it take to cover those premium checks?" Ed told him. Fred pulled out his checkbook and covered the shortfall. What a grand thing for Mr. Maytag to do. And that is why I'm ending this 75 Years Ago piece with a picture of Maytag's Man O'War 30th–the grand champion Holstein bull at the 1932 Dairy Cattle Congress.

(This story was related to me by Miss Adeline Hays who was Ed's personal secretary and much later, mine as well –MT)
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