(Basically from the October, November & December Breeder's Gazettes, the general news of the period, and a livestock-crazy kid's recollection of the 1930s.)
The October 1931 Breeder's Gazette was a skinny little fellow-20 pages, counting the cover. Not everybody was broke, but those who weren't didn't go around crowing about it if they had a lick of sense. That would be like telling put-down type jokes about the deceased at his wake.
As for the Breeder's Gazette, they were still doing business out of a Dexter Park Avenue, Union Stock Yards address in Chicago. To livestock oriented families that was probably the best known address in the country, as well as home to the biggest stock yards in the world. It was also home to the International Livestock Show every year. Where animal agriculture is concerned, Chicago had more charm than Hollywood, Washington and New York put together.
My maternal grandfather was a cattle feeder who had ridden the rails (in the caboose) with his loads of fat cattle en route to Chicago. I think he loved it. He used to tell me that when I got a little bigger he would take me along on such a trip. I don't think he ever meant it because he was well over the hill himself by then.
Anyway, it was years later that I first saw the big terminal yards and the International in Chicago, and grandpa was nowhere around. Nor had he left a forwarding address, but I think planning those trips that would never take place was good for both of us. He enjoyed remembering and I enjoyed the anticipation. How can you beat that?
Back to the October 1931 Gazette. The Horse Association of America (with offices at the Union Stock Yards) was telling folks that it only cost from $50 to $60 per year for the total cost of keeping a farm horse or mule at his job. And you could farm a quarter section with five or six horses-total "Power" bill for the year of about $350 a year. Take that-John Deere, Farmall and the rest of you tractor people. The Percheron ad said you could buy good registered mares from $200 to $400, the Suffolk ad said they had the easiest keepers and fastest walkers in town and the Belgians were reminding you of the number of horses 10 years and older-better breed those mares when that stud horse guy comes calling. That was the mood in the horse camps-despair over $5 cwt hogs and $11 cwt tops on choice steers, but a little glimmer of hope among the draft horse people.
The Breeder's Gazette had a new women's editor. Yes, they were years ahead of some farm papers in that respect. The new girl's name was Lucy Ruth Guard. Sam's wife? I don't know. Probably. She was an excellent writer and I'm guessing didn't get paid much.
In spite of the size of that issue, they did give D.J. Kays from Ohio State enough room to call the outstanding Percheron and Belgian shows to everyone's attention. The 168 Belgians was a record for that breed, add 215 Percherons for a near record at the Ohio State Fair. And it wasn't all old pros. A class of 24 yearling Percheron stallions was topped by a young man named Reed Tyler, Ostrander, Ohio, making his first appearance at the Ohio State Fair.
In spite of tough times there was always something "new" being advertised. From that super skinny depression issue we will present one such ad-a Ford Portable Hammer Mill. If wheat and corn are going to be dirt cheap (and they were) maybe we best feed them instead of sell them.
The November issue was eight pages bigger. Whereas October was beef-oriented, this one was a salute to the National Dairy Show in St. Louis and the National Belgian Horse Show in Waterloo, Iowa. They were full of praise for both.
I found this full page from Fidelity Laboratories very interesting. Virtually all my uncles-both sides-were farmers as were all the unrelated neighbors, too. They all had a full complement of livestock; work stock (horses or mules), cattle, hogs and poultry. The sheep flock in that level cash grain country was almost non-existent. So there was much to be said for vaccinating your own stock. This ad offers testimony to that. Serum companies and extension services both had one day training sessions.
Finally, on the last page of that November Breeder's Gazette, Sam Guard made a surprise announcement. Here it is:
"So, when the opportunity came to buy the Dairy Tribune-the bright, interesting, progressive and useful publication that it was-from my friend James Watt, publisher also of the mighty Poultry Tribune, I was interested." Etc., etc.
This acquisition was to be consummated on January 1, 1932. The combined circulation was to be 225,000 paid in advance and the printing would be done at Sam's printing plant in Spencer, Indiana.
I had never heard of this and somehow I have serious doubts that W.D. Hoard up in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, was very worried. He had started his all dairy magazine called Hoard's Dairyman in 1885 and it is still the bible of the dairy business. While I'm sure Hoard's had their problems in the 1930s (who didn't?), I don't think this new challenger was one of them. Besides, Hoard's had almost a half century's head start on this newcomer.
And with that surprising news, we will run the cover of the December 1921 Breeder's Gazette with a head and shoulders picture of Harry Stamp's great Belgian stallion, Boer d'Boy and a copy of the Christmas card they were using with the whole horse on page six of that issue. Note their gift subscription price-sounds like $4 hogs, doesn't it? (Read the fine print on the Christmas card.)
Now you know why they called it "The Great Depression" and/or "The Dirty Thirties," and I don't mean dust storms, although there were some real losers there too.
On the general news front things weren't so jolly either. For one thing the Great Depression was a world-wide event, unemployment was terrible and when millions of people are frightened and/or hungry a lot of bad things happen. There was enough of that in American agriculture 75 years ago-I don't feel like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Let's make an insert of just plain news-such as the 1931 World Series of Baseball.
I'm actually writing this in late September-just prior to the 2006 World Series. The "boys of summer" are winding up their playing season. You know that without a calendar when the nights get nippy and the leaves put on their annual color show. When these things happen you know it is time for the World Series of Baseball and the Waverly Fall Horse Sale. I've never been to a World Series ball game but have rarely missed a Waverly Horse Sale-spring or fall.
In the fall of 1931, Arnold Hexom, the sale's founder, was just another unremarkable little Norwegian kid up in the hills of northeast Iowa. So there wasn't a special fall horse sale down here 75 years ago. But there was a World Series in baseball and on October 8, 1931, the St. Louis Cardinals beat the 1930 World Series winner, the Philadelphia A's, 7 to 1 to claim the title. It was the sixth game of the seven game series. That was the last time Connie Mack's Philadelphia A's ever made it to the series.
I mention that fact simply to provide me with an excuse to write up a story about Connie Mack, the grand old man of baseball, who was also the owner/manager of the Philadelphia A's. Since 1931 was the last time he made it to the series, I think he ought to be written up. I have now served notice that I intend to-but not right now.
It was a time of gangsters, well-organized mobs-not just a thug here and a psycho there, but well-organized mobs. For the most part they were an outgrowth of Prohibition. When the 18th Amendment banning beer, wine and liquor in this country went into effect in 1920, New York's Mayor La Guardia said "It will take 250,000 police to enforce it in that city alone and nearly as many more to police the police." The mayor was right. A decade later that is what was happening.
On October 24, 1931, Al Capone, one of the dapper lords of crime that had been built by prohibition, was sentenced to eleven years in prison by a federal court. The charge wasn't even bootlegging-it was tax evasion.
The League of Nations (Woodrow Wilson's brainchild) that our Congress refused to ratify was powerless in the war between China and Japan over Manchuria. So we dispatched Secretary of State Henry Stimson to be the honest broker. He didn't get the job done either. And the British-India talks also petered out. Even Gandhi, the little guy with sandals, would accept nothing less than complete independence.
And on December 10, Spain elected Niceto Zamora as their first constitutionally elected president. He had led the successful revolution. But Spain's trouble was only beginning. Constitutional government takes practice. It was not an easy time for millions-including our farming forebears.
On October 18, Thomas A. Edison died at 84 years of age. A great and brilliant man. At the early age of 12, he set up a chemistry lab in his parent's house and took a job as a newsboy on a train to buy what he needed to stock it. He soon had his own printing press and started to publish a newspaper as a kid. He rescued a small boy on the train tracks and a grateful father taught him telegraphy and he wound up with the reputation as the fastest telegrapher in the country. He patented his first invention at the ripe old age of 21. Over 1,300 inventions came out of his laboratory at Menlo Park, New Jersey. Tom Edison gets my vote for most anything you want to honor someone for. Edison changed the world more than anyone from that era.