Thursday, August 13, 2015

Chapter 23: Tiemann Memoirs/Dust Bowel

Following Chapter 23, is a brief history of the Dust Bowl. For the prelude and links to all of the chapters go to Coming to Vermont(Cavendish): Memoirs of Philip Tiemann

January of 1936 was notable for its heavy snow-fall, Again the town plow broke down just as it was most needed, When grain-delivery time came I couldn't get out with the car and had to ask a neighbor to bring mine up with his. Most of us bought thru a co-operative which shipped in farm supplies monthly by rail. I went along down and helped unload from the freight-car on the siding. Toward the end of the month the weather became so bad that for a time there, was no school. During this period I enjoyed well enough being indoors, studying seed catalogs and writing while the wind roared in the chimneys.

At last there came a few nice days, and we invited some friends from the village to come and have a dinner cooked in the brick oven in the We had tried this only tentatively, and it was to be the first meal done in the old style. On the previous evening I made up a good hard-wood fire in the large vaulted oven and continued it next morn­ing until there was a great pile of glowing embers; toward noon I raked them out and shoveled them into the pit underneath, Into the oven Isabel slid a ham and a pot of beans, and we closed it up - and waited. Rather to our amazement (and relief) our ancestors knew what they were about! when the six o'clock dinner hour arrived the things were done perfectly and were delicious. With the main items we had fresh warm gingerbread , (which we, preferred to brown bread) and cucumber relish and, for desert, lemon pie, and of course coffee. After this, we occasionally tried baking different things; it was practical enough but more time consuming than 'we could afford. Yet it was nice to know we could do it.

By the advent of March it was thawing. The snow was too soggy even to use snow•-shoes and the roads were terrible. To our puzzlement, one day the snow had turned brown, it was caused by dust from the western plains carried all this way by the winds. We could hardly believe this but it was verified, It never has happened again. (But there frequently is an infestation of tiny flies (?) peppering late snow-banks.)

Then flood conditions developed, The brooks and rivers overflowed and many bridges and roads were under water. The snow had disappeared and the ground was thawing, For several days there was no mail delivery, which is an unheard-of situation; the mail may sometimes be late but it gets thru. - There was almost a foot of water in our cellar; and it was warm enough so that when the children splashed out to the brook-side they found pussy-willows, No sugaring was possible.

After such a warm spell it would have been normal if there had been more freezing weather, but it turned out to be an early spring. When trout-fishing opened on the first of May grass was greened and starred with dandelions,  contrasting with other years when there still may be snow along the brooks. So we had some early-bird friends up and went fishing. It was fun but not very productive. The brooks still were full and rapid.

The warm weather permitted an early start on the gardens. Also I was determined to improve the quality of the hay so seeded down a good-sized piece in the mowing with an oats-hayseed mix, The time had come when I needed all the hay I could raise. In addition to reading up on the subject, I consulted the County Farm Agent (representing the Department of Agriculture) and got some good advice. This resulted in a program of top-dressing and re-seeding, which I carried out over a number of years. The objective was a three-ton yield per acre; by the most optimistic estimate I came close to it on a number of acres but the average was probably not over, two tons per acre, and less on parts of  the mowing. Over the years, plowing had turned so much topsoil down-hill that ledgy outcroppings wee close to the surface, and whereas loam is deep along the bottom wall the up-side (west) wall is exposed below its foundations and much has fallen over. However, my efforts resulted in some improve­ment, especially on some acres given to birds foot trefoil which is a fair substitute for alfalfa and can better be grown under our conditions of soil, which lacks a limestone base, 1 also experimented with millet that year, but found it about the most difficult crop to cure. Poor judgment was only partly responsible: I mowed it in anticipation of a frost but it rained instead. We had, quite a time with that millet. It was dense and heavy, rather green, and very wet. A neighbor took one wagon­load to feed out to his cows.

Then I spent considerable time building a summer chicken-coop,- really a small house. Located between First and Second brooks for the purpose of saving fencing, it proved very useful, Twelve feet square, it was a good size to brood about 100 baby chicks. They were started under a canopy warmed by a small oil heater, during the spring, and soon learned to push their way under the hangings to reach the feeders or if they got warm. As they grew larger and the weather warmed up, they were permitted
to go out of the house into a small fenced enclosure; and soon this was removed and they could roam at will, protected by the brooks  on two 'sides and fence on the other two, We were fortunate not to be bothered by. four-legged depredators, but occasionally a hawk or owl took-tribute. In late summer I installed nests and the pullets wore laying when the time came to move them to the shed next the barn for the winter, Cockerels meantime, after being confined in a fattening pen, had been either eaten or marketed, with a few in special quarters to provide Sunday dinners. The ones sold, at 30c a pound, need a nice profit.

The Dust Bowl: How surprising it must have been for the Tiemann family to wake up to find brown snow. Further, it may have seemed unbelievable that the cause of it could have been from the Great Plain, the 150,000-square-mile area, encompassing the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles and neighboring sections of Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico

Intense cultivation of this area in previous decades was one of the causes of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Native prairie grasses have deep roots that keep soil in place. When these plants were tilled up, shallow-rooted plants like wheat and corn couldn’t stop erosion. The drought from 1934 to 1937 along with the lack of a stronger root system of grass to act as an anchor, the winds easily picked up the loose topsoil and swirled it into dense dust clouds, called “black blizzards.” One such storm, created a 2 mile high storm, which hit the east coast on May 11,  1934. For five hours, a fog of prairie dirt enshrouded landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty and the U.S. Capitol, inside which lawmakers were debating a soil conservation bill.

The Dust Bowl remains the largest migration in American history in that short a time period. Approximately 15 percent of the population of Oklahoma alone left the state. Conservation programs initiated by the Soil Conservation Service, as well as farming practices like terracing and contour plowing, helped stop erosion and end the Dust Bowl.

While many areas of the country were suffering considerable hardship from both the Dust Bowl and Depression, economics were improving in Cavendish. The number of people receiving help from the town began to go down.

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