Part four of a series
“My father sold a load of old sows. He didn’t get enough money to pay the hauler and had nothing for the pigs,” recalled lifelong Caledonia resident Leona (Burg) Weichert, about growing up in the 1930s. “That doesn’t seem real!”
Today, the word “depression” is most often associated with the psychiatric condition of emotional sadness. There was certainly plenty of that mental dejection in the 1930s, but the word – as expressed in the “Great Depression” – referred to the worldwide economic depression, the worst economic downturn in modern history. Hard times struck the United States after the stock market crash of 1929 and lasted through the 1930s. It was an era when prices, including those of farm produce, were greatly depressed.
“Farmers were paid about seven cents for a dozen eggs,” according to Elmer Thies while writing about the hard times of the 1930s on the family farm in the Houston County community of Portland Prairie, northwest of Eitzen. On the farm, Thies said, “Most people would just have to buy flour and sugar, and the rest of their food they would raise.”
“My dad was a jolly, hard-working farmer, who I think enjoyed farming and did a good job of it until the horrid depression hit him around 1932,” lamented Thies. “He died in 1939, in part, I think, because of those hard years of trying to pay the bills and make a decent living,”
The election of 1932 ushered in President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his “New Deal” to combat the unprecedented economic crisis. The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 (AAA) considered the farming problem to be overproduction (not underconsumption) and paid farmers to take some acreage out of production.
In the upper mid-west, the AAA was called the Corn Hog Program, according to lifelong Portland Prairie/ Eitzen area resident Ray Fruechte. “Further south, they had other commodities that came under control, but here the people called it the Corn Hog Program. County and township committees had to be appointed, and every year, there were township elections for these committees.” The federal program was thus administered locally.
“One year, I got the shock of my life,” related Fruechte. “I got a letter in the mail telling me I had been appointed one of the reporters for the Corn Hog Program. My duties were to measure the corn ground and count the members that sign up for the program. For this service, you will be allowed $4 for an eight-hour day. I was stunned!”
Each reporter would measure cropland with his own bicycle wheel and a revolution counter along with a large protractor. “They called the farm reporters up to the Caledonia fairgrounds with their bicycle wheels so they could be measured,” noted Fruechte. “We each ran our bicycle wheel over a measured portion of ground, because the bicycle wheels were all probably a little different size, so that had to be taken into consideration.”
With 160 square rods making an acre, they determined how many revolutions it would take each wheel to measure an acre. “Then they gave us a revolution counter that was fastened on the hub of the wheel.
“We were given a protractor,” added Fruechte. “I can assure you it wasn’t a very delicate instrument. It consisted of an iron rod about five and half feet long, and on top of this rod was a round board with the degrees marked around the edge. A metal piece was fastened in the center so it would turn. So by working it through those two slots, you could sight the corner that you had passed and the corner that you were expected to go to… the measurement between these corners is the information that you sent into the main office in Caledonia. This was the way they figured out the acreage of the field.”
After the Supreme Court ruled the AAA unconstitutional in 1936, Fruechte wrote, “We didn’t know if this was going to be the end of it or not,” But Congress soon solved the legal problem, and the program, including conservation provisions, was saved. “The old farm program committees were retained to administer this program, and it’s been going ever since.”
This is the fourth column based on previously published recollections of then 89-year-old Ray Fruechte (1911-2003) plus those of Elmer Thies (1914-2019) and Leona Weichert (1910-1996).