The View from Ground Zero: Sunday Oct 11, 2020 winds bring memories of Dirty Thirties

The term ground zero is usually associated with an explosion and describes the location closest to a detonation. In the case of an explosion above the ground, ground zero refers to the point on the ground directly below the detonation.   In recent American culture it often refers to the location nearest 911 terrorist attacks on New York City’s World Trade Centers in 2001.   The term is also often used in describing the worst hit areas near earthquakes, tornados and other disasters or to describe other disasters with a geographic reference or conceptual epicenter.

Rarely is Colorado mentioned when conversations arise about the Dust Bowl.  However those of  who grew up in southeast Colorado’s Baca County are fully aware that ground zero of the 1930’s dust bowl included Southeast Colorado along with Southwest Kansas, the Oklahoma Panhandle, the upper Texas Panhandle and Northeast New Mexico. For Baca Countians, the Dust Bowl ground zero was their backyard.

Baca County Fairgrounds, Springfield, Colorado October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Melissa Lowe

This past week the present reminded us of the past. Although we usually think of the 1930s the dirt blowing past of Southeastern Colorado may have first been documented in the Lamar, Colorado newspaper in 1887.

Bent County Register (Lamar, Colorado) April 9, 1887.

Hard-hitting winds, with reported 60mph gusts, whipped across the Great Plains this past Sunday October 11th, reducing visibility, extreme temperature drops brought back memories of the Dust Bowl. Many people are familiar with the dust bowl because authors such as Tim Eagan and producers such as Ken Burns have spent significant time trying to capture the essence of that era.

Many reports from the 1930s talk about the blue sky suddenly turning dark when a storm blew through. However, when you look at the old grainy black and white photos it looks like dust is everywhere. Maybe the black and white photos our parents and grandparents took don’t provide the contrast or maybe shock that we see in the photos from the storm blowing through Baca County Sunday October 11, 2020. There is an amazing and distinct line between the blue sky and the ‘roller’ coming through Baca County this past week.

Springfield, Colorado 1935
The white building in the lower right hand portion of the photo

was my grandparents store in the early 1930s.
Courtesy of a shoe box in my mom’s basement
Springfield, Colorado 1937
Courtesy of a shoe box in my mom’s basement
Eastern Baca County, Sunday October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Leslie Hume

 Baca County Colorado,  is the most southeast county in the state of Colorado and is where I grew up, was included in the epicenter or ground zero, as shown in the maps below. This area, in the 1930’s became known as the Dustbowl.  In other words, Ground Zero for the 1930’s dustbowl. Memories of that time have passed down to the present generation. Those memories came to life this past Sunday, October 11, 2020.

Baca County Fairgrounds, Springfield, Colorado October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Melissa Lowe
Baca County Fairgrounds, Springfield, Colorado October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Melissa Lowe

The winds were scary in their intensity, and, for a time Sunday, the people of Baca County could sense what our parents & grandparents went through — for weeks on end — during the Dirty ‘30s.

Springfield, Colorado October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Cheryl Porter
Springfield, Colorado October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Cheryl Porter

So this happened today in Springfield, Colorado
Social media used many terms of description such as amazing, frightening, scary, and eerie as well. When dirt was whirling at its worst, the skies were dusky and dreary, making it hard to see trees and buildings only a short distance away. In western Baca County it was reported, “It was creepy when it hit the canyon, daylight just disappeared.” 

As is the case in Baca County the dust storm is a reminder that drought and the wind driven dirt is always on the mind of of area residents.  

Courtesy of Janelle Leonard
Courtesy of Janelle Leonard
Courtesy of Dean George
Courtesy of Dean George
Courtesy of Dean George
North of Springfield Colorado, October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Bonna Arbuthnot

North of Springfield Colorado, October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Bonna Arbuthnot

Courtesy of Kirk Guder

East of Walsh, Colorado, October 11, 2020
Courtesy of Judy Trahern

Dust Bowl Poems(1930s) by Nellie Grover Bamber

This post is a true pleasure. There are some little things to look for. The image of Grandma Bamber printed on an early dot matrix printer is a piece of history in itself. The poems? Priceless. In the not so recent past I had a conversation with Nancy Hall Nelson about using her Grandma’s Poems in a compilation I am working on, which will tell the story of the Dust Bowl primarily through the eyes of the Springfield Herald, 1930-1939. I will call that book, “The Dust Bowl: A View from Ground Zero

Although they are not all dated, the poems which are dated were written over the course of several years, beginning in 1935 with the most recent 1970. Per my conversation with Nancy I am going to share all of them here. Starting with this post we will present the ones that are dated 1935 or reference the “Dirty Thirties” or “Dust Bowl”. Enjoy.

BELOW: Nellie Grover Bamber which appear to be looking back at the 1930s and the Dust Bowl

Next up: The Remainder of the Nellie Grover Bamber poems (post 1930s – 1970 courtesy of her granddaughter, Nancy Hall Nelson. Thanks Nancy, what a privilege to get to share your Grandma’s poems and obviously her faith on this blog.

Growing Up in Baca County, Episode #4 by John Havens

   As the dust storms increased many of the farm families and a few of the town residents had to pull up stakes and look for greener pastures.  As a kid working around the service station I observed first hand family after family load all their belongings into cars and onto pickups and head out to find new homes.

   Even these many years later I remember three families who moved to southern Louisiana.  At least three families moved to Idaho, some to Oregon, some to California.  Several families moved to western Colorado, others to the Canon City/Penrose area.  It was not quite like a scene from Grapes of Wrath, but the Vilas community suffered the loss of many fine families.

   For those who stayed, times were hard.  Many farmers found work with the WPA, building bridges, roads and public buildings.  They would plant crops only to have them wiped out by the dust storms.  Then there were plagues of grasshoppers and the increase of jack rabbits.  Those critters increased in population until the famers had to organize rabbit roundup to reduce the population.  On one occasion Army Worms invaded an area near Vilas.  They stripped every garden as they moved from South to North for several miles.

   It was unbelievable how the dust swirled around houses and barns and drifted much like snow.  Farmers had to shovel the snow (dust) away from their front doors to gain entrance.

   There was one crop that seemed to thrive quite well during those days and that was broomcorn.  Tons of it was raised in Baca County, and if my memory serves me right, the town of Walsh became known as the Broomcorn Capital.

   But raising this crop was not easy.  It was strictly a dryland, crop and farmers spent long hours in planting it, weeding it, and then harvesting it.  Since no machine has been invented to cut the crop, it had to be harvested by hand.  Broomcorn cutters came from eastern Oklahoma, Western Arkansas, Southwest Missouri and other areas to cut broomcorn in the Fall of the year.

   One farm couple I was personally acquainted with hired 8 to 12 men during broomcorn harvest.  This couple had to get up by 5 a.m. and have breakfast ready for these men. They turned their double garage into a cook shack during this time.  They served bountiful meals, prepared lunches for the men to eat in the field, and another wellcooked evening meal in the cook shack.

   Since they no longer had livestock, they turned their barn loft into sleeping quarters, and the men ascended by ladder to their beds.  This had been their accommodations for several years, and no one had complained.  Then the Government stepped in and told this farm couple they had to have a stairway to the loft.  They complied with the order, and the first year of harvest one of the hands fell down the stairs and broke his leg, and the farmer had to pay the medical expense.  Also, the government said they had to have outhouse facilities at the end of so many rows of broomcorn.  The farmer decided there was getting to be too many rules and regulations, so they quit raising broomcorn.

(A comment by Kathy)

I know we have to have rules, but sometimes the rules cause more harm than good.  These men were out of work, the farmer out of income, and the community had one less industry.

    The WPA was a worthwhile program and saved a lot of people from starving and gave people a pride in earning a living for their family.  Today we are still enjoying some of the great buildings, bridges, and monuments that these people built.

Growing up in Baca County, Episode #2b, by John Havens.

A couple years ago, Kathy pushed out a series in the Plainsman Herald by John Havens. We are going to replay that on this blog over the next few weeks. Kathy’s intro is as follows:

A Little Bit of History, By Kathy Nutt.

A while back we received a letter and several pages of history from John Havens of Pratt, KS.  He grew up in Vilas area and would like to share his personal stories about growing up in Baca County with us.  So we will have several episodes of his story and many of us can relate to happenings throughout his life story.  Thank you Mr. Havens for sharing your life with us.

Growing up in Baca County, Episode #2b, by John Havens.

One of the social events of the community was the county dances. These were held in various farm homes. In later years when I visited in some of those homes I was amazed that they could accommodate a crowd for a dance. There were very few large farm houses such as one sees in Iowa and other states.

   But in the homes where dances were held the hosts would clear all the furniture out of the living room, or some called it the front room, and there would be a space for the musicians and enough room for six or eight couple to dance.

   If there was a piano, my Mother played it. My Grandad Hutches played the violin, or may it was a fiddle. My Uncle Vess Hutches played the guitar and there were others who helped provide music.

   The women sat inside while many of the men stayed outside except when they came in to dance. Sometimes a little home-brew helped to liven up the party.

   There was one couple who could dance the Heel and Tow Polka and I always enjoyed watching them. Each couple had their style of dancing and it was usually a fun, relaxing evening.

   I started my first year of school after moving to the basement house. There were several kids on the bus, and all of us had to take our own lunches to school.

   Just recently, in October of 2015, I had the privilege of once again riding over that bus route, thanks to Randy Hutches for providing the transportation. I had drawn up a map of how I remembered that route. We found most of the farms, but I was amazed when I discovered that out of about thirty farms on that route only about eight are still active farms. Only a few trees or an old barn or shed marks the spot where a family once lived.

   I really don’t recall how our evenings were spent at home. We no longer had kerosene lamps, but gas lamps that used mantels and had to have air pumped into the bottom part of the lamp. On some evenings Dad and the hired man brought corn, still on the cob, into the house and sitting newr the wood-burning stove they would strip the kernels of corn into tubs or buckets to be used for seed or feed later.

   Oh, and how cold I forget the Saturday night baths? We did not have fancy, modern bathrooms like many homes have today, but the bath tub was a galvanized metal wash tub. Hot water came from the teakettle on the stove and cold water from the well. Some homes had the old pot-bellied heating stove which if you stood in front of it you would fry on one side and freeze on the other, or visa-versa. But in spite of all the inconveniences, the people lived through those days.


Growing up in Baca County, Episode #2 – John Havens.

A couple years ago, Kathy pushed out a series in the Plainsman Herald by John Havens. We are going to replay that on this blog over the next few weeks. Kathy’s intro is as follows:

A Little Bit of History, By Kathy Nutt.

A while back we received a letter and several pages of history from John Havens of Pratt, KS.  He grew up in Vilas area and would like to share his personal stories about growing up in Baca County with us.  So we will have several episodes of his story and many of us can relate to happenings throughout his life story.  Thank you Mr. Havens for sharing your life with us.

Growing up in Baca County, Episode #2, by John Havens.

   Before I was six years old we moved from the Harrison place to a basement house about a mile East.  Dad built the basement house with intentions of building a house on it, but those plans never materialized.

   This new place had no trees whereas at the Harrison place we had an orchard.  Also a large vine was entwined around the windmill.

   Dad built a small house-like entry way into the basement.  I recall that the cream separator was in this little shelter and there was room to store various items.

   Also we had a garage for our car and a little extra room for the hired man.  Since my Dad and Uncle Jack nearly always had calves which they fed out until they were ready to ship to Kansas City, we always had a hired man.

   Also we had a well house next to the windmill. In it was a trough through which the well water would run, then from thee it was piped out to the tank in the corral.  That water in the trough was our refrigerator.  Mother would keep milk and butter in jars in that cold water in the trough.

   I was always fascinated when butchering day came around.  It seems to me it was always in the Fall of the year.  Several of the neighbors and relatives came together to butcher three or four hogs.

   I can still picture our neighbor Mrs. Bloom sitting on a chair in the yard cleaning the entrails and preparing the tubing to be used for sausage.  Boy, have we come along ways since those days.  Meanwhile, in the house other women were rendering lard, cooking cracklings, and doing something with most every part of that hog.

   At the close of a very busy day the men gathered around the table for a big meal which the women had prepared.  This was in the days before frozen dinners, or fast food from a drive-in.  And after the meal they usually had to have a card game before going home.

    These families, the hutches, my Mother’s people, the Blooms, and the Eatons, so often got together on Saturday nights to play cards and visit.  They were very much like one big family because all of them had come together from Wilson, Kansas to file on homesteads South and Southeast of Vilas in 1914 or 1915.  The Blooms later moved on to Canon City during the dust bowl days.

    As a kid on the farm there was always fascination things to observe.  To see a calf being born and see it learn to walk and feed off its mother.  Then there was the surprise of seeing an old hen appear one day with a whole batch of new-born chicks.  She had hidden her nest out someplace then surprised us with her new brood.  And gathering eggs from the hen house was sometimes a challenge if an old hen didn’t want me to get her eggs and would peck my hand and scare me. 

   Not far from our house was the Sand Arroyo.  Most of the year it was nothing more than a dry creek bed, but maybe a couple of times a year a heavy rain Northwest of us would send water surging down the arroyo.  I enjoyed playing in the sand, and my pet, Big Dog was with me to protect me. 

   (Episode #2 will continue next week with fun social events.)

Growing up in Baca County, Episode #1 John Havens.

A couple years ago, Kathy pushed out a series in the Plainsman Herald by John Havens. We are going to replay that on this blog over the next few weeks. Kathy’s intro is as follows:

A Little Bit of History, By Kathy Nutt.

A while back we received a letter and several pages of history from John Havens of Pratt, KS.  He grew up in Vilas area and would like to share his personal stories about growing up in Baca County with us.  So we will have several episodes of his story and many of us can relate to happenings throughout his life story.  Thank you Mr. Havens for sharing your life with us.

Growing up in Baca County, Episode #1, John Havens.

     Having just celebrate my 90th birthday in February 2016, I find myself being overtaken by that old age affliction called REMINISCING.   While my life has been made up of many experiences I enjoy recalling my growing up years in Baca County and in the Vilas Community.

     When I was born my parents, Homer and Easter Havens, lived on a farm five miles South of Vilas.  It was known then as the Harrison place.  However, my Dad was not a farmer even though we lived on a farm.  He and my Uncle Jack Havens, built and operated the HB (Havens’ Brothers) service station in Vilas.  Dad would take the car most days and leave Mother and me on the farm without transportation.  But there were some days when he would ride on of the horses and leave the car for us.  On one occasion Mother took me and we drove out into the pasture to check on the cattle.  She failed to see a buffalo wallow and got stuck in it.  We had to walk back to the house and Dad had to go get the car out with horses that evening.  Even as a small child I can remember there were green pastures, lots of wild flowers, and buffalo wallows.  I wonder how long it has been since these have been seen in Baca County?

     In those early days of growing up we had no electricity, no running water or indoor plumbing.  No telephone or radios.  It’s hard to imagine life now without all of these.  A comedian once said:  “We weren’t poor, we just didn’t have any money.”  But my parents were not alone in being without these conveniences, none of our neighbors had them either.

     One experience I had as a small child has been indelibly etched into my mind.  It was wash day and Mother had two large tubs of water in front of the iron, wood burning cook stove in the kitchen.  Of course we only had four rooms, so our kitchen/dining room was one room.

    The big old wood burning cook stove had a small door on the side by which pieces of wood or coal could be poked into it to keep the fire burning. So on this particular day I thought I would be helpful and stoke the fire.  I would put a stick in then pull it out to watch it burn.  Mother had gone outside to hang clothes on the line.  She stepped back in the door just as I happened to let the burning stick touch the wall paper and a flame started up the wall.  Since the tubs of water were already there she had a bucket handy and doused that flame in a hurry.  But I soon discovered the fire was no longer on the wall but in the seat of my pants.  I got a paddling that day that I have never forgotten.  My mother curbed any inclination I might have had to be an arsonist.  She shut me in the bedroom, and I have a feeling she went off someplace to have a good cry.

     I recall that we had kerosene lamps for light, but I cannot recall how we spent our evenings.  Surely must have been boring without radio or television, but then we had never heard of such things. 

     There are just a few of the things I remember about early life on the farm South of Vilas in the late twenties and early thirties.  

    Another Episode in the life of John Havens in coming weeks.

Dust Bowl Research Update: Origins of the term”Dust Bowl”, Maps and more

I have been collecting artifacts of the Dust Bowl as it relates to Baca County for awhile. My focus is compiling a resource that tells the “Dust Bowl” story from the perspective of the Baca County Newspaperman, in particular, Springfield Democrat Herald, Editor Ralph Williams.  

However, the research from other newspapers across the country is fascinating so I thought I would share a few tidbits that I have collected / or that am working on at this time.

The counties most often discussed in the “Dust Bowl” conversation surround Baca County so let’s begin with a 1954 U.S. Soil conservation service map which defines the worst erosion of the era.  In particular the following six counties are usually described as the most impacted counties of the Dust Bowl Story.  

Baca County Colorado

Cimarron County Oklahoma

Texas County Oklahoma

Morton County Kansas

Dallam County Texas

Union County New Mexico

The 1954 U.S. Soil conservation service map below provides a visual of the area.  

As such I have started collecting Newspaper Artifacts that discuss the Dust Bowl.  Here is chart which shows the enormity of the newspaper artifact data available on this topic.  The focus of this search was the term “Dust Bowl” in conjunction with the terms in the chart. Other terms such as “Dirty Thirties” and  “Black Blizzard” have been reviewed. There is also a good deal of overlap. Again, I am showing your this to show the enormity of the data available on this topic.

Origins of the Term “Dust Bowl”

Next,  let’s look at the term “Dust Bowl.”   The term dustbowl is usually attributed to Associated Press Editor Edward Stanley.  Associated Press reporter Robert E. Geiger, out of Denver, happened to be in Boise City, Oklahoma, to witness the “Black Sunday” black blizzards of April 14, 1935.

It is usually stated Stanley, Kansas City news editor of the Associated Press coined the term “Dust Bowl” while rewriting Geiger’s news story. While the term “the Dust Bowl” was originally a reference to the geographical area affected by the dust, today it usually refers to the event itself

The term was first used over a year prior to Stanley using it, although his use of the term began the widespread use of the term.  So who really coined the term? You decide.

Caribou County Sun (Soda Springs, Idaho) · 2 Feb 1934.

The News-Palladium (Benton Harbor, Michigan) · 5 Aug 1934.

Maps of the Dust Bowl

The Kane Republican (Kane, Pennsylvania) · 28 Mar 1936.

The Beaver Press (Beaver, Utah) · 20 Oct 1938.

Daily News (New York, New York) · 21 Aug 1938.

Daily News (New York, New York) · 28 Feb 1936.

The Evening Review (East Liverpool, Ohio) · 15 Dec 1939.

Iron County Record (Cedar City, Utah) · 18 Jan 1940

Sunday Journal and Star (Lincoln, Nebraska) · 20 May 1956.

The Dust Bowl Days: by George Chatham

The Dust Bowl Days: by George Chatham

As I shared in an earlier post the Elmer & Lela Chatham family left Baca County and moved to Power’s county sometime in the mid 1920’s. My grandparents (Fred and Ethel Chatham) moved from the “dug-out” on Fred’s homestead to Elmer Chatham’s homestead March 13, 1924. The reason that date is so exact is because my Uncle Frank Chatham was born before the next morning. My Aunt Ola relates that she couldn’t understand why Mom was so insistent that “If we’re going to move, we’re going to move today or forget it!” Apparently my Grandmother Ethel was aware Frank was on his way. My Aunt Ola says “It was snowing some when Dad got us all loaded in the wagon to head over the hill. That night my little brother Frank was born. The next morning we had snowdrifts 10 to 12 feet tall.”

The primary reason the family made the move from Fred’s homestead to Elmer’s homestead was because Elmer’s homestead had a “soddie” and Fred’s homestead still only had the dug-out (with the one room addition). Frank (b. 1924) and Vela (b. 1926) were both born on Elmer’s homestead. My Aunt Vela says the family stayed at Uncle Elmer’s place for several years until they moved up to “Clay creek”. Aunt Vela had finished the 6th grade at North Liberty when Fred, Ethel, and Vela moved to the “Clay creek” place. This would have been about 1937.

This was in the middle of the “Dust Bowl” days. The blowing dirt had blown out all the grass on both Fred and Elmer’s homesteads, so in order to find grass for the cattle, Fred moved to “Clay creek” where there was still grass and “live water” in the creek bed.

Ray, Oran, and Vernon stayed down on the homesteads, trying to keep the land from completely blowing way. The government was paying something like .50 cents an acre to “chisel” or “list” the ground in order to keep the soil from blowing away. My Dad said, on several occasions he and his brothers ran the tractor 24 hours a day for several weeks, trying to keep the land from blowing away.

There have been TV specials and books written asking the question: “What caused the dustbowl?” The long and short story is: In the early 30’s wheat prices were $3 plus a bushel, there was good rainfall, and so a lot of the native buffalo grassland was “broke-out” and planted to wheat. When the draught came and wheat prices dropped, much of the land that had been “broke-out” was simply abandoned by landowners and let to “blow”.

Even though I didn’t live through the “dust bowl” days of the 1930’s, I still remember a couple times even in the 50’s when school was let out early so the school buses could get us kids home before a dust storm (“roller”) hit. I remember one night the wind blowing so hard that the tar-paper roof on the old soddie was lifting up and down and my Dad went out and threw up two or three old car tires and filled them with dirt to keep the roof from blowing off. Mom took card board boxes and we slept with our heads in the box and wet tea-towels draped over them to keep us from breathing the dust that was coming in because of the wind and blowing dirt. Supposedly that was after the “dust bowl” days. I understand that the last five or six years some of the same blowing dirt and “rollers” have taken place. I don’t miss those days. It took and continues to take some sturdy souls to make a life in the “Great American Desert”.

The picture below is of the old “soddie” on Elmer’s homestead after a lot of blow-dirt had blown in around it. I don’t think anyone was living here then. The boards in front/left of the picture are the door to the storm/fruit cellar.

Next Post: “Clay Creek”

Were the Dirty Thirties the Good Old Days?

Posted with permission of Gloria Jean. Original article appeared in the Huckaby Times (Cousin Newsletter), April 2004

On Sunday April 14th, 1935, the sun came up in a clear sky. The day was warm and pleasant, a gentle breeze whimpered out of the southwest. Suddenly a cloud appeared on the horizon. Birds flew swiftly ahead of it, but not swift enough for the cloud traveling at 60 miles per hour. This day, which many people of the area readily remember was named “Black Sunday”.

Robert Luther and Rebecca Suzanne Huckaby were living with her family in the store building Luther had built on South Main Street in Springfield.  The building is pictured below to the right in the photo.

South Main with Grandma and Granddad Huckaby’s Store on the Right

Jane Huckaby was 10 years old. Wet sheets hung over the heads of the beds to catch the dust as it settled and  windows had wet sheets hanging over them and blankets over the doors. The family tied handkerchiefs over their noses and mouths and stuffed cloth into every crack they could find. During the worst part of the storm, the windows would begin to rattle and Jane and her mother would take wadded up towels and hold them up against the windows to keep them from shaking and getting broken during the worst of the storm.

The cloud appeared on the horizon with a thunderous roar.  Turbulent dust clouds rolled in generally from the North and dumped  a fine silt over the land.  Men, women and children stayed in their houses.   When they dared to leave, they added  goggles to protect their eye.  House were shut tight, cloth was wedged in the cracks of the doors and windows but still the fine silt forced its way into the houses, schools and businesses.  During the storms, the air indoors was “swept” with wet gunny sacks.

In 1935, the weather in the Dust Bowl again made the national headlines.  One storm was followed by another and yet another in rapid succession.  In late March a severe storm  lashed Boise City so hard that many people were stranded for hours.  No one dared to leave a store and head for home although it might less than a block away.

By May, it seemed like the wind and dirt have been blowing for an eternity. Rain was an event occurring only in dreams. It was a year of intense dirt storms, gales, rollers, and floods mixed with economic depression, sickness and disaster. It was a year of extreme hardship.  By  1935 the unusual had become the usual, the extreme became the normal, he exception became the routine.

May 6, 1935 the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was created to help provide relief to the citizens of the United States who were suffering through the Great Depression.   During 1936, the number of dirt storms increased and the temperature broke the 1934 record by soaring above 120 degrees.

Main Street Springfield

On a pleasant June day in 1936, the ground began to tremble.  A sharp earthquake shook the land from Kenton OK to Perryton TX and from Liberal KS to Stratford TX.  It was not noticed in Springfield.

By the fall of 1936 Robert Luther Huckaby had been working in one of the WPA programs building roads  In 1937 he began working for the county as a janitor and jailer.  Jane Huckaby my mother was about twelve eyars old when the Huckaby family sold the store and moved to the apartment connected ot the courthouse which went with Luther’s job.

The next year was the year of the “snuster”. The snuster was a mixture of dirt and snow reaching blizzard proportions.  The storm cause a tremendous amount of damage and suffering.

Those were the good old days, right?

I Was Working on the Railroad…In The Heart of the Dust Bowl?

Dust Bowl


  1. The region in the South Central U.S that suffered from dust storms.

Thanks Johnny Jameson for this picture of a Roller Coming through Springfield

Associated Press staff writer Robert Geiger was in Boise City Oklahoma writing a series of articles on a day that is sometimes referred to as Black Sunday. In his April 15 release for the Washington, D.C., Evening Star he wrote: “Three little words…If it Rains” as the title of a story on what was happening in the South Central plains during the 1930’s, but it was another three little words which actually become the moniker for the decade.  Within three months “The Dust Bowl” was being used throughout the nation. He specifically referred to “the western third of Kansas, southeastern Colorado, the Oklahoma Panhandle, the northern two-thirds of the Texas Panhandle, and northeastern New Mexico.” That area is pretty much the same as the Dust Bowl boundary formally designated in 1939 by the Soil Conservation Service as the geographical extent of the severe wind damage by 1939.

Perhaps it’s appropriate the words “Most Severe” lay across the most south east county in Colorado  in the map below.  This map shows the degree to which various South Central Plains were impacted by the Dust Bowl.


Baca County Colorado is the most south east county and is comprised of 1,637,426 acres.   Nary an inch of  that acreage was spared during the midst of the dust bowl era in the 1930’s and again during the severe drought of the 1950’s. Baca County was hard-hit experiencing severe dust storms the locals called rollers, “dirt drifts”, buried fence rows, jackrabbit drives and grasshopper plagues of what must have seemed to some to be of Biblical proportions.  While I was recently visiting Baca County the following comment came up.

You could always tell when someone was getting ready to leave during the Dust Bowl because they would kill the milk cow

A desperate action by folks who could no longer take air quality so poor that residents hung wet rags in their windows attempting to keep blowing soil out of their homes.

Many have read Tim Egan’s Worst Hard Time or watched Ken Burn’s Dust Bowl Documentary.  It is true, that we must give them credit for a product well done.  However,  as I observe such stories and compare them to the stories I have heard and the photos I have seen growing up in Baca County I have often felt I have seen more and better Dust bowl artifacts and stories than Tim Egan or Ken Burns could collect in a lifetime. The trick I suppose is in compiling and presenting those stories.  A perfect example is a recent Dust bowl conversation I had with 92 year old Herb Homsher, a lifetime Baca County resident,

Herb’s first job during high school was for the railroad as part of a shovel gang that worked to keep the railroad tracks clear between Boise City, Oklahoma and Springfield.  Herb indicated that the dirt covering the tracks would sometimes blow in and be about a foot or so covering the the tracks.

Herb tells us,

Well I was in high school at the time that the railroad from the south came in.  They were going to go on through to La Junta (CO). I took a job with those people.  During the day I would help scoop off  dirt on the track and at night the dirt would blow back over the tracks.   They put me on the shovel gang and we’d go clear to Boise City and then we would have to come back the other way and clean the tracks again.  We just would take a shovel and scoop it off the tracks.  I would go and shovel dust and then come back to town and play the trombone in the band  and when I was done I would go scoop more dust.

Herb also says,

I got my social security number from the railroad.  At that time you didn’t have to have a social security number.  Herb’s wife Lucille remembers times when Herb would list his social security number and people would ask, “Did you work for the Railroad?”

This leads us to an interesting bit of history.  In the 1930s, amidst concern about the ability of existing pension programs to provide former railroad workers with adequate assistance in old age, Congress established a national Railroad Retirement system. Because he had a “700” series Social Security number, he definitely was working for an employer covered by the Railroad Retirement Act when he received his Social Security number.  The Railroad Retirement Board issued “700” series numbers from 1936 until 1963, when the unused numbers in the series were returned to Social Security.

Although most employers in the Railroad Retirement system are pure railroad operations, there were some, like the Union Stockyards in Chicago, that were closely related to the railroads and that were included in the system. The Union Stockyards owned a famous restaurant at 42nd Street & Halsted called the “Stockyards Inn” at which the waiters and other employees were covered by Railroad Retirement. Railway Express Agency (REA), a forerunner of UPS and Federal Express was also a “railroad employer.” So was a resort in Sun Valley, California.

I know the last two paragraphs leads us down a bit of rabbit trail.  We were talking about the dust bowl and wandered off to the railroad, but that is how history is…one story leads to another which leads to another.   That’s all for now.