Ken Burns Dust Bowl
Highway6
7:11p, 11/18/12
Highway6
1343 posts, joined 09/03/2002
Consider this a public service announcement.

The show just started. A friend of mine went to a PBS function last week where Ken Burns talked about the production. Says this is going to be well worth watching.
ChiAggie
8:23p, 11/18/12
ChiAggie
11193 posts, joined 07/09/2011
Its very very good so far. Amazing how little I knew about this. These people suffered so much.
Aggie95
8:26p, 11/18/12
Aggie95
4262 posts, joined 10/11/1999
not watching it, but from the previews....it struck me as something we should all watch, especially those that like to complain about the inconveniences of today.
ChiAggie
8:54p, 11/18/12
ChiAggie
11193 posts, joined 07/09/2011
quote:
not watching it, but from the previews....it struck me as something we should all watch, especially those that like to complain about the inconveniences of today.


They are repeating it at 9 Central FYI.
eric76
9:43p, 11/18/12
eric76
40298 posts, joined 12/03/1999
I grew up in what is pretty much the heart of the dust bowl.

My grandparents had a good wheat harvest that year and it was too dry to plant that fall so they kept it in the grainery. For several years, they lived off that wheat.

Every once in a while, they'd load some wheat in the truck and take it to Texhoma, Oklahoma to sell it. They would then drive to a small time fuel plant near Fritch, Texas and buy diesel. Just about everything else they either made or grew themselves.

To make the water go further, they got some clay pipes and built an underground watering system for the garden.

My grandmother said that during the dust storms, they would close the house up as much as possible but everything would still be covered by a really fine dust.

In the mid 60s, there were some dust storms around here. I can remember going to church on Sundays when the dust was so bad you couldn't see the fence rows beside the highway. On those days, we'd go pick up my grandparents and drive them to church and back afterwards.

The pictures of a wall of dust approaching a town look awfully strange. One Sunday afternoon in the 60s, there was some kind of an event at the church. I remember standing a couple of hundred yards east of the church looking at this giant brown wall as it rapidly approached us. When it hit, the temperature dropped by about 20 degrees in just a few minutes. It was warm outside before the wall of dust arrived and a coat was a definite requirement just a few minutes afterwards.

In spite of all the dust, my grandmother said that was nothing compared to the dust bowl.
CanyonAg77
10:13p, 11/18/12
CanyonAg77
39136 posts, joined 09/21/2000
Mom grew up south of Lubbock, they were on the southern edge, and it was still pretty bad there. Funny, I was just with her today and she told of a snowstorm so bad all the bus kids ended up spending the night at three houses close to where the bus got stuck. I guess this would have been '37 or '38 as the Dust Bowl was ending.

She has talked before of how the dust would get everywhere, in spite of all the rags stuffed in cracks, etc.
TERRY L
2:56a, 11/19/12
TERRY L
22536 posts, joined 12/14/2003
I watched the first part tonight. My mom grew
up on a ranch outside of shamrock, tx in the dust bowl. Living through it and the depression had a profound effect on her. I can't imagine living in all that dirt
eric76
3:24a, 11/19/12
eric76
40298 posts, joined 12/03/1999
My mother's father died when she was a little girl. Her mother was a school teacher. They lived near Lubbock.

During the Great Depression, the local schools where they lived could only give out vouchers in liu of pay. It was up to the merchants to decide whether or not they would accept the vouchers for goods. As I understand it, they would, to a degree, accept the vouchers only if the person was the only breadwinner for their family.

They ended up going to live on a ranch where her mother took the job of being the teacher at the ranch's school. The schoolhouse had two rooms -- one for the school and one for living quarters for the teacher. So the four of them, my maternal grandmother, my mother, her brother and her sister lived together in the one room living quarters at the school.

I think that for them, the hardships of the Great Depression were greater than the hardships of the Dust Bowl.
chosin
5:25a, 11/19/12
chosin
17218 posts, joined 07/28/2010
Watched it. Good show.
Wildcat
6:53a, 11/19/12
Wildcat
16744 posts, joined 08/23/2000
I need to see it.

My grandmother described a dust storm as a young girl that was bad enough that they wrapped wet rags around their faces and locked themselves in an interior closet. When the kids started crying, her mother sang church hymns for hours.

When it was finally over and they cleaned the house, there was enough settled dust on the kitchen table that it covered a dish towel.

Hard to imagine that.

This was in Wilbarger, Co. As I understand it, not really a true part of the dust bowl and such storms were pretty rare.

[This message has been edited by Wildcat (edited 11/19/2012 6:56a).]
AC Hopper
7:08p, 11/19/12
AC Hopper
8677 posts, joined 01/27/2006
It lasted a decade and was the worst ecological disaster of our country in modern history.
Climate change can be a biyatch.
AC Hopper
9:06p, 11/19/12
AC Hopper
8677 posts, joined 01/27/2006
Another fine, fine Ken Burns production!
I believe the works of Burns & his associates are monumental historical epics!

The stern teachings of The Dust Bowl …

It is good to remember
That the laws of the Universe
Recognize no favorites
And cherish no hostility,
Or small vindictiveness;
That before sun and rain,
Stormy winds or summer's kind beneficence,
We all stand upon one common level. -- Caroline Henderson
CanyonAg77
9:12p, 11/19/12
CanyonAg77
39136 posts, joined 09/21/2000
quote:
Climate change can be a biyatch.

Drier than normal spell followed by wetter than normal spell =/= "climate change"
TERRY L
10:12p, 11/19/12
TERRY L
22536 posts, joined 12/14/2003
climate change or very poor farming practices
a combination of both

Buck O Five
10:27p, 11/19/12
Buck O Five
2616 posts, joined 03/27/2011
Definitely a moving piece - the pictures really capture the hardships of that era, and should make us all thankful for the standard of living we have now.

It's tough to see the hardworking, yet uneducated farmers of that day refuse to accept their contribution to the dust bowl, with their erosive practices of farming. Unable to adapt or try the new, fairly successful methods proposed by the bright minds of the era.

Their was bias to this documentary, though, after a rereading of the Grapes of Wrath, to see the devastating effects of New Dealism, and price controls on those that fled to California. Emphasis was placed on the the good effects of the administrations efforts, and the education/better living conditions provided by government.

The country has always struggled to find balance in the role of government between crisis and personal responsibility.

As a state's rights supporter, it was interesting to watch California lawman turn back "immigrants" from other states, turned away as vagrants.
powerbiscuit
11:42p, 11/19/12
powerbiscuit
39004 posts, joined 11/20/2002
quote:
It's tough to see the hardworking, yet uneducated farmers of that day refuse to accept their contribution to the dust bowl, with their erosive practices of farming. Unable to adapt or try the new, fairly successful methods proposed by the bright minds of the era.


This is one of those things that's easier to view in hindsight. People had been making a living at farming for thousands of years and did it without many of our modern conveniences.

You might consider them uneducated, but if you were placed in their environment, I doubt you'd survive. They built their own houses and barns, raised their food, handled minor medical problems, raised animals, dug their own wells, etc. They were more or less self-sufficient in a pretty hostile environment. Not to mention, if it was daylight, they were doing some type of manual labor...or eating a meal.

Regarding the dust bowl, I'm sure that leaving some ground cover helped minimize the problem, but the storms still exist, even with 80 years of experience and "modern" farming practices. I suspect these storms have happened for long before we sunk a plow in the prairie. Is seems the major difference and probably the real reason for any substantial change in the dust storms is the emergence of irrigation. The ground doesn't dry up as much with a significant portion of the panhandle being irrigated.

My guess is the dust bowl era will return from time to time once irrigation is significantly reduced in the area.

I suspect it's a naturally occurring phenomenon and there's not much we can do to stop it once the water tables drops to a point where much of the acreage is returned to dry land farming.


Edit to add...

These folks relied on making a crop to eat and survive. They didn't have the luxury of playing around with some new gimmick that may or may not work. Not to mention, they pretty much worked all the time and didn't have loads of time to screw around. Mechanized farm machinery was in its infancy and the tractors and implements were not nearly as capable as those of today. There was no internet, no cell phones, and in some cases no phone at all. Some people at that time may not have had electricity, and those that did probably had it from a generator of their own. For those who lived away from town, they might go into town on Saturday...once a week.

[This message has been edited by powerbiscuit (edited 11/20/2012 12:00a).]
TERRY L
12:03a, 11/20/12
TERRY L
22536 posts, joined 12/14/2003
i don't think it was the resident farmers that were the biggest problem and they addressed this in the series. it was the speculative people who rushed in when wheat prices were at the highest and turned up every piece of land they could find and then just left the land bare when the prices fell and they took off back to where ever they came from.

one of the things that helped repair the problem was putting the land back in the prarie grasses and not leaving it barren so the winds could blow that topsoil everywhere.

it was a very good series and explained alot that family never wanted to really talk about. i do remember dad telling me about the government coming onto the ranch in sweetwater and shooting great grandaddys cattle because there was no market for them. that just killed my great grandaddys soul. he was sheriff of nolan county and knew of so many starving people that those cattle could have fed. but the government instead killed the cattle and buried them. they talked about that in the first part of the series and it brought dads story to mind.
TERRY L
12:04a, 11/20/12
TERRY L
22536 posts, joined 12/14/2003
dp

[This message has been edited by TERRY L (edited 11/20/2012 12:06a).]
TERRY L
12:04a, 11/20/12
TERRY L
22536 posts, joined 12/14/2003
texags burped

[This message has been edited by TERRY L (edited 11/20/2012 12:07a).]
eric76
2:25a, 11/20/12
eric76
40298 posts, joined 12/03/1999
I just got through watching the first half of the show.

One thing I hadn't thought of in years were the rabbit drives. They used to have those around here in the 1950s. We even held a rabbit drive in one of our fields. I was maybe a year or two old and cannot remember it, but my older brothers were like 10 to 12 years old and participated and I heard a lot about it.
CanyonAg77
8:32a, 11/20/12
CanyonAg77
39136 posts, joined 09/21/2000
quote:
Unable to adapt or try the new, fairly successful methods proposed by the bright minds of the era.

I think you give a little too much credit to the "bright minds" of the era. Agricultural research was still in its infancy, as were the Experiment Station and Extension Service systems that today are respected research and information sources. Hybrid corn, which is near universal today, had just been successfully introduced a few years before, in the mid-1920s.

There was still a lot of scientific quackery around, so I don't blame them for being skeptical. And as powerbiscuit says, they weren't uneducated. Most probably were highly literate, though you are correct that their scientific training may have been lacking. But almost anyone born around the turn of the last century was lacking in scientific training. And in the knowledge of how to do what they were doing, they were well-educated. Keeping a primitive engine running would have been a prized skill, Internet surfing, not so much.
quote:
Their was bias to this documentary

I noticed the rather gleeful assertion that it was FDR that saved them, when it was rain that did so. However, the way the government tried to help, and the way the "Okies" were treated in California, it does make one understand the political climate of today in California.

One big thing I noticed was the reluctance of folks to ask for government help. They were too proud to apply even when eligible. They talked of the shame of having the government relief truck coming to drop off food at their house.

Sadly, today's takers seem to take it as a point of pride that they are "getting theirs" from the government.

A little shame would be a good thing.
quote:
Is seems the major difference and probably the real reason for any substantial change in the dust storms is the emergence of irrigation. The ground doesn't dry up as much with a significant portion of the panhandle being irrigated.
My guess is the dust bowl era will return from time to time once irrigation is significantly reduced in the area.

I'm going to disagree with my friend pb here, a bit. Irrigation is helpful, but the dust bowl ended in the 40s due to RAIN. The irrigation boom really didn't come until the 1950s.

If there were no irrigation, I don't see us going back to the dust bowl. Almost no one use the clean-field methods of the 1920s and 1930s, and much of the highly erodible land in the plains is back in grass now. Obviously, production would plummet, and the plains would tend to depopulate, but much of that is already happening due to mechanization of farming.

Of course, if the rainfall were to stop for several years, things could get very bad again. But not to 1930s levels.
quote:
it was the speculative people who rushed in when wheat prices were at the highest and turned up every piece of land they could find and then just left the land bare when the prices fell and they took off back to where ever they came from

The bigger the piece of ground left open to wind, the worse the erosion. Even today, if your land is not blowing, a neighbor's land can blow and start your sand moving. And some of the people (suitcase farmers) were hobby farmers or speculators, but a lot were folks who couldn't afford to plow, or who had simply left. Regarding the speculators:

IMG >

Wheat today is higher than it's ever been, on a dollar per bushel basis, at around $8 to $9 a bushel. But look at the $2.45/bu in 1920. Adjusted for inflation, that would be over $27 a bushel in today's dollars.

No wonder people were growing wheat as hard as they could. Oh, and the low of $0.49/bu in 1932? That's about $8.00 a bushel in 2011 dollars....pretty much where we are today, tied with the Great Depression.



[This message has been edited by CanyonAg77 (edited 11/20/2012 8:35a).]
Buck O Five
8:37a, 11/20/12
Buck O Five
2616 posts, joined 03/27/2011
Excellent post powerbiscuit, thanks for the insight.
Hagen95
8:38a, 11/20/12
Hagen95
11636 posts, joined 04/09/2003
One of the old ladies interviewed for the series is my great aunt. My dad and brother are still farming the same land they homesteaded on at the turn of the last century. I still remember my grandfather talking about the rabbit hunts.

My great-grandfather would tell crazy stories about the dust storms and how scary they were.

Loved the series.
UMichAg
8:44a, 11/20/12
UMichAg
12092 posts, joined 06/30/2005
Those images of the rabbit hunts were awesome. I didn't realize just how rampant rabbits were during that period.
powerbiscuit
9:06a, 11/20/12
powerbiscuit
39004 posts, joined 11/20/2002
quote:
I'm going to disagree with my friend pb here, a bit. Irrigation is helpful, but the dust bowl ended in the 40s due to RAIN. The irrigation boom really didn't come until the 1950s.


Rain is obviously better than irrigation, but I meant it more as a supplement.

My point, which probably wasn't well explained, is that during long periods of drought, we'd face similar problems, even with the increased knowledge and modern farming practices. The ability to irrigate during a drought minimizes the potential for another dust bowl.
csp97
9:44a, 11/20/12
csp97
1388 posts, joined 08/23/2001
I was able to watch the series at my grandmother’s house who was 9 years old in 1932 and lived in Hansford county. She lives now about 5 miles from where her parents homesteaded during the 20’s and 30’s. She had several interesting comments during the show. She didn’t remember it being as bad as Burns made it sound. Her memories of her childhood are always positive. I guess maybe that’s just a child’s natural attitude. She did not remember any rabbit drives or the grasshoppers. The government bought their beef cows, she did not remember any animals that had just been shot and buried. They milked about 15 head of cows during that time. No idea how they kept them fed. She had a surprisingly positive opinion of FDR. She remembers the government benefits as a wonderful thing and FDR as the one that provided them. The WPA was also a great idea, built a lot of good things. She remembered her family getting free flour at the county courthouse.

As far as the possibility of another dust bowl, the last two years have been as hot and dry as any time in the 30’s. I’ve still never seen anything resembling those pictures of those old dust storms. The wind still blows 60 mph from time to time, but all it generates is a little dusty haze in the distance. Irrigation is what maybe 20% of the total farmland? It’s going away within a generation, but I can’t see how that 20% is what holds everything together.
Cotton 94
10:34p, 11/20/12
Cotton 94
5940 posts, joined 10/28/2002
Just got a chance to finish it tonight. I have a personal connection as well. Some of those stories I have heard word for word from kinfolk.

One of the things that struck me is that for all of the handwringing about violating natures laws at the expense of the longterm, there was nary a mention of the violation of economic laws by the government temple they praised so heavily.

Both are folly and the absence of at least presenting that was a big flaw in an otherwise wonderful production.

It also struck me that California is now undergoing the anti dust bowl migration. It's productive citizens are being driven away. Food for thought for Ken Burns III when he makes his documentary on the woes we are on the brink of today.
elgato
3:19a, 11/21/12
elgato
10598 posts, joined 10/08/2003
quote:
California is now undergoing the anti dust bowl migration.


Yep. They're all coming back this-away.
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