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Tuesday, 17 August 2010 09:57

75 Years Ago Late Summer/Early Autumn 1930

Written by  Maurice Telleen
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(From the July, August & September 1930 Breeder's Gazette, Belgian and Percheron publications of that time, as well as general news of the times.)

In the last issue we started this column with commentary on the serious troubles of China and India. Awful as they were, I suspect it was fairly easy for our parents and grandparents to dismiss conflicts in that part of the world as: A-of little consequence to them and, B-a long way from home.

For one thing we were drifting into a serious economic depression ourselves. It was hard to worry about who was going to be the next head cheese in China when the livestock markets, the grain markets, the wool market and the milk market were all headed for the toilet. The lengthening unemployment lines in places like Des Moines and Detroit were of more consequence than anything that was happening in Shanghai or Bombay.

So we will dismiss that part of the world and focus on peoples more like ourselves ... the Europeans. And if the news from that part of the world wasn't enough to strike fear into the heart of every mother and mother's son in the country, I don't know what it would take. There were clear signals of deep trouble ahead in both Russia and Germany.

We will take Russia first. I believe Churchill said it best (he usually did) when he described Russian foreign policy as a mystery wrapped in an enigma. I'll do the best I can, but I have found serious reading or studying Russian history to be a form of self-abuse. So this will be brief.

Czarist Russia absorbed terrible casualties in three years of war with Germany from 1914-17. The Czarist regime was tottering toward its well earned demise. The Germans, occupying large areas of Russia, managed to deposit Vladimir Lenin-who had been a key figure in founding the Bolsheviks in the short lived revolution of 1905, back into Russia in April of 1917. After eleven years of exile, the Germans figured he would keep the pot boiling. He did. His Bolsheviks never gave the provisional government of Kerensky a chance. This freed up German troops for the western front in France, and left Russia literally at war with itself-the whites verses the reds, and I suppose subdivisions of both. Russia has a great track record of self-abuse-no wonder reading about it has the same effect.

The Bolsheviks (the reds) emerged from this fracas as top dog in the kennel. Lenin was the intellectual. His chief lieutenants were Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin. Upon the death of Lenin in 1924 at the age of 54, a power struggle ensued. Stalin gained the upper hand. Trotsky was eventually exiled. Stalin finally eliminated him with a hired assassin on August 21, 1940, in Mexico City. Stalin had very long arms by that time.

And that shortcut brings us up to June 28, 1930, and the opening of the 16th Congress of the Soviet Socialist Republics. Joseph Stalin, the survivor, was boasting about his purges. In the three years since he had bested his rival, Trotsky, he had exiled, banished or imprisoned 6,500 party members for supporting the views of Leon Trotsky. Then he found 34,000 who had been too "right wing" so they were stripped of their memberships. About 6,000 of the Trotskyites had "seen the light" and changed their thinking. My guess is that only scratched the surface.

What a mess the House of Romanoff had left in that part of the world!

Then in September of 1930, the Germans sent a signal that the 20th century was going to be a shambles-a scene of great death, destruction and disorder. They did it with an election. Their country was still smarting from its defeat in WWI and was in both an economic depression and a blue funk. The voting public turned to communism for answers. They went from 12 seats in the old Reichstag to 107 in the new, making them the second largest political party in Germany. That is just what Adolf Hitler needed-a "communist threat," and he was on his way. The rest of the 20th century got much worse before it got better.

One last political note from 1930. On July 3 of that year, 150,000 strikers went back to work in the automobile plants around Detroit. Now the goofy thing is that Joseph Stalin obviously thought this was a good time to urge American Communists to mount a revolution, so he did. I don't think he knew anything about this country.

Lots of important things happened here in our country in the late summer of 1930. I'll mention four.

The Greyhound Bus Company extended its services to include the entire country, or at least the lower 48 states.

A horse named Gallant Fox became the second winner of the triple crown of racing in this country, winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont. The only other three time winner was a horse named Sir Barton in 1919.

Grant Wood, great regionalist painter from eastern Iowa conned his sister and his dentist into serving as models for his painting, "American Gothic." His dentist stands there with a pitchfork in one hand, his sister looks like the mailman just ran over her favorite cat. And thus rural Iowans were dealt a terrible reputation for dourness. I don't think we deserve it.

For the fourth one 75 years ago this summer and fall, we will go to Babe Ruth's two year contract signed with the New York Yankees. It called for $160,000 to play baseball-a boy's game. Ruth said he would try to hit a homer for every thousand bucks. It bothered some folks that Ruth's salary was higher than Herbert Hoover's and Hoover was president of the whole country!

That did not bother the Babe in the least. He explained that he was having a considerably better year than Mr. Hoover, and that was certainly the truth!

One last tidbit from 1930 and this one from dear old England. It was 75 years ago that Sherlock Holmes died-or at least his creator did. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had invented the crafty Sherlock, in "A Study of Scarlet" published in 1887. With his two-way deerstalker hat and his pipe, the character blazed quite a trail for author Doyle in the next few years. But Doyle got sick of his detective so he decided to kill him off, which he did in a novel. The public would have none of that! So, in 1904, Doyle wrote "Return of Sherlock Holmes." All told there were four novels and over 50 stories about the pipe smoking, inscrutable detective who never failed to solve the riddle at hand.

I've worn that type of hat (or cap) for years and love them. They don't blow off in a high wind, keep the rain off the back of your neck, you can't put them on backwards-or at least nobody notices-and they attract women.

And with that fashion tip, we will leave the world stage and focus on American farming and the draft horse business for the rest of 75.

From the size and general appearance of the three Gazettes covering this period, you wouldn't guess that both the magazine and American agriculture were on such a slippery slope. All you had to do to find that out was to start reading carefully.

A big part of the June issue served as a cheerleader for the values of breeding animals, purebred dairy cattle in this case. Public auctions were Walter Miller's job. The subtitle was "Criterion auctions in dairy breeds show steady values in proven purebreds." I went to our fat old college dictionary to see just what "criterion" meant and here is what I found. It is "a standard, rule or test by which something is judged."

His group of seven sales consisted of three Guernsey, two Jersey, one Ayrshire and one Holstein public auction. The 451 head averaged $681-a lot for 1930! He concluded that "New men of means have joined established breeders and together they have stepped into the gap to stop the trend toward lower prices." The names of the buyers of the sale toppers confirmed this. They were not plain-Jane dairy farmers who milked the cows and spread the manure. These sales were dominated by people from the social register-not the local creamery board or cow testing association.

The top two animals came from the Holstein and Jersey ranks. A Holstein bull that had been junior champion at the last National Dairy Show fetched $6,500, selling to the Pevely Dairy in St. Louis from Carnation Milk Farm in Washington. The top female was an imported Jersey cow going at $6,200 to Elm Hill Farm, Brookfield, Massachusetts, at the W.R. Spann & Sons sale. So there was a small importing trade in dairy cattle as well as draft horses 75 years ago.

A number of dairy cattle sold in the Ayrshire and Jersey sales were recent imports, including the top Ayrshire at the Strathglass sale at Port Chester, New York, as well as that Jersey. Nearly all these buyers made their money in offices, rather than barns.They were also very likely to have purebred livestock of other species, as well as dairy; take draft horses for example.

Strathglass, the venue for the Ayrshire sale, also maintained Clydesdale horses at that time-Scottish to the core. One of the most ambitious buyers at the Guernsey sales was the Dayton family (owners of a department store) from Minnesota's twin cities. They owned Boulder Bridge Farm at nearby Excelsior, famous for its Belgians, Guernseys, Durocs and Shropshires. The top selling Guernsey bull of that spring came from Langwater Farms (Ames), North Easton, Massachusetts, also famous for Clydesdales. And there were others, but I think I've made my point.

It is no wonder that Animal Husbandry profs and their colleges touted the fact that some of their graduates could look forward to "managing" estates such as the ones just mentioned. There was a lot of elitism in the purebred trade at that time. I think managing one of these estate farms was both a legitimate and achievable goal for many young men 75 years ago. And, in some cases, a safe harbor in tough times as well. Don McKarns at Porath's Belgians and Brown Swiss and Les Wilson at Dayton's Boulder Bridge with their Belgians, Guernseys, Durocs, and Shrops were two good examples. They had great jobs.

Jim Poole, the market editor and analyst did not offer a lot of encouragement to the beef trade. Beef had really come down off the mountain since 1929. The farmer/feeder had little to cheer about. Poole was a good writer. He counseled feeders to be optimistic at their own risk. In other words, he didn't know what was around the bend either.

There was much talk of labor saving devices (spelled t-r-a-c-t-o-r in many cases) and according to the economists at Cornell, New York, farmers had discharged two out of every three hired farm workers during the decade of the '20s. So that was the gospel being preached by economists with salaried positions, and in some cases, tenure, "Can the hired man." The stats from Ohio and Michigan were similar. Another trend that was noted was an increase in farmers working part-time in plants, especially in Michigan. The drum beat of the future was on page after page, if you looked for it.

DROUGHT? Yes, there was a drought and it was a big one. As Sam Guard wrote: "From Springfield, Indianapolis and Columbus, seats of three great state fairs, it has extended its withering hand southward to cover West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri."

"Some of this country is burned up; corn is a fizzle; pastures next to nothing. But in the midst of the drought area are cases of green ... half a corn crop, some forage, greening pastures. For the unfortunate this act of God will be alleviated by the act of government. Aid is forthcoming under the leadership of the president himself where it is needed."

Sam had fallen under Hoover's spell during the 1928 election and he was doing his best to stay hitched. But, it was getting harder.

1930 was a big drought but it contained itself mostly to the southern part of the corn belt and those old border states mentioned earlier. For the most part Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan were unscathed ... as were the northern portion of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

Lord knows, that staff did their best to remain upbeat but they went into the 1930 state fair circuit with their fingers crossed. As for attendance at the fairs, it was surprisingly good. It seems that beat up farmers needed a lift and what was better than a day at the fair for that.

And Sam Guard's irrepressible optimism came shining through. Such as: "Are horses coming back? Have they been away? The Illinois State Fair had the greatest show of drafters in history."

What does it mean when the prediction had been so prevalent that we were moving to an era of horseless farms? It means that farmers are determined to cut costs and to burn in their equine motors farm-grown fuel, etc., etc.

I doubt that mechanization had made much of an impact on farming in Belgium and France. Tom Holbert was over there buying stallions and it was reported that nearly 60 head of 2-year-old Percheron stallions were led out at Nogent-le-Rotrou. One of the English buyers at Nogent was Dr. H.H. Truman who just happened to have a brother at Bushnell, Illinois ... doing business in Shires, Belgians and Percherons with family on both sides of the Atlantic! Another indicator of how commonplace the involvement of the super rich in the pedigreed livestock business is found in that the Percherons owned by J. Pierpont Morgan (New York banker-just in case you live on the moon) won several prizes at the English Royal at Manchester.

There was nothing in the grain sector that was suffering more than wheat-the staff of life. The price of wheat was so terrible that several of the land grant schools were making much noise about solutions-mostly "feed it to the hogs." I'll give you the first two paragraphs of Sam Guard's take on...

"How To Solve The Wheat Problem"
by Samuel R. Guard, Editor

"In the very heart of the corn belt, I came upon a man hauling a load of wheat to town. How much are you getting for it? '70 cents.' How much did you get last year? '$1.40,' just twice as much, and I thought that was bad enough.

"On the way to the office I got to wondering whether any real farmer-I'm not including the brotherhood of soil miners-can afford to sell wheat for 70 cents a bushel. I started an inquiry among some of the leading feed authorities, and accordingly am convinced that right now the best thing to do with 70 cent wheat is to feed it. In absorbing the troublesome surplus, the hog-trough may be mightier than any stabilization corporation."

Two short "horse bits" from 1930 and then we will attend a funeral with Sam.

In working up material on Charles Irvine, Belgian breeder from Ankeny, Iowa, in the past I have taken note of the odd fact that in 1930 he wasn't even listed as an exhibitor at Des Moines-he lived close enough he could have led the horses in. Maybe he broke a leg. But he didn't. I found out why in that August 1930 Gazette.

He was fitting a whole bunch of Belgians for the Iowa fair out there at Irvinedale. Some of them had been born and raised at Irvinedale. Others had come from C.G. Good & Son, Ogden and Jess Hillman, Grand Junction. They were all, by that time, owned by R.B. Brown, a woolen goods manufacturer from Seattle, Washington. Irvine had agreed to fit them and show them for the Brown Woolen Company at the Iowa and Minnesota State Fairs before they were shipped west. Apparently part of the purchase agreement was that Charley Irvine was to do his best to win some nice ribbons at Des Moines and St. Paul before they went west. And the best way to do that was to fit and show Mr. Brown's and leave his own at home. And that is what he did.

"Were They Blowing Smoke?"

Holberts reported that the demand for stallions was so brisk that they had to discontinue new sales in order to service customers under their colt club plan. Tom Holbert was planning a fall buying trip to Belgium and France. Were they blowing smoke? I don't know. Be a dandy rumor to be making the rounds when all those new stallions from Belgium and France arrive though, wouldn't it?

Final item-from the September, 1930 Gazette:

Colonel Dwight Lincoln, secretary of the American Rambouillet Sheep Breeders Association, died at Rambledale, his home in Marysville, Ohio, on August 20. He was 58 years of age and heart disease was the cause of his demise.

Before his death he made an altogether strange request. It was that his funeral be conducted by Samuel R. Guard, editor of the Gazette, in the manner of the "Little Brown Church," a layman's radio broadcast founded by Mr. Guard on Radio Station WLS in Chicago. His request was carried out to the letter.

Now I want to serve notice right here and now that neither the editor, nor the former editor, of The Draft Horse Journal are either available or competent to conduct a burial service. But Sam Guard was. In fact, we have a copy of a little book Sam wrote entitled, The Farmer Gives Thanks. It is a collection of 56 prayers for year 'round use.

We will close with one of those prayers from Sam Guard's little blue book-and "No, we don't have any for sale." They sold for a buck apiece in the '40s and '50s.

Almighty Keeper of the seasons, whose hand but thine could have banked the earth so skillfully or again ridden the sun from Capricorn to Cancer without a bobble, bringing us so glorious a summer?

This grass and hay, we would graze with better beasts and harvest with willing hands, so that all thy children might have milk and meat.

Help us, O Lord, to blast the pests and the weeds as the devil and his plagues.

Bless the brides.

The graduates too.

Thanks be to thee for decorating the world with all these roses.

For them, and for us.

Amen.

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