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Tuesday, 17 August 2010 10:08

75 Years Ago Late Spring/Early Summer 1930 by Maurice Telleen

Written by  Maurice Telleen
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(From the April, May and June 1930 Breeder’s Gazettes and the general news of the times)

As it is with most times, the world was a very unpeaceful place 75 years ago if you concentrated on just the headlines and big pictures. As for millions of the little pictures, I’m sure they contained a lot of very happy people.

Two of today’s major powers with rapidly growing economies, China and India, were unhappy places. In spite of their past civilizations, dynasties, temples and antiquities, they were anything but economic powerhouses 75 years ago. They had both been pretty well milked out by the modern industrialized nations of Europe and by their own endless family quarrels.

Nowadays it is pretty difficult to go shopping and not find a few things with “made in China” sewed, embossed or engraved on them. In the early 1930s, they were too preoccupied with killing one another to be exporting much of anything.

There was no question where our sympathies rested. It was with Chiang Kai-Shek and his Nationalist forces-certainly not with local warlords or communists. Much of our Midwest, rural Protestant understanding of China came from Pearl Buck. Her parents were American missionaries in China so Pearl grew up thinking of China as home and West Virginia was where they had come from. She came back to the U.S. long enough to attend college and then returned to China where she taught at the University of Nanking, finally coming back to the U.S. in 1935. A prolific writer her whole life, her novel The Good Earth would win a Pulitzer in 1938.

This missionary connection with China was very real. Jeannine can remember her Aunt Sue periodically sending money to some Chinese cause. Chiang Kai-Shek even converted to Christianity in October of 1930, but I don’t think Aunt Sue had a hand in that. Anyhow, we at least knew what side we were on in China in 1930. Our missionaries, home on leave, told us.

As for India, Mahatma Gandhi continued to confound the British with his campaign of civil disobedience. I think the Brits would have found open defiance more to their liking. Then they could have made arrests, opened fire and done all the usual things of suppression. Eventually they (in exasperation, I would guess) arrested Gandhi, and then the level of violence really did increase. Up until that time, the huge Moslem population of India had sort of stood aloof of Gandhi’s notion of civil disobedience. But once the fat was in the fire, more Moslems were inclined to take to the streets.

The British were sort of confounded.

Their training was not a “how-to course” in dealing with people who “turn the other cheek”-to cite another religious figure. What is a man of action to do? Who could you consult? Jack London was dead and Rudyard Kipling was too old. Maybe those two action figures wouldn’t have known what to do either. Gandhi simply outfoxed everyone with his passive resistance.

Clear on the other side of the globe, France pulled its army of occupation out of the Rhineland a full five years earlier than the Treaty of Versailles called for. I’m sure the Germans were glad to see them leave, but I’m at a loss to know why the French did it. Germany was anything but stable. In retrospect, that one continues to be a puzzle. Our secretary of state, Henry Stimpson, had been messing around for fourteen weeks trying to get an agreement between the world’s five major naval powers to reduce the tonnage on some warships and reduce the number of battleships. Two of the five (Italy and France) refused to agree to all the terms; the U.S., Britain and Japan agreed to them. So with three out of five in full agreement, and fourteen weeks of talks behind them, I guess Henry decided it was time to wrap it up. He said, “The conference (that took fourteen weeks to disagree) had given me more confidence in my belief that the peaceful methods of diplomacy can eventually take the place of war.” Gee Whiz, Henry–with two of the five not accepting all the terms, did you really expect anyone to believe that?

The final non-horse/non-farm note from 1930 will simply be that on June 17, President Hoover signed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff bill, ushering in the new era of protectionism. Hundreds of economists had railed against it but to no avail. Reed Smoot, a Republican senator from Utah since 1903, was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Protectionism was old Republican doctrine. Tariffs to protect infant industries had a habit of extending their life well beyond the infancy of the industries. But considering the sorry fact that almost the whole globe was heading for an economic wreck by that time anyhow-maybe it didn’t matter what that Senate Finance Committee did.

Time to move on. Those April, May and June Breeder’s Gazettes from 1930 were three wonderful issues for the farmer/stockman. But there were several good farm magazines then. The landscape of farm magazines has changed drastically since then. The old Country Gentleman and Farm Quarterly formats are gone. So are the special sections for the farmer’s wife, daughter, son and the garden, the poultry, the milk house or feed lot-gone. I think Wallace’s Farmer here in Iowa even had a Sunday School lesson from old Uncle Henry Wallace in every issue.

Those magazines were family oriented, recognizing neighborhoods and small communities as the pillars of society that they were. Sure they were interested in the business of farming, but not exclusively. When they came into your home they wanted to give you a good idea or two, but they didn’t shout at you. If you didn’t want to get bigger, it was O.K. It wasn’t a character flaw.

With the consolidation of so many farms into so few and the extreme specialization of livestock, many of those papers have disappeared. Do you hanker for that kind of farm magazine? One that treats you like a real person, not an economic unit.

Write to Farming Magazine, P.O. Box 85, Mt. Hope, Ohio 44660. The subscription rate is $18 for one year. Back issues are $6 apiece, postpaid. It’s full title is Farming, People, Land & Community.

Now, back to minding my own business. The April cover page sire was a Shropshire ram. He belonged to George McKerrow & Sons, Pewaukee, Wisconsin. The ram’s name was Senator Thickset or McKerrow’s 5715 eartag. McKerrows had won every class they entered at the recent 1929 International. The founder of the firm had made thirteen different pilgrimages to England and Scotland to bring back the best he could find. The family was almost as dominant in Oxfords as they were in Shrops. The McKerrows were to importing breeding sheep what the Holberts and Trumans were to importing draft stallions.

We bought our first registered Oxfords in the 1970s. We showed at Wisconsin once and managed to get beat by McKerrows too. They were an equal opportunity exhibitor-willing to beat anyone and everyone.

Nice people. When we first encountered them, old George, the founder, was long gone. His son, Gavin, had become the senior member of the firm. And he, in turn had been succeeded by young George, who I think was succeeded by Bill. I can still see Gavin, as a very old man, poking around the pens at the National Oxford Sale looking over the offering of buck lambs. Not many livestock dynasties make it through better than a century. McKerrows did in sheep. That is what Tom Holbert once said about the horse breeders of Belgium-their success was due to “continuity of effort.” That is not the same as saying stubborn. Those McKerrow Shrops on that 1930 cover are as wool blind as you can get them. They would scarcely be recognizable as Shrops today. But they were okay for their time.

Here is another important little item from the April issue. Nels Kraschel announced that he had disassociated (that is an interesting word) himself from the famous Harrison & Ryan Angus cattle operation in Harlan, Iowa, to devote full time and energy to his auctions. He cried several big draft horse sales as well as beef cattle and hogs. And by the mid-’30s, he was the new Democratic governor of Iowa.

How’s this for a sign of the times? That March issue was 58 pages, large format. I went through noting all the advertising for automobiles, trucks, tractors, tires and petroleum products. Those ads made up roughly 30% of the entire magazine.

I think it is a common misconception that farmers were the last part of the population to embrace automobiles. That is dead wrong. They were more enthusiastic buyers of cars than urbanites because they had further to go. The car preceded the tractor on a good many farms, my own dad’s included.

Los Angeles was a sprawled out place in 1920. From an automobile dealer’s point of view, it had one serious flaw. Namely, a state of the art-for those days-interurban or mass transit public transportation system. You could ride the trolley to work, to shop, to church or just for the heck of it, for peanuts. It was cheap and efficient. It had to go. So the automobile and petroleum giants bought up the trolley lines in order to abandon them. That didn’t come out of the Breeder’s Gazette, but it is true.

In the spring of 1930, a Hog Futures Market was opened on March 1 by the Chicago Livestock Exchange. Not everyone was enthused. A Hugh B. Nash, Pig and Whistle Farm, Spink County, South Dakota, was one of the doubters. He wrote in as follows: “I hope this new system meets enough opposition to defeat it before it becomes an established way of marketing. It opens a new field for speculators and delivers into their hands one more of the farmer’s commodities with which to speculate.” And he was just getting warmed up.

Here is what one market page sounded like 75 years ago!

“Wheat slips. Cotton falls. Corn slides. Lambs slump a dollar while you are ordering a car (as in boxcar-not a new Buick). And now the old standby, dairy products, rushes into the cellar. Hitherto, with butter and eggs bringing a reasonable price, an ordinary farmer’s income was pegged, as it were. There was a constant cash crop, if you wanted to milk cows and work with poultry.”

Not exactly grim times yet, but rapidly heading that way. So they advised you to specialize, cut your production costs, learn how to sell, resubscribe to this magazine, etc. etc. And to prove that everything wasn’t about money, they suggested the following:

“Take it easy. Let your children play more and hack corn less. (I’m not sure what hack corn means...MT.) Write your congressman every week. If he’s a Republican, write him twice a week. And compose yourself. If anyone is going to starve, it will not be those who live and work in the country.”

Just as that April 1930 cover sire stirred up a bunch of half-forgotten memories, so did the next one for May. As someone who showed Brown Swiss cattle from childhood (literally) until my early 20s, the May cover sire topped April. I could scarcely believe it-a Brown Swiss bull, Nellie’s Stasis, at 12 years of age. He was owned by Mr. & Mrs. Warren Kenney, Lee’s Hill Farm, Morristown, New Jersey. Lee’s Hill was the New York Yankees of Swissdom when I was a kid and well beyond. The breed was an interesting story. Only a couple hundred head had been imported since the initial ones in 1869-so it took a long time to grow. I can’t think of any other major breed that sprung from such a small numerical base. Ira Inman, the long time secretary of the breed, stated that the decision to breed for strictly dairy, and leave the dual purpose model behind, was the thing that moved the breed forward.

Baseball was the game in the U.S. Not football or basketball. The Illinois State Farm Bureau even had a league starting in 1924. By 1930, 500 boys and young men were playing on 32 county teams. Now that is only a drop in the bucket of the total farm boys in Illinois. But there were thousands of other farm boys in the state playing on rural community teams-unaffiliated with the Farm Bureau.

An article called “The New Meat Appeal” appeared in the Gazette. It was written by a guy with the unlikely name of Sleeter Bull. He was an Associate Professor of Meats at the University of Illinois. He was very excited about the new quick freezing methods being introduced into the meat trade. The following two paragraphs are simply the introduction to his historical sequence on meat preservation-so this was followed by “How Salting Got Started,” followed by “The Rise of the American Can,” then “Ice and Refrigeration,” followed by “Quick Freezing is New Method,” then “Meat in Packages,” and finally, “Selling Her on Packaged Meat.”

And-here is Sleeter!

“From the beginning of the human race, foods have been preserved more or less by drying. This method removes most of the flavor and is suited only to a few foods. According to Van Loon, during the dark ages of Europe it was decreed that upon certain days man should eat no flesh foods since the beasts of the fields and the birds of the air, being possessed of the sex instinct, are lustful of nature and are carnal in action. Since fish were supposed to be free from these reprehensible traits, they were not included on the prohibited list. Thus came the custom of not eating meat on certain days.

“The elimination of meat from the diet for only a day was a much more serious matter to our early European ancestors than it is to us. They much preferred to hunt the deer, or chase the wild boar, or throw spears at their neighbors than to hoe the garden or milk the family cow. Hence meat, washed down with liberal quantities of pre-Volsteadian beverages, was the principal article of their diet. Of course, the fortunate peoples who lived along the sea or lakes or rivers solved the problem by knocking off their strenuous labors and going fishing on meatless days. The less fortunate who lived away from the waterfront were in a bad way. In fact, it looked as though they might have to put their women to work making a garden or tending a cow.”

My guess is that students from the colleges of engineering, agronomy, architecture and those majoring in modern dance signed up for Sleeter Bull’s meats class just to listen to his lectures. I would have.

Walter Miller’s job at the Breeder’s Gazette was not to curry favor with the likes of International Harvestor and Buick-it was to stay in touch with and on top of the purebred livestock scene. That was a big job. Amongst his “sale reports” in the May 1930 issue is the dispersal sale of Femco Farms Percherons at Breckenridge, Minnesota. This stable had been assembled by F.E. Murphy, publisher of The Minneapolis Tribune. There were lots of places like Femco in the 1930s and I remember Femco, not for Percherons, but for Holsteins. Apparently Murphy decided to dump the horses, but even that had a Holstein flavor to it.

The sale was managed by Melin-Petersen, a firm generally associated with black and white cattle. One of the biggest buyers in the sale was George Rasmussen, vice president of National Tea Company for his Elmwood Farm, Deerfield, Illinois-also famous for Holsteins.

The horses were shipped to South St. Paul for the sale. Thirty-six head, including a number of foals, averaged $260 around and was, apparently, considered quite successful. Two stallions, a 7 and an 8-year-old, sold for $625 and $635 and a pair of 6-year-olds for $450 and $425. I suspect they were headed for public service. On the mare side of the fence a 14-year-old topped the sale at $400 to J.E. Murphy, Roberts, Wisconsin, and a 10-year-old to the University of Minnesota for $375.

Margot, the 14-year-old mare who topped the Femco Dispersal in 1930. This photo was taken of her when she was named grand champion Percheron mare at the 1927 International. She was shown by Femco. The mare was bred by James Loonan & Son of Waterloo, Iowa.
Grand Laet, the Percheron stallion purchased in the spring of 1930. What a pedigree! Sired by Jerome, a Chicago champion son of Laet and out of Carnona V, the daughter of Carnot voted to be the ideal type Percheron mare a few years later. Purdue exhibited this horse to reserve grand champion at the 1931 International.

Another transaction in the spring of 1930 was the private sale of Grand Laet from W.H. Butler, Columbus, Ohio, to Purdue University. Purdue exhibited him to reserve grand champion at the 1930 International that same fall/winter. Grand Laet was purchased by Mr. Butler in dam from Maryvale Farms of Youngstown, Ohio. He was sired by Jerome, the 1924 International grand champion son of Laet. His dam was none other than Carnona V, grand champion mare at Chicago in 1922 and ‘23. She was a daughter of the famous Carnot and was bred by W.S. Corsa, White Hall, Illinois. In the late ‘30s, she was voted the ideal type Percheron mare.

Another sale mentioned in the May 1930 Gazette was the Andrew Strite dispersal at Hagerstown, Maryland. It was said it drew a large and interested crowd and the buyers hailed from three states with a $310 top on mares and $355 on stallions. Mr. Strite had been recording Percherons since 1912.

The June Gazette reported that the sale of Percherons at the South Omaha, Nebraska, horse sale on March 29, 1930, was more satisfactory than last year. Seventeen registered Percherons were sold, twelve stallions and five mares. The highest priced stallion was $285 and the top mare was $172.50.

What breeders really appreciated was when a new rich guy came into the game. Seventy-five years ago that was R.B. Brown from Seattle, Washington. He was back in this area and made it clear that he was after the best. Eight of the first ten he bought came from W.H. Butler’s Woodside Farm at Columbus, Ohio-home of Laet. He was looking for more. I’ll bet there were plenty of folks wining and dining him.

So that is the way it was in 1930. Not so hot and getting worse in most respects…but not for draft horses. The draft breeds made a serious comeback in the 1930s. Home grown power and home grown fuel made a lot of sense in those depression years.

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