Hartington — By the middle of July the United States Drought Monitor Map showed that over 99 percent of Nebraska is in a drought.
More than half of the U.S. was under moderate to extreme drought already in June. By July 13, the map showed that nationwide over 60 percent of the country is in a drought.
The drought and extreme heat hit Cedar County this year have brought back some memories of the dry years in the 1930s that were often referred to as the “dirty 30s” or the “Dust Bowl.”
During the 1930s, farmers endured severe drought, dust storms and an invasion of grasshoppers.
The drought coupled with decades of farming without crop rotation, cover crops or other practices contributed to the blowing dirt.
Deep plowing of the topsoil of the Great Plains had displaced the natural deep-rooted grasses that normally kept the soil in place and trapped moisture even during periods of drought and high winds.
Without the natural anchors to keep the soil in place, it dried, turned to dust and blew away.
Some local residents have their own memories of the 30s along with a few stories that were passed down from their parents.
Hartington resident Earl Pinkelman grew up on farms in the Obert and Wynot areas.
At one time Pinkelman owned/operated Hartington Dairy which was located on State Street in the east part of Hartington.
He was just 10 years old in 1934 which was one of the really dry years during the 30s.
His father, Bruno, farmed south of Obert.
“My Dad had an 80-100 acre field of corn. He and my brother went out and picked all the corn in the field with one single wagon box – and they did it all in one afternoon You know there wasn’t much corn,” Pinkelman said. “They did not have any oats that year and very little corn stalks. My Dad put up two stacks of thistles and fed it to the cows.”
Pinkelman talked about how dry it was during the 30s but he also remembers the few rains that did come.
“In 1935, we didn’t get much rain but we did get some. When it rained we would have a gully-washer,” he said.
Pinkelman’s explanation of a gully-washer – “a three-inch rain that came down very fast.”
The dry, hot weather was bad enough to deal with but there was another problem – the grasshoppers.
Pinkelman remembers his Dad going to the railroad station and picking up a wagon load of wood shavings that had been mixed with poison. The poison was spread along the fence rows.
According to Pinkelman, the grasshoppers were eating everything – they even chewed on the fence posts.
“I would hate to see the farmers have to go through something like that again,” Pinkelman said. “The government did try to help out some back then. I think the government offers more assistance now.”
Each year the date of Aug. 1 always triggers some memories for Pinkelman – thoughts of losing a brother and how neighbors were there for one another.
“It was 77 years ago on August 1, 1935. My brother died from an infection – they didn’t have penicillin back then. An infection was a serious thing,” Pinkelman said. “He died in the morning and the neighbors came over that afternoon with their horses. Tractors were scarce back then but one guy had an old tractor and he pulled the binder. It was hot but they cut the grain and shocked it. There wasn’t much but they put up what they could.”
Neighbors were neighbors to each other back then Pinkelman said.
The drought in the 1930s spread across the entire state and covered most of the U.S. – 1934 and 1936 were the worst years.
Clayton and Darlene Schroeder, who farmed in the Concord area and later moved into Laurel, remember the thirty’s.
Clayton had lived in the sand hills of western Nebraska in the early 1930’s.
His parents had moved their family to the sand hills when Clayton was a young boy.
“It was dry all across Nebraska,” Schroeder said. “People lived on chokecherries and wild plums in the sand hills.”
The Schroeder family moved back to northeast Nebraska in 1935.
“We raised a crop in ‘35 but in the spring of 1936 it was dry again,” Schroeder said.
Darlene grew up in the Laurel area and had relatives living in Coleridge.
Her aunt and uncle ran the cafe in Coleridge for a few years before they made the move west.
“Several of my relatives moved to California during the drought. No one had any thing here – they thought it would be better in California,” Darlene said.
She remembers hearing her mother talk about the red dust that blew across the area during the thirties.
“It was dry all across the U.S. They said the red dust must have blown in from down south,” Darlene said.
Don Hochstein, who grew up in the Wynot area, also talked about the red dust that appeared during the thirties.
“After one of the rains the house looked kind of red. The red color had come with the rain,” Hochstein said.
Hochstein lives in Hartington now but he farmed northwest of Wynot for over thirty years. His Dad had also farmed in the Wynot area.
Hochstein, who will turn eighty-eight in Feb, has some memories of the drought and also heard his Dad talk about the great depression.