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Columns

Reflections: 1934 – second worst year in Kendall County history?

During the depths of the Great Depression in 1934, dairy farmers, who had formed the Pure Milk Association, conducted a milk strike, stopping trucks hauling milk from non-PMA member farms to Chicago dairies. At least one Kendall County farmer lost a shipment of cream to PMA sympathizers that year, according to a report in the Kendall County Record.
During the depths of the Great Depression in 1934, dairy farmers, who had formed the Pure Milk Association, conducted a milk strike, stopping trucks hauling milk from non-PMA member farms to Chicago dairies. At least one Kendall County farmer lost a shipment of cream to PMA sympathizers that year, according to a report in the Kendall County Record.

If 1933 was the worst year in Kendall County history – and it probably was – 1934 didn’t provide much relief for county residents dealing with the profound effects of the Great Depression.

Not only was the nation dealing with the horrendous financial depression, but severe drought was destroying farms and farmers all over the country.

The drought was driven by hot, dry weather that resulted in severe dust storms that blew up out of the high, dry western plains and then surged east all the way to Washington, D.C., where a bewildered government was attempting to deal with the effects of dual nationwide financial and ecological disasters.

Although the Depression had begun with the stock market crash of October 1929, and conditions had progressively gotten much worse over the next four years, the feeling of much of the country was that things would get better soon if only everyone would buck up and have the confidence President Hoover had been urging before everyone had enough and elected Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932.

On Dec. 27, 1933, Kendall County Record Editor John Marshall was still urging his readers to make 1934 a better year by the power of positive thinking: “Few of us want to start 1934 with anything but a firm belief that the new year holds better things for us. We shouldn’t start the new year with a feeling that things will be worse. To do this will insure a bad year. … Success is a result of your own efforts so if 1934 proves a disappointment, look to your own efforts before blaming anyone else for your bad luck.”

Positive thinking in place, the hits just kept on coming. Farm commodity prices were so bad farmers were finally starting to band together to demand more.

Dairy farmers who had formed the Pure Milk Association were conducting a milk strike, stopping trucks hauling milk from non-PMA members to Chicago dairies.

The Record reported on Jan. 10: “As Norman Colby drove a truckload of cream for the Beatrice Creamery Company in Yorkville to Naperville on Route 18 [U.S. Route 34], he was stopped between Oswego and Naperville by two carloads of men and the $275 worth of cream he was carrying was dumped into the ditch. … After the cream was dumped, the men volunteered to help Colby load the empty cans back into his truck, but he angrily refused their help.”

In order to create paying jobs for some of the men thrown out of work by the Depression, the Roosevelt administration’s new Civil Works Administration was financing projects throughout the county, including bridge and road work.

In February, even the Record’s editor admitted they were helping: “We drove on the East River road [Ill. Route 25] out of Aurora the other night and hardly knew the road. The work of the men on the CWA has made a real highway out of it. Some bad curves have been made safer by leveling off the banks on the side of the road. Good work, men.”

Meanwhile, the area’s farmers were hoping against hope. On April 11, the Record’s Oswego correspondent commented: “The farmers have begun working in the fields with renewed hope that this year’s crops will at least afford them a living and cash for taxes and interest on their debts.”

Overcoming their aversion to government meddling in their business, virtually all of the county’s 1,080 farmers agreed to participate in the Agriculture Adjustment Administration’s corn and hog program. The AAA was another of Roosevelt’s “alphabet agencies” formed to fight the Depression.

Extremely dry conditions persisted throughout Kendall County and in April the Record reported: “Even old timers say they never remember such wind and dust storms as are being experienced this spring. The ditches along some roads are filling up with dirt as they fill with snow in the winter time. The farmers and their teams in the fields are choked with dust; the housewives, especially those who house-cleaned early are desperate; the dust sifts in everywhere.”

Those conditions contributed to the ongoing plague of chinch bugs.

According to the Record: “The estimate of W.P. Flint, state entomologist, that chinch bugs would be five times as plentiful this spring as a year ago has come true. Damage to wheat fields and even oats by dry weather and chinch bugs is causing many farmers to plan re-seeding some of their grain fields to soybeans.”

The weather was not only dry, but was extremely erratic. Newly sprouted farm crops as well as gardens were devastated by destructive late May frosts, the Record reporting that: “Two hard frosts last week worked havoc with the fruit and gardens. The corn, just nicely started, turned brown in many places and potatoes froze to the ground. Many farmers are planting over.”

Then following the frosts the week before, new heat records were set May 31 and June 1, and on June 4 another dust storm hit. Meanwhile, “Thousands of miles of [chinch bug] barriers have been built as a result of demonstrations staged by county farm advisers, the extension service of the college of agriculture and the Illinois State Natural History Survey,” the Record reported.

In June, the federal government came to the rescue, announcing a drought relief program.

To be eligible, farmers had to certify they were in need of feed and seed to maintain their families, and unable to supply them for themselves. County officials estimated that while things weren’t good, few farmers fit that description, but it turned out more than 20 percent of the county’s farmers applied for and really did qualify for emergency drought relief.

The Kendall County Farm Bureau and the federal government provided chinch bug eradication supplies, and county farmers kept battling whatever Mother Nature and the financial industry could throw at them.

But it wasn’t until several years passed that they and their city brothers were able to get their heads above water again, thanks to their own collective action and a grudgingly accepted hand from Uncle Sam.

• Looking for more local history? Visit historyonthefox.wordpress.com.

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