Mar 30, 2012

Sun, Mar 22, 1942: skating rink

"Ray announced at the skating rink that Augusta had won in the finals at the basketball tournament at Hays but it seems like the paper said this morning Fredonia won. So suppose the paper is right but it seems funny Ray stopped the skaters and made the announcement and everyone shouted their heads off.  So everyone will sure be disappointed if Fredonia won."
--Letter from my grandmother, Bloomington, Kans., to my father, Winfield, Kans., March 22, 1942.  I’m not sure who really won.  Now that 80% of American adults use the Internet (at least occasionally) and 35% of Americans adults have smart phones, it’s hard to imagine a scene like this one these days.  The Internet has allowed lots of misinformation to proliferate, just not erroneous sports scores. (Sources: “35 percent of Americans own smart phones, says Pew survey,”; Pew Institute “Pew Internet & American Life Project Poll, Jan, 2012)

Mar 29, 2012

Sun, Mar 22, 1942: little chickens

"We got our little chickens a week ago last Tuesday and are not having very good luck with them.  Have lost 50 out of 459 and they are not quite two weeks old. They with the other work we have to do keeps us busy. We are milking ten cows now and it takes quite a lot of time.  I usually help some in the morning after I get Barbara off to school and always in the evening."
--Letter from my grandmother, Bloomington, Kans., to my father, Winfield, Kans., Sunday, March 22, 1942. 
             Chickens and cows were part of the diversified farm my grandparents operated, which allowed them to produce a great deal of the food they ate (except for a few items like sugar and tea), while also having many different products to sell for income.  In the 1940s, their farm had beef cattle, dairy cows, pigs, chickens, grains (including wheat, alfalfa, sorghum, and milo), and garden vegetables.  In the postwar years, like most American farmers, they began to specialize more and to buy most food at grocery stores.  By the 1970s, they were raising beef cattle and grains and had no pigs, dairy cows, or chickens.
            My father wrote the following about the farm’s cows in his memoir.  “As a young boy, I heard Leonard's voice very early in the morning telling me that it was time to get up to milk the cows.  I can hear that insistent voice yet in memory!  We had six to ten milk cows, which required nearly an hour of steady milking by the two of us.  The work was arduous, and hand muscles were strengthened only with practice.  The task was also confining, for milking was required morning and evening throughout the year.  We could not be away for a single day without making arrangements for substitutes.
“Still, the milk cows were indispensable to the farm economy.  Regular income kept us in necessities between the sale of annual crops, or farm animals.  At first it was the income from cream delivered to the Bloomington store, or the creamery in Augusta, in ten gallon cans every week or two.  Finally, in the late 1930s we began to sell milk daily, picked up by Cleo Randall who drove the milk truck.  The milk check of about thirty dollars a month kept us going, as Leonard often remarked.  The night milking was kept in a can in cold water, and the morning milking often finished just before the milk truck rolled in.  Sometimes it was still going through the strainer as Cleo stopped to pick it up.  Our sanitation measures were primitive, and milking in the barn without washing the cows would probably not be permitted today.  But no complaints ever reached us about the foaming white liquid which came from our herd of cows.
“These cows were a mixed lot, Holsteins, Jerseys, Guernseys, or some mixture thereof.  They bore names conferred by the whimsical Leonard:  ‘Aunt Violet,’ a petite jersey whose milk was almost yellow, and contained a high content of butterfat, was named for the elegant Aunt Violet Berger; ‘Maudey,’ part Guernsey, the ‘brindle cow,’ was purchased from the Clarks, and bore the name of Clark’s wife, Maude.  Another was named Aunt Ethel, for Aunt Ethel Berger,  but whether these ladies knew of their namesakes, I never learned.  The name of the large Holstein, I have forgotten, but she gave the most milk, and was very easy to milk, in contrast to the Jersey which required stout hand muscles, making instructions to milk rapidly difficult to follow.  Cows gave more milk if milked quickly.
“Leonard talked more while milking than at any other time, and from those conversations, I learned that he was a fan of Kansas politics.  ‘In 1928 Clyde Reed promised that, if he were elected governor, he would not appoint Henry J. Allen to the U. S. Senate, but he did it anyhow, and was beaten for reelection.’  Leonard was a man of few words, but, while milking, opened up about the things which interested him.  When he was not there, I sometimes sang the popular songs of the day, and my cousin Joyce Sooter was vastly amused when he came into the milk place, and heard me singing, ‘Flatfoot Floogie,’ in time to the streams of milk.
“On any given morning my job was to bring in the cows from wherever they had spent the night in the pasture.  After the animals were penned up in the barn lot, they were brought into the barn to be secured in the five or six stanchions in the milk area.  While their heads were clamped in place, they were fed oats, soy bean cakes, alfalfa hay, or even prairie hay in winter.  While the cows chewed on their cud, the milking began, and could be a dangerous enterprise as certain cows were infamous for kicking the milker.  These we restrained with hobbles, iron cuffs linked closely by a chain.  The work was always done from the right side.  Anyone who came in from the city, and tried it from the left side was dispatched with a rousing kick.
“Before the cows became fresh with milk, they produced calves, and these were kept, when weaned and small, in the pen east of the barn.  They had their own feeding place in the barn itself, next to the oats bin.  Their water came from the well, just south of the pen.  Watering the calves was my job, and ten to twelve buckets of water had to be pumped from the well each day, and carried across the lane to be poured into the half metal barrel used for watering.  To a little boy that was a tedious job.  The cows, by contrast, drank directly from Muddy Creek, whose opaque, gray water justified its name, from the half acre bought in 1881 from the quarter section to the north.”  (Source: Sidney DeVere Brown, Kansas Farmboy: A Memoir of Boyhood and Youth [2008], 97-99.)

Mar 22, 2012

Sun, Mar 22, 1942: Barbara’s birthday.

"Well to-day is Barbara's birthday and we all went to Katherine’s for dinner.  Flo, Everett and Lois were there and Mr. and Mrs. John Smith and Mrs. Alley.  So with Katherine's family there was quite a houseful.  We had a nice dinner.  Of course I baked Barbara a birthday cake so we took it along and had it for dinner too.  It was pink angelfood with blue and pink frosting."
--Letter from my grandmother, Bloomington, Kans., to my father, Winfield, Kans., Sunday, March 22, 1942.  My father’s sister, Barbara, turned 14 that day.  Katherine and Flo were my grandmother's sisters.

Mar 15, 2012

Sun, Mar 1, 1942: little chickens

“We are going to get our little chickens next week so suppose I'll be busier than ever.  Did you get your clothes, popcorn and mute O.K.?
“Hope you are well and write us again when you get time.
“Lots of Love
-- Letter from my grandmother, Bloomington, Kans., to my father, Southwestern College, Winfield, Kans., Sunday, March 1, 1942.  (Note that my grandmother washed my father’s clothes and mailed them to him, while he was in college.  Southwestern College was 30 miles from the farm.)
On my grandparents’ farm, chickens provided meat, eggs, and income.  One factor that encouraged chicken consumption and sales in World War II was that chicken, unlike pork, beef, veal, and lamb, was not rationed.  My grandparents purchased certified white Leghorn chicks from the Augusta Hatchery and sold eggs back to the hatchery at a premium, because of their pedigree.  As was typical in many households, women cared for the chickens on my grandparents’ farm.  It was my primarily my grandmother and my aunt who cared for the chicks and later collected the eggs, although my father fed them as well and had the job of cleaning out the chicken house on Saturdays.
While the Augusta Hatchery was a small operation by modern standards, my grandparents’ connection to it was part of a trend toward greater specialization in livestock production and a decline in the self-sufficiency of farms.  The local hatchery could monitor its breeding program more precisely to increase egg production in its birds.  In addition, Gene Schofield of the Augusta Hatchery, regularly visited my grandparents’ farm to supervise conditions in their brooding house and prescribe remedies for sick chickens.  This was a step away from more traditional farming, where chickens simply reproduced on the farm.
           Chicken raising and people’s relationship with chickens have changed radically in the seven decades since my grandmother got those chicks from the hatchery.  Lots of Americans, including myself, see problems with the transformation of poultry production in the postwar years: declining animal welfare, declining human health from increased meat consumption, loss of the efficiencies that come from combining animal and plant production, a basic loss of knowledge of where our food comes from. But my father never expressed any regret about these trends which meant he probably never had to clean out a chicken house or slaughter a chicken after he left the farm.
Like most Americans, he welcomed these changes.
Before they were hidden away in factory farms, chickens were much more present in Americans’ daily lives.  Most country kids and many urban kids in 1940s knew from an early age the details of raising, caring for, and slaughtering chickens.  With chickens close at hand, people consumed more eggs.  Americans ate about 310 eggs per person per year in 1942 and only about 240 eggs in recent years.  Chicken meat, however, was more a by-product of egg production than a primary goal. It was a way to get rid of birds that did not produce eggs: roosters and older hens.  Before the factory farming revolution and marketing success of products like Chicken McNuggets, Americans ate about a fifth as much chicken meat as they do today: 15 pounds of poultry meat a year in 1942 vs. 73 pounds by 2007.   
Leghorns, such as those on my grandparents’ farm, descended from chickens first brought to United States from rural Tuscany in the mid-nineteenth century, their name deriving from an anglicisation of Livorno, a Tuscan port.  This breed has provided a great deal of the genetic stock of the standard factory-farmed caged laying hen of today.  Through breeding programs, and changes in feed, lighting, and housing, egg production has increased dramatically. (Factory-farmed laying hens generally do not receive antibiotics or hormones, unless they are sick.) These hens produce up to 270 eggs a year nowadays, while typical hens produced around 100 eggs a year in the 1940s.
 In the decades after World War II, egg and chicken meat production became highly specialized and vertically integrated.  Small-scale operations like that of my grandparents are now a tiny part of the industry.  The number of farms growing chickens went from about 1.6 million in 1950 to about 27,000 today.  The majority of these broiler operations work under contracts with one of the four large chicken processors – Tyson, Perdue, Pilgrim’s Pride and Sanderson – which sell them chicks and dictate their production methods.  Egg production is highly consolidated as well. The 180 or so egg-producing companies with flocks over 75,000 hens represent 95% of all layers.
  Sources: Sidney DeVere Brown, Kansas Farmboy: A Memoir of Boyhood and Youth, 1925-1952 (2009), 113-14; Marion Nestle, What to Eat [New York: North Point Press, 2007], 261; "Leghorn (chicken)" wikipedia article USDA, “Food Availability Data System”;USDA, "Farm Production, Farm Disposition and Income: Chickens and Eggs1939-1940";  Marsha Laux, "eggs profile" (Iowa State University); Ryan A. Meunier and Mickey A. Latour "Commercial EggProduction and Processing" (Purdue University); Pew Environmental Group.  "Big Chicken:Pollution and Industrial Poultry Production in America" (July 2011).

Mar 8, 2012

Sun, Mar 1, 1942: left for camp

“There were several boys from near here left for camp last Thursday.  Besides Wayne and Rex Smith there was Keith Parry, Vernon Wheeler, Junior Price and several others.
“Don't forget to come up to the folks Golden Wedding Anniversary next Sun. Mar. 8th if you can.”
-- Letter from my grandmother, Bloomington, Kans., to my father, Southwestern College, Winfield, Kans., Sunday, March 1, 1942.  This letter was written less than three months after Pearl Harbor. My father was a 17-year-old college freshman and not yet eligible for the draft; but many of his friends and neighbors were joining the military.

Mar 1, 2012

Sun, Mar 1, 1942: birthday present

“Dear DeVere:- It was very sweet of you to send me a birthday present.  Supposed you'd be so busy you'd forget all about it.  Anyway I'm sure the books will be good and Daddy appreciates his too.  I was well remembered on my birthday.  Barbara baked me a nice angel food birthday cake and put 45 candles on it so it was pretty well loaded down.  Stanley helped too by measuring flour and sugar for her.”
-- Letter from my grandmother, Bloomington, Kans., to my father, Southwestern College, Winfield, Kans., Sunday, March 1, 1942.  My father’s siblings were Stanley, age 8, and Barbara, age 13.