[logo:Kansas Heritage Group]

Ford County Historical Society
Dodge City, Kansas


Ford County Dust Bowl Oral History Project

A Kansas Humanities Council grant project

Interview: Arthur W. Leonard

Interviewer: Brandon Case

June 23, 1998

Draft Version


Brandon Case: What's your name?

Arthur W. Leonard: My name is Arthur W. Leonard, and I was born and raised here in Dodge City, and I'm eighty years old. My parents came out here in a covered wagon years ago and settled over south of Louis. My father was an inventor, and we started the tire shop in 1914, so it's been a long time ago. You want to narrate a little bit more on that?

BC: Sure, your experiences before the dust bowl then.

AL: Well, yeah, I was born and raised there, and back in the Depression, why, nobody had any money in 1929 when the crash happened. Why after that, we not only had the crash out here, but we had poverty and dust and dirt and every thing imaginable. And it got worse as it went along; it never got any better. Everyday it was hot and dry. And we got some moisture, but not much. And people began to learn how to live with the dust. They'd wear a dust mask over their face to keep the dust from getting in their lungs. But anybody that lived back there in the dust storm days, especially in this part of the country, have lung problems. They have black spots on their lungs. The doctors wonder what that is, and that's nothing more than deposits of dust from the dust storm days.

Most of the houses in the city, in the buildings, why, you had to clean the dust on top of the rafters because if you didn't the ceiling would fall down. It got so bad. And when I was a kid, that's how I earned part of my money, was cleaning up dust off of porches and yards and going up in the ceiling and scraping between the rafters to get the dirt out. And I did that, and of course, no body had any money back there then. There wasn't very much and what you had was very precious. Candy bars were not more than a nickel, and we had penny candy, and we had what we called lollipops. Candy bars were twice as long then as they are now for less money.

Conditions back there then were more or less a hand-me-down situation in the family where people had four or five children or maybe more. Why, they never threw anything away: shoes, clothes, overalls, they handed it down to the next person until it was completely wore out. And we lived in what I always called the "corduroy days," where people wore corduroy pants and you swished back and forth when you wore your knickers. I even wore knickers when I was a kid, and it was one of those things. As you growed up during the dust storm days, you learned to take care of yourself. You learned to save your money. Mother always said you should always save everything you can save, for some day you'll need it. And she was right. It was pretty bad.

Automobiles and tractors and one thing and another--there was a lot of electrolysis in the air from the dust storm days, and a tractor wouldn't run unless you pulled a chain behind it around the tractor. And automobiles sometimes--you had to get maybe two air cleaners on the automobile to keep the dust out of the motor cause it just tore the motor all to pieces. It'd get in the oil and just grind the motor up. It was hard on an automobile, the dust was.

And of course it was hard on everybody else too. Conditions in the homes and one thing and another, you had to learn how to take old sheets and make strips out of them, and then you made your glue out of flour, and you glued around the windows, and you glued them shut. In other words, so the dust couldn't get in, but the dust got in anyhow. And when you went to bed at night, why you turned the pillow over. Even though it was covered, it'd have dust on it. It got underneath there some way, and the bed got it. In the morning after a dust storm day, you have to eat in the kitchen, if you was lucky to have food, you had to clean off the kitchen table. The dust would be on top of the table and all over the house. Dust cleaning in the house was a continuous job, it never quit. It just went on and on and on.

Back in those days people were more congenial and they got together more and they played cards, and they played pitch, and pinochle and games like that, and they had more parties at the houses around because they didn't have any money and so they'd have gatherings. People would go from one house to another or they would just single out something and attend it. It didn't make any difference. On Sunday, we had the band played in the park, and other days we also had the band playing.

BC: Did you ever have any dust storms that came when you were out there listening to the band?

AL: Oh, yeah, sure.

BC: What would people do then?

AL: Nothing, they just listened to the band! A little dust then would be a great thing now. They would think it was terrible, but back there then, nobody paid any attention to it anymore. They got used to it.

People tried to grow their own food in their gardens, and they had an awful time because it was so dry. They needed a lot of water, and so they grew a lot of their own food. People ate lamb's quarters, and that was "poor man's greens" we called it. And dandelion greens, we ate those, and we had what we called "hasenpfeffer": that was stewed jackrabbit. That was German. My mother was German descent and they had stewed jackrabbit. We had a lot of that.

BC: Do you recall some of the jackrabbit hunts?

AL: Oh, yes, I was on 'em, and they were very pitiful. The jackrabbit hunt was very. . . .matter of fact, one day I just went home. I couldn't take it any more. The poor things was just dying and yelling and they was clubbing them to death. It was pitiful to see it, but they had to do it cause the jackrabbits was eating up all the grain. They just take a field and just wipe it out. There was so many jackrabbits, and they breed terrible fast, and so there was millions and millions of jackrabbits. Oh, yes I was on a lot of jackrabbit drives.

BC: How old were you on your first one?

AL: Oh, I really don't know. I was pretty young.

BC: Do you remember how old you were when you experienced your first bad dust storm?

AL: Well, I would say, the worst one was on Black Sunday. I think it come around two o'clock, I'm not sure. . .around that time in the afternoon. It was Sunday. . .I was working down at the tire shop when we stayed open on Sundays. I was working down at the tire shop, and I was crossing the street when it happened, and when it hit, I couldn't even find the tire shop. It was so bad. When it came in, it rolled; it didn't just dust. It rolled over and over and over and over and over when it came in, and it was coal black; it was coal black, and it was terrible that afternoon. It was hot and dry.

Dodge City was probably in the middle of the dust storm from the North and the South. Dodge City--we call it the Bible Belt, from Texas to Canada, there's a strip that's called the Bible Belt--and it seemed like that dust storm just blew over the Bible Belt east and west. That's the way it was.

There's a lot of people that tried to farm crops and they couldn't get them to grow because they didn't have any moisture you know. They conserved every bit of moisture they could. My uncle invented a dammer to dam the water. He was quite an inventor too. He made the first starter on the international tractor. His name was Tenbrink. He lived west of town. He invented that. He invented a lot of farm machinery.

Most of the farms had a blacksmith shop back in those days, and they made a lot of their own farm machinery and equipment. When something broke down, they repaired it themselves. They didn't have any money to have someone repair it, so they repaired it themselves.

They used a different type of farming back there then than they do now. They plowed pretty deep. They don't do that any more like they used to. They don't need to. There was a deal leaving the stubble on the ground to keep the wind from blowing the dirt away. Then the government initiated the groves of trees--the shelter belts. Every so many miles, they put in a shelter belt. The wind would hit the shelter of trees and raise up in the air. It was supposed to stay off of the ground to keep from taking the dirt. Then they contoured their farms; in other words, they didn't work it like normal, around the hillsides and one thing and another, and they tried to catch all the water they could. This dammer my uncle invented made round holes in the ground to catch the water so it wouldn't run off. It was real neat. So that was a few of things that was happening back there then in those days.

My dad was the one that invented the V-belt for an automobile, and we repaired big, long combine belts, a hundred-feet long for trash machines and combines. We were in the rubber business. We were rubber people.

BC: Did a lot of people use that dammer that your uncle invented?

AL: Oh, yes! Oh, yes! Oh, yes! Everybody was using it. Yes! The dammer was a real important tool because it caught what moisture was so it wouldn't run off, see. It'd catch the moisture and sink down in, and that's what they wanted, see. You bet. The dammer was a real important tool.

BC: How did the farmers and others that you knew manage to salvage their crops back then? What were some things that they did?

AL: Well, you must remember a lot of the things that was happening back there. We had the WPA. We had a lot of farm programs. I can't think of the names of them, but we had a lot of farm programs, and the government controlled the amount of hogs you could raise. They killed a lot of hogs back there then, when they should of give it to the poor people, but they didn't. They just slaughtered them because they had too many hogs. They should of give the meat to the poor people, but they didn't. Then the government had what they called commodity warehouse--commodities.

They had different cities--the size of the city is what controlled the amount of food you got. It didn't seem like it make any difference. Everybody applied for commodities, and they had what they called dried fruit. They had prunes, and they had raisins. They had apples. Everything that you could dry they had dried. And beans. Everybody ate every kind of bean there was. They had beans, and also they had some canned goods, too, [that] they give out. And cheese. That cheese was big thing. They give a lot of cheese out. And bacon, they give a lot of bacon out. A lot of bacon back there in those days. And people signed up for those commodities. And we didn't have any money, and their wealth was more or less their family and their business. That was their wealth. It wasn't in dollars or gold. It was just plain human beings. Being a human being was their wealth.

People were more congenial than they are now. They were more friendly. Of course, they had a lot of time on their hands, and one thing and another.

BC: Were there a lot of people in Dodge that received a commodity?

AL: Oh yes! Oh yes, yes. A lot of people did. The big joke about it was back there then was they'd take prunes or dried, pressed grapes and make wine out of it! They were making booze out of the pressed grapes! And every farmer and everybody back in those days made home brew. Very few farmers didn't know how to make home brew. They made their own beer.

BC: That was back during prohibition, too.

AL: Yeah, back during prohibition, yeah. So they made their own beer and everything. A lot of the food they had they concocted, you know, or did the best they could. They never threw anything away, you know, nothing. Nothing ever went. Everything left over from meals you got it the next meal.

Sauerkraut was a big deal back there then. Most of the people out here made their own sauerkraut and pickles, dill pickles. They pickled a lot of pickles. Dill pickles, whenever they could get them, they pickled the pickles. Every chance they got they canned everything they could can because they knew if they didn't, they'd starve. They wouldn't have any food. So they canned back in those days.

BC: What were some other ways that you and your neighbors survived, like people here in Dodge City? Besides the commodities and canning, what were some other things that people did . . .

AL: The people?

BC: . . .to survive?

AL: Well, my dad was a great promoter of Dodge City. He was the one that promoted the two-mile race track. That was before the depression. He was the one got Barney Oldfield out here. He was an early day race-track driver. And he got him to come out here. I can remember the motorcycle races. They had a nightclub out there. It was called the Wintergreen. Then they had, what you call--where they shot things in the air--what do they call it. . .?

BC: Skeet?

AL: Shoots. Yeah, things like that. And fishing. You went fishing whenever you got a chance. And back there in 1934-35 we had what they call a walk-a-thon. That was in the heart of the depression. That was sixteen miles you walked. And I come in twenty-third.

BC: What for?

AL: Well, the winner got so much money. It was a prize. The first, second, third, fourth, fifth, up to about seven or eight winners, they got so much money. It was a walk-a-thon. I didn't have any shoes. I had an old pair of tennis shoes, and they was about two sizes too big for me, and you could hear me clapping on the street when I walked. You had to walk heel and toe. You couldn't run, you had to walk--straight walk. So I have a picture of myself in this thing, of me being in the walk-a-thon. A lot of people didn't know we even had a walk-a-thon, but we did.

BC: Did you just have one?

AL: Yeah. Sixteen miles was what the mileage was on it. You went out from Dodge City, and you went east and then north and around north and back west and down Fourteenth and back in again. It was sixteen miles. Then you ended up by the county jail was where I think it ended up.

Baseball was a big sport back there then. Everybody played baseball. That was for amusement, and people would congregate, you know. Sometimes you know there was enough almost in a family. The Hessmans had enough in the family to have a baseball team. They had quite a few in their family; they had their own baseball team. But the churches, different churches had baseball teams and one thing and another, and they played baseball. There wasn't much else to do.

We had some horse races once in a while and car races back there then, and that was about it.

BC: People created their own amusement.

AL: Oh, yes. People made their own amusement. Everybody learned to play cards. If you didn't know how to play cards, why you was out! Then a lot of times people liked to congregate on Sundays. My mother, she liked to play tiddlywinks and checkers and dominoes. She liked kids.

On Saturday we did some boxing, though. I boxed when I was kid till I was about eighteen or nineteen. I boxed Golden Gloves. We had some great prize fighters here. Angus Snyder was second to the world championship till Dempsey knocked him out in Wichita. We had a lot like Hoot Burger and other boxers here in Dodge. These names we've forgotten if we don't put them down because they lived back in those days.

BC: Now, how old were you when the dust bowl first started?

AL: Oh, I was born in 1917, and the dust storms started in 1931 or '32 somewhere in there. This gradually kept getting worse and worse, then the Black Sunday came and after Black Sunday it petered out. We didn't have as much from then on out. In '38 and '39 we got more moisture and things were changing and everything. In the '40's the war started and, of course, that made a big difference.

BC: Do you recall what the talk was like back then when the dust bowl was first starting, what the talk was about town about what was happening?

AL: Well, the people were moving, a lot of the people that lived here that weren't tied down left the country--went to California, especially in Oklahoma. What was it--The Grapes of Wrath--that book? Read that and it'll tell you what happened in the dust storm days. It just went on and on. There wasn't much conversation because you was used to it, you know. That's all, you just got used to it. Most people wore dust masks as much as they could or put a handkerchief over their nose or something to keep from breathing the dust in. But you got it anyhow; it was just impossible to keep from getting it.

Yeah, one day it'd roll in from the North and the next day it'd come in from the South--it'd blow back. There wasn't any certain direction. Most of it was North and South. There wasn't any east, maybe a little dust out of the West, but they wasn't any out of the East. We don't get any rains or anything out of the East in this country.

BC: Did people keep their sense of humor about it?

AL: Oh, yeah, sure. I think people were happier really back there then than they are now. They was a lot more happier. And families got together a lot more often than they do know. I think they lived a different life. See, we had a double shot of it. We not only had the Depression, but we had everything that went with it, the dust, you know, and everything like that. We really got socked when the dust started coming up. And there wasn't any way to keep it out of your house. That's impossible. There wasn't a house made that could hold it out. It'd just blow in. Somehow it'd get in the house.

And then . . . for coolers, we had an old boy that invented a cooler. His name was Jack Bledsoe. He run a Coney Island here in Dodge City, and he made a cooler, and it worked. He never did put it in the manufacture stage, but he was one of the inventors of a cooler. He was real good at inventing things.

BC: Now you talked about how the dust would get in the house. How did your Mom deal with that?

AL: Well, it's like I say: it was just a continuous job of cleaning up. It just went on and on. You'd dust one room and go to the next one. Then dust the next≠ one and go on to the next one. And dishes, you just kept washing your dishes all the time. It was one continuous thing with the dust. Now not all days were dusty, though. We did have some nice days. But the ones when they were bad were bad.

When my father was buried in the ground, we couldn't see him lowered in the grave at all. 1935. He was killed on the highway. We never saw it. The dust was terrible. All the time during the funeral, it was dusty.

BC: Was that because of the dust that he was killed?

AL: Well, he had a flat tire on the highway, and he got out to fix it, and a guy run over him and left him lay there. And that's the way it was.

BC: How did your family survive after that?

AL: Well, our family--I had a sister and a brother--we were all workers. We didn't know anything else but to work. We learned to work. We learned that's how you survive. And that's what we did. That's why we stayed in the tire business. And we still are. We learned to survive.

You meet and conquer your objectives as they come. Yeah, and I went to school here and played football and whatever else there was and track. One time, Grant Cunningham came through, and he was the world's champion miler from Elkhart. I run against him in practice. He passed me like a Kansas dust storm!

BC: When you were at school, when you were at track meets, when a big duster would come up, what would the school do.

AL: Just close it down. That's all you could do. We went to a track meet in Hugoton, and the miler, they found him south of town setting in a ditch. He missed the track and everything. The dust got so bad that you couldn't even see him.

No, it didn't bother our sports anything when they hadn't had them. We had a good football team and basketball and track and everything. We went right ahead and done it, dust or nor dust, we did it. And that's the way it was.

You know they're talking about the High School here being in bad shape. The High School's not it bad shape. It's the best building in western Kansas. Still is. It's a beautiful building, and it's well-constructed. There's lots of room in that building. It was one of the best built buildings in this town now.

BC: Was that built during the thirties?

AL: I'm thinking it was built in the twenties, back in 1927 or 28. Iím not sure about that. But I remember when it was built. I remember when the Presbyterian Church was built. Each stone in that was numbered, and it was put together with numbers. Yeah. I remember when it was built. And somebody swiped a couple of stones and drove them crazy! They had to replace them by number!

BC: You mentioned that people kept their sense of humor. Do you recall some of the jokes people would share about the dust storms to help them get through it?

AL: Well, not really. Back when I was young, people didn't tell jokes like they do now, and I wouldn't want to repeat some of the jokes they were telling. Probably I didn't mention it, but we had the Mexican Village here, and it was quite a deal. And Freddy Esquibel had a band. He played in a band. I have one of his tom-toms. He worked for the Santa Fe, worked on the big engines. He had his own band and he played the saxophone. Yeah, Freddy Esquibel. . .

. . . (break in the tape)

They'd throw dances out at the Mexican Village.

BC: This would be in the thirties?

AL: Oh, yes! And it was sort of a run-down affair. Those people lived terrible out there, and it was awful.

BC: How did they survive those years?

AL: Well, they worked for the railroad on the tracks, and they probably made more money than anybody else, actually. They had a grocery store out there, and I remember going out there and getting these things called pinion nuts. I'd go out and get those from them. They sold those out there and I bought a lot of those from them. This lady run the grocery store there, you know, and they'd have Mexican food and Mexican stuff back there. It was quite a deal.

The railroad let them use the land there. It didn't belong to them, they just let them use the land because they were cheap labor, and it kept the labor there for them. So they had a big strike back in the early days, back in the twenties, the railroad did. I was just a young kid, you know. I can remember back when I was a kid the Fourth of July was big deal. They didn't sell any firecrackers north of the Arkansas River. You couldn't buy any. You could buy them south of the river, but you couldn't buy them north. There was a grocery store down there called Ott's Grocery Store and Ott's sold firecrackers.

BC: Did they still allow them during those years, because of the dust and how combustible [things were]?

AL: Well, yeah. A lot of the stuff, I made my own. I'd take an old two-cylinder John Deere tracker block and a gallon can fit real good down in there. And I'd put this white powder--can't think of the name of it--but I put it in there with water and shake it up. I had a little hole in the lid and a big long stick with a torch on the end of it, and I'd stick it under there. It was like a cannon. It'd blow up and go clear up in the air. Big black smoke, and then the police made me stop because I was making too much noise. Carbide! That's what I was using in there. And that's highly explosive.

I can remember when the hospital was built on Sixth. You know back there when I was a kid that was a lot. There was a little white school there, and Gussie Mootz was the principal of that school.

BC: When was that built?

AL: The hospital? It was built in the twenties. I don't know just what the date was. And that school, that little old school is down on the Mayrath lot. That's the old school that was up on sixth. It's still down there. They moved it down to the Mexican Village for the Mexicans, then Mayrath used it for their office.

BC: Did most of the Mexican residents live in the Mexican Village, or were there any that lived in other parts of town or that farmed?

AL: Yeah, they migrated over to the east part of town. They kinda stayed by themselves over on G and H and J [streets] and they lived over in there scattered.

BC: Back at that time?

AL: People that had the money to buy their own homes were building homes and some of them are still living in homes that were built back there then. Those houses across from the Salvation Army are old homes the Mexicans lived in and built.

BC: There were businesses before 1929, and then the great crash came. How did the business community fare over the thirties with the Depression and the dust bowls?

AL: Well, do you mean did they stay in business? Yeah, most of them stayed in business. They just charged it or did the best they could, but they stayed in business. We have the Nations Bank now which started out with the First National. The old State Bank we had--they dissolved it and it went into the Fidelity Bank. Ben Zimmerman run that. It was the old Kansas State Bank, I think it was called. It was on the west side of the street on Second Street.

BC: Were there some business that did better than others because of what they offered in services to the community?

AL: Well, I don't think so. Probably the clothing business wouldn't do as good as the automotive business. But they still sold overalls. Overalls was a big thing for the farmer, and painters wore them, and different people wore them you know. There was certain things that you wore that you had to have, but other than that you didn't buy them. People didn't dress to conform with the time. You dress to conform with the time now, you know: it gets hot, and you put on shorts; it gets cold and you put on long-handled underwear. That's the way it is. As times change you change with the times.

BC: Did many people eat in restaurants?

AL: Oh, sure! Yeah, if you had any money. The Harvey House was the elite place to eat back in those days. Then the Great Western Hotel, that was across south from the mill. All you could eat for twenty-five cents. They had family-style food, and you sat at a big long table, and everybody come in and set down. It didn't bother you if there was somebody else sitting there. They put a big plate of chicken on and you'd take what you wanted.

Twenty-five cents, that's all you paid. And the hamburger was a nickel. The old-fashioned hamburger, that's what my wife and I liked. The bun is soaked in grease on a hot ladle, and then you put nothing but onion, mustard and pickle. You don't use ketchup or mayonnaise, just onion, mustard, and pickle, that's the old-fashioned hamburger. Back in those days, the hamburger was out over the bun; nowadays you can't find it. I don't know, people back in those days, they lived more conservative than they do now, very conservative, a lot of them. That's the way they lived.

Back there then they had two golf courses. Then they got the American Legion with the Country Club. They had another one that was right north of the American Legion.

Yeah, I could talk forever on the dust storm days and the time back there then. World War II changed everything. It changed the way people lived and what they did and everything, and it made a whole difference in the whole United States. And they learned how to plow their fields, and they had these shelter belts and that helped and everything.

BC: They came about as a result of the dust storms.

AL: Yes. Now they're talking about putting them back in, which I think is a good idea. I really do. And the government intervened in a lot of the things they did, like the wheat and everything. They controlled the wheat price and controlled the amount of wheat that was shipped abroad. They had one farm program after another. It was one program after another. The government was always doing something.

BC: Did that help a lot of people?

AL: No, sometimes it didn't help them at all. It stabilized the price and it stabilized getting rid of the food, but it did a lot of detriment as long as it did good. I mean, it's sort of just like it is now. You can raise all the wheat in the world, but if you haven't got a buyer for it, it don't do you any good. You're just wasting your time. That's what could happen this year. They're harvesting more wheat on less ground, better wheat than they've ever raised in history this year. The wheat's that good, but the price is no good. If the wheat's good, and they get a lot of wheat, the price goes down.

BC: Do you recall how the price then compared to today?

AL: Oh, yeah, the price got down as low as seventeen cents a bushel, even maybe lower. It might have got down to eight cents, I don't know. Gasoline price back in those days was anywhere from five cents to twelve cents a gallon. And oil was cheap. You could buy a quart of oil for ten cents. And a lot of people even used used oil. A lot of farmers took their oil and used it over again. They put it in barrels and run it from one barrel to another and let it settle and when it come out the other end it'd be just as clear as a whistle. They use it again, and all the carbon that was in it would go to the bottom, see. Yeah.

Well, people lived more friendly, more congenially then than they do now. They were a different breed of cats.

BC: Did you have a lot of people passing through the area?

AL: Though Dodge City? Oh, I'd say not more than normal. No, I don't think so. If they used [Highway] 50 route, why, then they'd go through Dodge City.

My brother and I and my sister were one of the instigators of Boot Hill! We was the ones that got Boot Hill started. Same way with the auditorium. I was on the planning board. And I was one of the instigators of the auditorium. I had the land bought for it, and I was on the planning board, and I knew I couldn't do it. It was against the law, so I just didn't go ahead with it, but I was one of the planners of the auditorium.

BC: When did that come in?

AL: Oh, I can't remember. I don't remember the exact date. I think C.L. Clinton was mayor then. I run C. L. Clinton for mayor; I put up the money for three mayors. Nate Reese, and Morgan, and Clinton. It cost me fifty dollars to sign them up! It was politics.

BC: What was the politics like, back then in the thirties. Of course, you were younger then. What did the city do to combat the dust?

AL: Well, the city had some real good men that was engineers. And during the winter time, if it did snow, they had the road graders and everything ready to go. They do that now like they did then. And they were real good at it. And the fellows that worked with the city back there in those days were mostly business men. They were elected. We had a mayor, a treasurer and something else. I can't think what the other one was. We had three people you elected for those positions, and they were real good. They did a good job.

When the statue was built on Boot Hill, the cowboy, my wife and I saw that built. She lived right next door to it. Dr. Simpson built it, and Mr. Sughrue was the model for it. They put a straw in his mouth and, I think, they put plaster of Paris on him, and he about smothered to death until they got him out of it. I'm not sure if it was Joe or not--Sughrue--it was Bob Sughrue's dad. I knew Bob real well. That was his son.

BC: One thing that came up in your talk was that some of the people left during the dust bowl. What do you recall as far as your friends or family leaving?

AL: None of our family left or uncles or anybody. They all stayed. I don't think we lost anybody in our family.

BC: What about neighbors?

AL: Yeah, we had some neighbors that left, that went to California and Florida. They went where most of the food was growing and they could get a job and one thing and another. But Dodge City, actually, I don't think it lost many people during the dust storm days. I don't think it did. A lot of the people stayed and just waited it out. Besides they didn't have any money to go!

BC: Why would people leave? What would people say to their neighbors when they left? How would they leave?

AL: Why they just packed up they had and go! That's how. They didn't have any money to ship anything, and whatever they'd get in a trailer--most of them made a trailer or something--and put it a car or a trailer and away they went. But I don't think a lot of people back here in Dodge City went. A lot of your migration, I think, from dust storm days was out of Oklahoma. I think those people, a lot of them. . . there was highway they named after them, or something. Remember?

BC: Route 66.

AL: Route 66, yeah, they named that after them.

BC: What people left? Would these be people that lived here a long time or a short time?

AL: That left? Well, really, I don't know. If they worked for an implement company or something, the implement company might transfer them anywhere from Dodge City to California to Australia, like international harvesters, all over the world. It depended on where you wanted to go. I think people before they left thought it over pretty serious before they left the country, but I don't think the migration from Dodge City was that great. I don't think it was. Matter of fact is, there was probably other cities that lost more people than Dodge City in proportion to the amount of people that lived here.

BC: Did you, by chance, keep a journal during that time? Or did you know anybody that did?

AL: No. Nobody cared. I supposed somebody had a diary and wrote it down. But, like I say, people were different then than they are now, and that's all there is to it. They were a different breed of cats.

BC: Would the weather be much of a topic of conversation?

AL: I don't think so. They just accepted it. I think after a while most people accepted it. I don't think they got too carried away about it.

BC: How many dust storms do you remember experiencing in a given year? When would most of the dust storms happen?

AL: I always thought it happened in the spring of the year. When the monsoons--we always said "monsoons"-- when they came, why that's when the wind started blowing. A certain time of the year, they blowed, and that's all there was to it.

BC: You recalled Black Sunday. Were there other bad storms that you can remember?

AL: Well, they weren't as bad as that one. That was the worst. No, they worked their way up to that one. There was a little girl lost during that storm. People got out to try to find her, and they finally found her. She was found out north of town somewhere. I don't know just what the deal was, but they found her. But she was lost; I remember that.

BC: Were there other stories like that that came out of the time? Stories about the dust storm and people's lives that stood out?

AL: Well, I don't know what it'd be. I really don't. I know the Moose was great people for having Saturday night dances. The Moose was above the old Daily Globe. You could hear them playing up there all over town on Saturday night because the wind would be in the right direction, and you could hear them until twelve or one o'clock. We always knew when they got through playing about what time it was.

BC: How did people keep hope alive during that time? That was seven or eight years of drought.

AL: Well, it was just bred in them. They were just hard-nosed people. Everybody was. You just accepted it, and you worked with it. That's all you could do. There wasn't anything else to do: either you accepted it or lay down and die. So you accepted it. I think you must remember that different cities and different localities had different things during the dust storm days. They weren't all the same. I can almost assure you that part of Colorado and everything would be different than Dodge City during the dust storm era. It was pretty bad out there, too. I can't think of the names of the cities out there, but out there the dust storms was pretty bad. But they got along just fine. They still survived.

And like I say, the WPA, you know, it helped a lot. There was a lot of people in the WPA.

BC: Here in Dodge?

AL: Oh, yeah.

BC: What did they do?

AL: Well, they'd do different things. They'd build outhouses for the farmers or they'd build a building here in town or a wall. Now that stone wall around the park the WPA put up. And there was a lot of buildings, you know, government buildings that was WPA projects. There was a lot east of the post office there that was WPA. There was a lot of WPA works. If you were a bricklayer, you'd get a job pretty easy. That's the way it was. We had the CCC camps here, too you know. I don't know if you remember that or not, but I do. We had quite a CCC camp out at Clark County Lake.

BC: Building it?

AL: Yeah. And they did a good job, too. Meade County Lake too.

BC: That was another way that people. . . ?

AL: Yeah, it brought money into the community. And what it really did was it brought people into this part of the country that would have never come out here. And some of the WPA guys married the local girls and lived here. Matter of fact, I know a lot of them that were CCC's.

Dodge City at one time was quite a distributing point for different things like wholesale groceries and one thing and another. It was quite a distributing point. Or farm machinery or something or pieces for repairs--they were quite a distributor. They've done away with a lot of that. They shouldn't have, but they did. But I don't know. Yeah, after you leave, I could probably tell you a hundred things more. I could go on and on and on and on about the dust storm days.

####

Return to Dust Bowl Oral History index or Dodge City, KS History. Page Copyright, Ford County Historical Society 2006