by in hard times often required working at odd jobs to make ends
My father drove a school bus and played for dances on Saturday nights
in addition to farming. A neighbor always took to preaching when
his farm income dropped. During the New Deal era of President Roosevelt,
many people built Works Projects Administration toilets and laid
sewer lines to bring in additional income.
Those fortunate enough to live near cedar growth, occurring usually
in canyons or river breaks, took ax and saw in hand and cut cedar
posts and stays for sale to the public. Hundreds of wagonloads and
truckloads of cedar posts were delivered throughout the West for
fencing the Great Plains. Palo
Duro Canyon and the Canadian River breaks were favorite places
for the post cutters of the time trying to make a few dollars on
In Kansas, where few trees of any kind grew, limestone rock quarries
flourished in every community where the formation existed. Once
the overburden of topsoil was removed, the layers of limestone could
be drilled and split off into fence posts and building stone. Owners
could produce the products themselves or others could work the stone
paying one-fourth of the production to the owner in royalty interest.
Miles of these limestone post fences exist today in eastern Kansas
and almost every town has buildings made from limestone building
In areas where oak trees grew large enough, the trunks could be
cut to length and opposite sides flattened to use as railroad ties
or mining timbers. Most local citizens worked at this in their spare
time to provide extra income.
Barney Lowe of McLean
recalled that he and his father were able to cut and shape eight
railroad ties in five days' work, then spent a long day hauling
them to town in a wagon. They were paid 50 cents for each tie at
the railroad depot. It wasn't much money, but it kept the family
in groceries for another week through extremely hard times in Eastern
Oklahoma during the Depression.
Old-timer E.T. Duncan once lived in Arkansas where he operated a
small specialty sawmill cutting "walking beams" for the early Texas
oil fields. He didn't know what a walking beam was used for but
appreciated earning the money for his family when he received an
He drove his team high into the mountains to find a tree large enough
to make a beam. He cut, trimmed and dragged the timber down to his
sawmill then sawed it to the proper measurements to fit the order.
Last, he hauled the finished beam to the railroad, loaded it on
a flatcar and sent the product on to Texas.
Duncan eventually moved to McLean
to settle. After arriving, he immediately asked to be shown a walking
beam in action because he could never imagine its actual use. Imagine
creating and making a product, enjoying the income from its sale,
yet never actually knowing its use.
In hard times,
the work or the use made no difference. Only the income from producing
the product was important.
© Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" Column
- June 27, 2006