Dust Storm on the Family Farm

Oregon native recalls her first dust storm on the family farm

| Good Old Days

In 1934 I helped my sister, Hazel Hoien, at Mound, North Dakota, where she was teaching school. We had letters from Conde, South Dakota, telling of dust storms but could not visualize them. Our family farm was where the rolling hills and grassland kept the dust at a minimum. School was out and we took the train to Aberdeen where the folks met us. Both of us noticed that there were loose ridges of dust along the road but we were really amazed when we got in the house and saw heavy dust in the window sills and corners everywhere. It crossed our minds that maybe Mother had let up on her housekeeping.

Hazel was to be married in June to Lyle Overby. We knew there was a lot of cleaning to do at the church, but first Hazel and I went to work at home with soap and water and small brushes to clean out all of the dust. We put a lot of elbow grease into it and finally decided the place was clean enough.

Two days later, about noon, Father came to the house and said, "A dust storm is coming!" I went out on the back porch, and there to the northwest was a wall of roiling dust reaching high into the heavens and to the right and left as far as I could see. Mother called me to come and help. Sheets and blankets were soaked in water and wrung out to hang over doors and windows. The storm hit before they were all covered but we kept at the job. The wind was strong and I hoped it would soon blow itself out. Each time anyone went outside, billows of dust entered the house. We gasped and coughed. Mother had put some food out for lunch before the storm hit and now we looked at the table and saw that it was all covered with a fine silt. The pattern in the oilcloth was completely obscured. The wind howled, the dust came in and there was nothing to do but endure it. Father put a cloth over his mouth and nose and went out to take care of the animals. When he came in, his whisker stubble, eyebrows and all around his eyes was covered with dust. He was choking and coughing.

I don't recall our supper that night. I know I asked the folks how long the storm would last and they said, "Until the wind dies down." I wanted to go to bed, but the dust was so thick on the comforter that you could hardly see the pattern of the pieces. Where could you take it to shake it out? There was more dust outside where this had come from. We removed the top quilts and tried to sleep, but each time we moved a cloud of dust would strangle us.

This dust storm, my first, began at about 11 a.m. and continued unabated until around 6 a.m. the next day. When the skies finally cleared we saw drifts all around the farm buildings. Father had to shovel the dirt away from the back door where it had drifted up on it. We began to clean house and shake out bedding but we certainly realized fast that one going over could not clean it completely. In later storms the fence rows filled so cattle could walk right over the top.

Eunice Hoien Dahlgren
Sweet Home, Oregon

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