Dust Storms During the Depression Era Inspired Humor

Man recalls growing up in Western Kansas during the Depression Era, and joking about dust storms

| Good Old Days

Among my more vivid memories of the depression era is a recollection of the Western Kansas dust storms during the winter and spring of 1934/1935. That was during my senior year in high school; as I recall, the entire term was somewhat gritty.

By this time, most of the native buffalo grass had been plowed under, and the plains changed to grain fields. It had been very dry in the fall, and there was very little snow that winter. Whatever crops had grown the previous summer had long since been harvested, and the thin stubble remaining in the fields was not enough to hold the soil in place when the wind blew, which was nearly every day.

It seemed if the wind came from the North one day bringing some Nebraska dust, that it would return from the South the next day loaded with top soil from Oklahoma. Soon the soil was pulverized to a flour-like or powder-like fineness; then a vagrant breeze or a whispering zephyr was enough to shift the dust from one location to another. Thus the topsoil of this part of the Great American Breadbasket spent a lot of time traveling through the air that winter.

The wind-driven, loose, powdery soil penetrated the smallest holes and cracks in buildings and machinery. Some ceilings in houses actually collapsed from the weight of the dust in the attic. The dust drifted like snow, especially around the Russian thistles (tumbleweeds to poets) which were caught in the fences and on the north side of buildings. Many internal combustion engines in cars, trucks and tractors were ruined that winter because so much of the very abrasive dust was sucked into the carburetor air intake and literally ground the bearings and pistons beyond functional tolerance.

When the wind started to build, one could see a wall of dust marching across the plains, getting darker, nearer and larger by the minute.

Perhaps the thing which impressed me the most was the proliferation of tall stories engendered by the caprice of Mother Nature when she released the dust storm condition. Two examples of this gallows humor follow:

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