Chinch Bugs, Grasshoppers, and Drought Destroyed Crops During the Depression Era

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By Capper's Staff | Feb 29, 2012

The potato patch was big enough to keep boys busy hoeing, and fighting potato bugs. An ordinary tin can about a third full of kerosene, and a small stick to knock bugs off into the can by boys took only as long as the boys attended every plant. One could sprinkle the plants with Paris Green, or spray with Arsenate of Lead which has been banned many years.

One other memory of home life from the depression era is when my brother and I helped Dad husk corn in a 20-acre field ravaged by drought, chinch bugs, and grasshoppers. We husked every ear we could find, at the end of the day we only had a half load of undersized ears of corn though we had covered about 16 acres. Dad could have husked a full load in ordinary years in a half day by himself. The chinch bugs came so farmers were told to plow a deep furrow, then drag a pole through it to leave a round smooth bottom onto which they could pour a little stream of creosote to stop the crawling pests. This was called a barrier, and not enough creosote to supply the demand. Dad made the barriers, he got coal tar from the old electric generating plant in Champaign. The chinch bugs became old enough to fly.

Another infestation was grasshoppers. I never realized why they perched upon the handle of a pitchfork beside the barn. They gnawed on the wood just enough to roughen the smooth finish, consequently the handle chafed bare hands.

Emmett Kirby
Champaign, Illinois

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.

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